written by:John Glass
Masculinity was something I knew little about as a child. I grew up with a single mother and an absent father. The closest person in my family that embodied masculinity to me was my older brother.
The issue with my brother being my perspective of masculinity was that he was an angry, aggressive jerk. I told myself that I would never want to be like him. In my black or white thinking that meant that, I would need to be the exact opposite of him.
It is my belief that many of us men tend to choose the path of a passive man that allows many to use them as doormats or to become the aggressive man that pushes back with or without a reason. According to the psychological theory, cognitive behavioral therapy, this comes from a cognitive distortion “all or nothing thinking”. All or nothing thinking refers to a thought process that is about absolutes.
In my case, my thought was that in order to be nothing like my brother I need to be the polar opposite of him. My thinking was distorted because I was unable to see that the need was to truly find a balance between both the aggressive and passive man. My thought was that there is no middle ground I would either need to be one or the other. Not a mixture of both.
At the age of 18, still working to stay that nice, passive guy, I was faced with a number of challenges and obstacles in my life. Such as, financially supporting myself, getting into my first romantic relationship, and gaining responsibility through new freedoms. Through these challenges, I was able to see what was missing from my passive pattern of living. From this point in my life up to present day, I have been learning and challenging my distorted ideas of what it means to be a man.
In no particular order, below are five characteristics and skills I learned about masculinity through my challenges and obstacles.
1. Part of masculinity is having strong male relationships.
Some of you may be thinking I have good guy friends that I can grab a beer and hang out. Although I do believe having male friends to hang out with are wonderful, there tends to be a lacking of depth in this type of relationship.
Having my own place at a young age meant that my friends and I had a place to hang out. That is what we did, yet when everyone went home, I would feel empty. The relationships I had with my male friends went no further than hanging out. They did not want to hear of my struggles or my insecurities with which I faced. I craved to have that deeper, more intimate connection with my guy friends.
It was not until later in my life that I found a solid male friend that I could connect with, be vulnerable with, and honest with about what I was experiencing. It is eight years later and we are still strong within our friendship. Once I experienced this, I understood even more how important strong male relationships are. I continue to seek and create bonds of brotherhood.
2. Allowing myself to be intimate and vulnerable with others.
Society has pushed the agenda that men who are vulnerable are weak. Many may think that the most masculine man is the man that is stoic, silent, and shows little to no emotions. I was influenced by this image throughout my childhood. To me this is how a “real” man behaved.
I now realize that most men who behave in this way are fearful. They are fearful of intimacy, judgment from others, being rejected, being disappointed by others, not getting their needs met, and many more fears that drive a man to stay silent and not allow himself to be vulnerable with others.
As I faced this distorted thinking by allowing myself to be vulnerable, I learned that being vulnerable is a huge part of life. It helps to create stronger bonds, deeper connections, and long lasting relationships. It seems to me that one cannot have solid relationships, with both men and women, without being vulnerable to build intimacy and connection with others.
3. Being healthy through diet and exercise is a requirement not a choice.
As a child, I was not the fittest or healthiest teenager. I hated to exercise and enjoyed eating food that provided comfort and stimulated my body in some way, like sugar. When high school ended, I was a large man. I thought of myself in such a negative way because of my weight, so I took action. I began to eat better and exercise regularly. I dropped the weight and gained a completely new confidence in myself I had never had before. I felt good about myself.
I have gained and lost a lot of weight over the years. I can say from my experience that when I was in my optimal zone of weight, exercise, and diet I felt in my most masculine mindset. I felt strong, confident, energized, and sexual.
I discovered that vigorous exercise five days a week, eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, drinking green smoothies every morning, and limiting caffeine and sugar intake are essential to bring you into a confident, sexual, energized frame of being.
4. Stand firm in your convictions.
I have found throughout my life that there is a strong need to stand firm with your convictions about life and yourself. On so many occasions, I was willing to give up my beliefs or opinions to keep someone else happy. I would also do this with the thought that if I agreed with the other person then they would like me more.
Agreeableness is a strong quality but not in excess. Being that highly agreeable person makes you appear to others as someone that can be easily manipulated to do what others want. I was this way throughout most of my childhood.
There came a point that I could not handle it anymore, so I became a man that stood up for his convictions no matter what. Well, that did not work either.
There needs to be a balancing act that needs to happen between agreeableness and disagreeableness. Which brings me to my final point.
5. Live with kindness and assertiveness.
Throughout my experiences of becoming the man, I want to be living with kindness and assertiveness has been an overall theme.
Finding a balance between being kind and being overly nice as well as a balance between agreeable and being assertive is an important part of being a man. This has been one of the toughest aspects of masculinity for me to work at achieving.
Growing up as a people pleaser showing assertiveness is challenging because my mind thinks I am being aggressive when I do. It was also a challenge to be kind rather than being nice. There is a difference between these two things. Being overly nice tends to be linked to a need for approval or validation. It is a manipulation to make yourself feel better.
After some experiences both negative and positive I am able to see that part of being a man is to live a life of showing kindness and assertiveness towards others.
These are five characteristic traits and skills that I have learned while striving to be the best version of myself. They all have been a challenge for me to learn and to apply.
As I stated earlier I had no father to guide me or direct me on what it means to be a man. I am sure many of us men can relate to this experience.
Without positive guidance to bring us through our rite of passage from boyhood to manhood we have to learn, generally through the hard way, what it means to be a man. Just as I have learned, through good/bad relationships, rich/poor friendships, successful/failed attempts at being successful at work, and many other experiences.
originally posted on The Good Men Project