"Not in his goals but in his transitions is man great" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Tough Guy
For thousands of years, our training as men has been hazardous to our health. Worldwide, men are generally trained to be strong and silent. We are supposed to suppress emotion and discomfort as we courageously protect our family and handle life's difficulties. Generally for a man to cry (for a reason other than happiness), feel fear, or uncertainty is a sign of vulnerability and weakness. As has been modeled by countless action heroes, we are supposed to crack a wry joke and smirk as we dodge a bullet and blow away the bad guy.
The problem is that we cannot suppress just one emotion, such as fear, unilaterally. To suppress one emotion requires the suppression of all emotions. So while James Bond may seem the ideal man, he is also a person that is unable to really attach, feel love and joy, and experience intimacy. The "ideal man" may be a great leader and be successful in business, but his relationship with his wife and kids is compromised. This was less of an issue for men in the time of war, such as in my grandfather's generation. During WWII, for example, American men were literally fighting for survival and freedom. For these men, the inability to feel intimacy was hardly of concern.
So how is this training hazardous to our health? Decades of research has shown that suppressed emotion, a lack of social support, disconnect within a marriage, shame, and anxiety leads to depression, anger, dissatisfaction in life, addiction, and illness. All of these lead to a limited ability to handle stress effectively which then leads to illness and premature death. Scientists are now actively asking the question of whether men are genetically predisposed to dying younger than women, or whether their inability to effectively process emotion and stress, and find support simply leads to shorter life.
The Nice Guy Syndrome
Culturally, we are much more familiar with the "Tough Guy". He was the star football player in high school who had women lining up to hang off his arm. Later in life he became a cop or construction worker, lawyer, or salesman. He is the Bruce Willis or James Bond or John Wayne. But for every bad boy out there, there is another type of man. He is the Nice Guy.
The Nice Guy is the man who women love to have as a friend, but not to date. He is sensitive, kind, attuned to the feelings of others, and generally passive. He knows what everyone else wants, but not really what he wants. Underneath it all, the nice guy feels he doesn't have what the football jock has, but he is just as needy of women's attention and respect. He plays the cards he feels he has - if I give a woman everything she wants, she will want me back. Unfortunately, it doesn't end up working very well. As in high school, he doesn't usually end up with the woman who craves him sexually. As the Nice Guy feels his potency minimized and rejected, he becomes resentful. But having anger goes against the nice guy's game plan. In that space, the Nice Guy swallows his resentment and becomes passive aggressive.
Of course Nice Guys often do end up getting married. However, the woman ends up making all the decisions for the family. She is forced into the role of the "bad cop" vs. his "good cop" when it comes to parenting, dealing with money, managing the house, etc. She grows resentful of this role and finds herself being more bitchy than she wants. Sex life suffers. He feels rejected and resentful, but is unable to express his anger. His passive-aggressive behavior flourishes, and often porn addiction and other types of addiction come into the picture. This interactional pattern can get out of hand and lead to break-ups and divorce.
A New Generation of Men
American men in are faced with a complicating paradox. John Wayne is no longer the cultural ideal. We are not allowed to be a tough guy, but being a nice guy is really not much better. A recent episode of the Bachelor proves this point. The Bachelor is still required to look like a Greek God (6'4" with a square jaw and chiseled physique), but he is also required to be touched and cry when holding a newborn, or tenderly lay out his deepest vulnerabilities. In our current culture, men are constantly faced with an inherent double standard. We called on to be vulnerable yet protecting; "dangerous", yet safe; hard yet soft. In our efforts to find the right balance, most men are faced with deep insecurity, anxiety, and shame at various points in their lives.
Therapy with Men
As a therapist who works with a lot of men in individual, couples, and groups, I tend to have an equal number who fall into either the Tough Guy or Nice Guy category. Therefore, an understanding of addiction, anger, passive-aggressive behavior, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems is essential. But the presenting issue and its resolution requires more than simply helping someone stop drinking or looking at porn. I believe that the only solution to the double standard set before us as men is to find our core strength - one that comes from authentic emotional connection to self and other. It is from that space, where we can truly be at peace from within, rather than attempt to play the part that we feel society demands, that a man can find true Power, Strength, and Peace.
To learn more about men's Issues, visit the following link: Goodtherapy.org,