‘Man up’. ‘Don’t cry’. ‘Take it like a man’.
We’ve heard these all before. They’re suggestions disguised as advice for men facing struggle. They were seen as solutions to life’s toils, born from the traditional perceptions of how men “should” be. They can be classified under the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’.
Toxic masculinity promotes the image of men as being powerful, aggressive and dominant. It encompasses the negative behaviours traditionally associated with being a man. It sees men as needing to temper their emotions and not talk about how they feel.
Examples of toxic masculinity range from the obvious to the more hidden. It’s seen when men choose to show unwarranted aggression or refuse to ask for help when they need it, to not dent their pride. More subtle instances of toxic masculinity occur when men lack empathy towards the struggles of others, or when not being honest with themselves about how they feel.
Toxic masculinity isn’t kind to men’s mental health
Toxic masculinity has a range of negative consequences on men’s mental health, such as:
Promotes reluctance to seek mental health support
It’s typically been found that men are less likely to open up and talk about how they’re feeling. Traditionally men have been taught to suppress how they feel, and that to seek help is a sign of weakness. This harmful belief increases loneliness, isolation and negative self-talk.
Encourages lack of self-care
Research has shown that getting less sleep is associated with traditional masculine beliefs. This lack of sleep can stem from the masculine belief that rest and recovery aren’t important. But lack of sufficient sleep weakens the immune system, degrades our memory and increases depressive symptoms. We all need sleep to nurture our wellbeing, so if you’re struggling to get a good night’s rest, there are ways to improve your sleep.
Toxic masculinity discourages men from sharing how they feel. The more that men are taught to suppress their emotions, the less likely they’ll be to recognise when friends are low and be able to provide proper support. Being comfortable enough to chat with and open up to those around you is key for a healthy mind.
Ignores basic human needs
We’re all humans with basic needs. To think, feel and connect are three of these. They’re instinctual. Toxic masculinity teaches men to suppress these needs, to dilute them, which can then lead to feelings of anxiety and negative thought patterns.
We can reduce the impact of toxic masculinity
Fighting the negative beliefs propelled by toxic masculinity is far from a losing battle. Power lies in understanding these beliefs. Once you do, you can tackle them and break them down to benefit your mental health, support those around you and create positive change.
Accept that there’ll be good and bad days
Nobody has good days all the time. Even those with good mental health ebb and flow, so it’s important to accept that bad days will inevitably happen. But that’s ok because bad days build resilience and allow for appreciation of the good days. You often gain strength in your bad days – bad days are not a sign of weakness.
Talk when you’re finding things hard
When you’re having a bad day, share how you’re feeling with someone you trust. Vulnerability is a strength, and those who care about you will want to know when you’re struggling. They care about you, so they’ll listen.
Normalise seeking medical help
Counsellors, psychologists and therapists exist for a reason. They’re there to help people through whatever internal struggles they’re facing. Just as you’d visit the doctor for a cold or physical ailment, seeing a health professional for your mind is no different and should be looked at in the same way.
Let others know you’re there for a chat
Other men around you will be going through their own struggles. Let them know you’re there to lend an ear whenever they need it. It’ll remind them that it’s ok to discuss how they’re feeling, while also encouraging them to do the same for you and their other mates.
Reinforce the positive elements of traditional masculinity
Not all traditional perceptions of how to be a man are bad. Some, such as loyalty, respect, and working hard, are worth championing, but these don’t need to be at the expense of your mental health.
Young men nowadays are faced with an array of societal pressures that negatively impact their wellbeing. The pressure of being a man that toxic masculinity promotes causes men to struggle with their identity, know how to act and take care of their wellbeing. It’s important to not only recognise the negative consequences that toxic masculinity has on men’s mental health but to encourage and promote ways to combat these negative stereotypes, so we can be there to help those around us.
About the blog author
Jamie Dobbs is a psychology graduate from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Having moved to London in 2019, he now works as a content writer and researcher. He’s interested in social psychology and human behaviour, hoping to embark on a research master’s in the future.