The Lie: A man must always be strong, never weak. He must not even appear weak. If he does, he is less than a man.
“You are weak” is one of the greatest curses a man or boy can hear. Boys are constantly bombarded with images of what men are and are not expected to be. If a boy fails to meet those expectations, he may be assaulted with verbal attacks and insults accusing him of being “like a girl,” gay, queer, sissy or other far more offensive terms, all of which equate him with what is held by the stereotype to be least male ie: female or homosexual. While this sentiment is hugely offensive and unjust to women, girls and LGBT men, at a deeper level it betrays a core fear of not being “man enough.”
To fail to measure up as a male is to be judged, ostracized, chastised, teased, insulted, berated, bullied and even physically attacked, abused, tortured or even killed. It doesn’t just feel like a life-or-death threat, at times it truly is!
The mandate to be always strong and never weak is a classic example of an “impossible imperative” – a required standard that is humanly impossible to achieve.
All of us are weak at times. We get overwhelmed, worn out, injured, ill, confused, over our heads, scared, ashamed and grief-stricken. Sometimes we just don’t, or cannot, know what to do or say. That is part of being human. That might be why humans are hard-wired to be in close connection with others. There is safety for the group when the members can share the load, stepping in to support and help one another in difficult times.
The problem arises when a man’s’ personal identity and worth become linked to performance – what he does rather than who he is. The appearance of strength becomes overvalued and things like compassion, discretion and turning the other cheek are devalued. At the same time, the authentic strength of men is a valuable resource and much needed for the growth, nurturing and protection of the group. Discerning authentic and generative male strength from the sham stereotypical strength is the real challenge.
For a man to own his weaknesses and what he cannot do is a sign of inner strength and wisdom. It has been said that “the smartest man is the one who knows what he is dumb at.” It follows then, that the most dangerous man is the one who tries to convince himself and others that he has no weaknesses or that he can handle everything. Both he and everyone else know in their hearts that cannot be true, but keeping the weakness hidden breeds mistrust and others avoid or are cautious of connecting with him – and well they should be!
Breaking out of the influence of the lies we were taught to believe is a tough job for any man. Northern Illinois Men’s Counseling is here to coach, support, guide and challenge men to be the best they can be. Call, text or e-mail if you have questions. When you are ready, you can schedule an appointment through the website without the hassle of phone tag.