How to redefine ‘masculinity’ for better mental health

Here are some causes of conventional masculine narrative

By Mohita Srivastava

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Published: Thu 15 Jun 2023, 9:36 PM

The idea — “a man has to be the breadwinner” — has been imbibed in our minds. Even in today’s modern world, the concept of ‘masculinity’ still plays a colossal part in our society. The traditional perception of masculinity likes to obey certain rules wherein a man is culturally trained and socially pressurised to behave in a certain manner. The core tenets of ‘manliness’, as expected by traditional norms, are toughness, power and no femininity. These ‘kowtow expectations’ pose potential challenges to the overall mental well-being and authentic self-expression among men. Of course, some of these mannerisms are agreeable and gel with natural drive for ambition, adventure, natural genetic wiring, and seen as a demarcation personified to men.

Causes of conventional masculine narrative

Societal expectations of being masculine acknowledges men to be strong, stoic and self-reliant. This not only discourages their emotional vulnerability, but also imposes a threat to their manly identity and puts a quell in seeking professional help no matter what they are going through. This triggers feelings of isolation, emotional suppression, and poses anxiety, depression and serious behavioural issues. This leads to constrained relationships at home and also manifest in an unacceptable manner at the workplace.

Traditional masculinity, which is sometimes comparable to the concept of toxic masculinity, enables unsafe and wounding traits of ‘toughness — being strong, aggressive and dominant’; ‘power — men are worthy of money, status and influence’ and ‘no femininity rejecting all feminine traits viz.emotions, accepting help, domesticity etc’. This “man up” or “toughen up” attitude when one is hurt or facing challenges leads to intensive emotional suppression, triggers feelings of guilt and shame, anger and rage, rejection of empathy toward oneself and others.

Tips to reprogramme masculinity

1.Openness to seeking and accepting help: No one is impressed by exhaustion, stoicism and struggle. Accepting a helping hand from others, and acknowledging makes one feel connected, supported and valued.

2.Focusing on yourself: Endeavour your personal development without criticising and judging those who exert a limiting belief on masculinity.

3.Get rid of the desire to control and do not get influenced by others’ opinions and choices.

4.Express genuine emotions by recognising the cause and effect of the issue.

5.Be empathetic and extend shoulder and ears to those who are feeling the same way.

6.Welcome and adopt emotional intelligence

7.Understand that strength lies not only in physical prowess but also in emotional resilience and open conversations without feeling ashamed or weak.

8.Cultivating support groups or communities that promote inclusivity, respect, and acceptance, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding to share experiences, challenges, and triumphs.

Traditional masculinity resists seeking mental health support. Ignoring emotional struggles draws a man towards greater workload, extensive physical activities, risky behaviours, exacerbating depression, trauma, and anxiety. This not only worsens the psychological and behavioural symptoms but also precipitates psychosomatic or physical issues, such as chronic pain, arthritis and other disorders, rendering one more irritable and isolated.

Modern, progressive masculinity is a more open, healthier concept, the approach where one looks at oneself as someone who isn’t afraid of authentic emotional expression of genuine struggles or feelings and welcomes gender equality. This masculinity recognises the repercussions of suffering alone and the benefits of seeking mental health support. So, acknowledging one’s emotions and feelings, and understanding how to get on them greatly benefits personal health, work:life balance and relationships. Therefore, it is important to overcome the traditional masculine narratives, and create a space where men feel empowered to be their authentic selves and prioritise their mental well-being.

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