What you should know about toxic masculinity

What you should know about toxic masculinity

Toxic masculinity has been a hot topic lately, and though some people may believe it nonsense or harmless, it may have more serious consequences.

What does toxic masculinity look like?

  • Sexist behaviors, including gender stereotyping
  • Use of derogatory terms that hurt others, such as calling someone emotional, “gay,” or telling another man to “stop being such a girl and toughen up” when sad
  • Believing it is strong to suppress, withhold, or deny emotions, or that men expressing emotions other than anger are weak
  • Believing that “boys don’t cry” or “boys will be boys” when the act is harmful/hurtful, and feeling the need to always portray a “tough guy” appearance
  • Thinking anxiety, depression, alcohol/drug use, and passive aggression are negative feelings, and letting emotions build up without dealing with them
  • Seeming to have only a few emotional states. When not happy, they may feel numb or angry
  • See psychotherapy as a waste of time and only designed for women and weak or emotional men

“Masculinity is not bad,” explains Dr. Robert C. Reff psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in De Pere, Wis. “It’s when it’s defined through a hostile or toxic manner or overemphasized that it causes problems for the individual, his family, and friends. When we overemphasize gender and place restrictions on it, we set up false expectations and pressures to conform to gender stereotypes.”

Dr. Reff encourages his patients to define themselves in their own terms, to be comfortable with who they are, and not try to be someone they are not.

“My patients often find relief from anxiety, anger, depression and substance abuse when they stop trying to be someone they are not for another person, such as their father or peers,” Dr. Reff says. “One aspect of mental health, regardless of gender, is the ability to express a healthy range of emotions.”

Connecting with your feelings, as opposed to suppressing them, often leads to healthier relationships, greater life satisfaction and healthier behaviors, Dr. Reff says.

“Unfortunately, even today, we place too much emphasis on gender and teach boys an unhealthy definition of  ‘manhood’ as opposed to valuing the child for who they are and their inherent strengths,” says Dr. Reff.

Why does toxic masculinity make men feel lonely?

Many of Dr. Reff’s male patients struggle with anger and not understanding where it comes from. This anger causes these men to push people way.

“The more we work together, the patient often realizes that their anger, as opposed to expressing sadness or other emotions, was often taught to them by their father, coaches and peers,” says Dr. Reff. “Many of them cannot recall their father crying, being sad, or vulnerable. They can, however, recall times at which they were angry.”

And when you don’t express your feelings, “chances are you might be pushing people away,”  Dr. Reff says. “This can make friends, family and significant others feel less connected to you and you to them. We are social creatures and life is more enjoyable when you can share it with others.”

How do you overcome toxic masculinity and live a healthier and more connected life?

Dr. Reff offers some tips:

  • Be aware of the biases and stereotypes. Knowing comes first, the next step is challenging yourself to think and to behave differently.
  • Practice being emotionally open and vulnerable to those you trust and love. It may feel awkward at first, but just like with any muscle or skill, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
  • Surround yourself with emotionally healthy people. If you have friendships with men exhibiting toxic masculinity, try talking with them about it. If they do not want to change, you might have to consider setting a new boundary with that person.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Seeing a therapist is one of the best things you can do for your mental health and your family.
  • If you exhibit toxic masculinity-like behaviors, hold yourself accountable. Talk with those that you have impacted, apologize, learn from it and move forward.
  • There are some good workbooks out there, such as: The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook: An Eight-Week Program for Improved Emotion Regulation and Resilience by Gonzalo Brito Pons and Margaret Cullen
  • Also, try this Ted Talk to learn more: “Why am I done trying to be “man enough” by Justin Baldoni.

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  1. I assume an article about toxic femininity will be coming out tomorrow?

    Either article would be ridiculous as this post modern take on philosophy and psychology has done more harm to our own sense of self then any virtue its trying to extol.

  2. Did this article really harm your sense of “self”? It shouldn’t have. I feel it brought up many good points. Great article!

  3. The strict and narrow stereotypes of gender expectations does more harm a person’s sense of self then the philosophy that questions it in my opinion. Thank you for the article.

  4. I’m a man and I don’t like to openly display my emotions or cry in public whilst holding the hands of another man. That’s how I am – is that a crime according to liberals?

    Most victims of mental illness – depression and anxiety – are women. Can you explain that?

  5. I agree with Mark. You can just as easily write an article about toxic femininity and the ridiculous overuse of the word “mansplaining”, but in today’s PC liberal world, women can never be “toxic” nor at fault for anything. This is why female teachers who assault underage male students get a slap on the wrist but if the genders were reversed, the man would be executed.

  6. I can not speak for Mark but I do not believe that he is not refering to the article itself but rather the way some of todays society is trying to mold boys into being more feminine.

  7. @Mark – Ok boomer.
    But in all seriousness – your desire for “toxic femininity” articles to balance out a perceived slight on your fragile masculinity has done as much to prove the point than the article.
    Similarly, “this modern take” is called progress. The fact that your sense of self is damaged by the progress probably means your “self” is a sexist/misogynist – change my mind.
    And no… I am not a millennial.

  8. I completely disagree that the article brought up many good points. It certainly did not improve one’s sense of self, in fact it begins to question anything “masculine”. Too bad since there aren’t many “men” left. I too eagerly await the article on Toxic Femininity, although no such article will ever be published!

    Dennis, put your “big boy pants on, although you more than likely don’t on any.

  9. The issue isn’t whether one’s sense of self is harmed. The issue is that what is described here are behaviors that are inappropriate regardless of from whose mouth the statement emanates, and the implication is that men are the only people capable of saying inappropriate things like this…which is offensively false. Sit around on a nursing unit sometime and just listen…you’ll hear pretty much all these sentiments expressed, and it is very rarely men who say them. I have no problem with indicating these kinds of sentiments are inappropriate, how to deal with them, indicating it is important for self reflection, and to get help if needed, etc., but saying things like this is a problem of humanness, not maleness.

  10. At the risk of feeding trolls I’ll give a nod to Scott’s statement, that this should be treated as a human issue. The term “toxic masculinity” lends itself to easily being interpreted as referring to “masculinity, which is toxic” rather than “masculinity which is toxic.” It’s a subtle distinction that makes a huge difference. I don’t think maladaptive behaviors should be normalized for anyone, regardless of how they may be demographically categorize.

    And finally, please let’s discuss ideas rather than attacking people we don’t know, hiding behind our computer screens.

  11. @RG
    It’s not a crime to not want to be emotional or hold it in. It’s damaging, however, to say that that is what everyone should adhere to. Everyone handles thing different and to expect someone else who wants to cry not to just because you don’t is damaging emotionally and mentally.

    Prime example of toxic masculinity, belittling other men because they don’t adhere to your expectations. Thumbs up to you, brah.

  12. @dale
    That is exactly the problem here. More feminine, more masculine. Why are we sticking people into these boxes? Some boys want to express themselves more, some do not. Who the hell are you to dictate how they should behave or express themselves???

  13. Don’t get me started and don’t tell me how to act.or feel.

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About the Author

Brianna Wunsch
Brianna Wunsch

Brianna Wunsch, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator for Advocate Aurora Health with a BA in public affairs from University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. In her free time, Brianna enjoys living an active lifestyle through biking, hiking and working out at the gym, but even more than that, she especially loves spending quality time with her two cats (Arthur and Loki), son and husband.