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Men On Unlearning The Poison Of Toxic Masculinity

To be vulnerable is your power.

Human Interest

Toxic masculinity has been masquerading as traditional masculinity for centuries. Toxic masculinity bans men from a healthy relationship with themselves, where they are allowed to be vulnerable, sensitive, empathic – basically every emotion society often labels as feminine. And it stunts their mental and emotional growth that perpetuates false ideologies of manhood that hold them back from having a better understanding of themselves and showing up for their loved ones.

The stress toxic masculinity puts on men

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Men are continuously given the objective that they must be independent, self-reliant, physically tough, etc. Society often tells men this false narrative as the only way to make them successful in terms of business, maneuvering in society, and finding a partner. They are taught that they simply can't afford to be vulnerable because it'll be ridiculed.

The American Psychological Association's Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men mentions that raising boys into "traditional" masculinity is harmful to their health and wellness. Licensed professional counselor Eric Patterson at mental health startup Choosing Therapy notes that "toxic masculinity is an ever-present issue." I asked him some questions regarding the mental and emotional distress toxic masculinity puts on men. His response brought forth insight and clarity.

Patterson stated, "Unfortunately, toxic masculinity puts very little stress on the men who are actively perpetuating notions of superiority. They tend to be oblivious to the impact their views and behaviors have on others. The men that hope to be more enlightened may struggle with their place and their role. They want to support equality without denouncing their entirety of their sex, which can prove challenging at times."

Sadly, toxic masculinity is like a domino effect; it affects all of us. So if we don't call out toxic traits, we are enabling them to continue. It begins and ends with accountability – you can't do better until you know better.

Everyday examples of toxic masculinity

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Toxic masculinity is often poured into men from their childhood days. Their parents telling him he shouldn't cry because he's a boy and 'real men' don't do that. Men are often taught that masculinity is supposed to be hypermasculinity, being aggressive, suppressing their emotions, and always feeling the need to be a dominant figure. They are often excused for being promiscuous compared to women – who would be easily labeled a hoe. Either party shouldn't be applauded for this; it's not a fruitful sport, but if people feel that's the life they want to live, keep your comments to yourself or make sure you judge them the same way, instead of it being one-sided.

I asked some men about their most toxic trait and how they are actively unlearning those perspectives – their answers were quite insightful.

"I would say my most toxic trait is that sometimes I think so highly of myself that I'm mostly unwilling to take advice from others because I'm under the impression there is no way they could understand what I feel I have more knowledge on," said Johnny Welch, program coordinator in Philadelphia, PA. "I simply think I know best, even in cases when I know nothing. This trait has left me numerous times feeling the burn when I could have simply not touched the stove. I'm well aware of the issue and try to make steps to correct it."

A good start at overcoming toxic masculinity is acknowledging your issues and then building stepping stones to combat them. The goal isn't perfection; it's about progression. Talk about this with your male friends and ask them to hold you accountable or ask them if they can suggest ways for you to change your old habits. Get used to not always leaning on women for vulnerable conversations; she can't be your therapist and partner; that's too much stress for anyone.

Normalize talking about your emotions with other men.

Another man echoed a similar sentiment regarding communication, "I would say my most toxic trait is being inconsistent when it comes to communicating," said Carrell Calhoun, operations manager in Bethlehem, PA. "Sometimes I have this, I-don't-feel-like-talking type of attitude when I feel like something isn't a major issue, and how I work on that is to just allow my partner to express themselves."

Frequent communication is essential in every relationship, whether it's platonic or romantic. Just because you're with someone, it doesn't mean you are able to read that person's mind all of a sudden. Let's normalize leaning on each other in times of need instead of perceiving it as a way to emasculate men.

How do women and society play a role in toxic masculinity?

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Believe it or not, ladies, some of y'all play a part in enabling toxic masculinity. Telling a man he's soft or shouldn't be emotional is problematic. I asked some men what they would tell women that said 'you're not a man' if you show vulnerability in any way, crying or expressing how they felt. They had some interesting tea to spill.

"Emotional intelligence matters, empathy matters. Men that are viewed as crazy, non-communicative, toxic, or nonchalant have probably become that way due to a woman or man telling them that same sentiment as they grew up," said Cedric Calder, CEO of Artisan Echelon in New Jersey. The same men that are told they "ain't shit" have become like that for a reason, and while everyone should be accountable for their own actions and grow/learn from their experiences – not everyone has the mindset to get through it [and] receive assistance in doing so. Human beings are social creatures, and being social creates some sort of stress, whether good or bad, and these feelings need to be released one way or the other."

Amen, on the necessity for emotional intelligence! Toxic masculinity robs men to tap into their emotional intelligence. This is a collective Black issue we have because I was also taught to repress my emotions because it made me look weak, but as I got older, I learned how important it was to thoroughly understand my emotions so I can show up better for myself and others.

How to combat toxic masculinity

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Combatting toxic masculinity is NOT a woman's job. I've heard the saying that 'it's a woman's job to make a man a better/evolved man' countless times – and that's too much of a burden. As Marlon Dundas, digital investment professional in Queens, NY, stated, "I believe a relationship is a mutual agreement to learn from each other. If you trust and value the person you're with, then you will be made a better person. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman."

So yes, back to the daily televised show, it's a partnership. Both partners can help each other, not completely burden each other in specific areas, and expect things to mend themselves over time because they won't – they'll just get worse if you don't address them. As licensed professional counselor Eric Patterson mentions:

"Women can support this shift in men by pointing out undesirable aspects of toxic masculinity and times when it presents. By addressing the situation with love and support rather than anger and judgment, there is a better chance for success. Women must remember that the man must want to change, and even if he does, he could be working against decades or generations of problematic behaviors. It will not change overnight."

Ladies, I know bending backwards comes easily to us sometimes, and that's something we have to work on collectively. But you can't change a man that is not ready to change himself for himself first, and then you can benefit from it. Change only sticks when we do it for ourselves versus for others. You can only guide him and cheer him on along the journey, but you can't make the changes he needs to make within himself.

Men don't have to be hypermasculine to be considered man enough; show how you feel, reveal the real you from under the mask. Toxic masculinity can't thrive if you choose to work through your issues, so you can be an evolved man for yourself and your loved ones.

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Featured image by Shutterstock

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