Masking Emotions and Men’s Mental Health

In recent years, there has been a mental health movement regarding men’s reluctance to find & reach out for help. Most men are taught that “strong men don’t have emotional problems” or “real men don’t cry”. This belief is reinforced countless times from childhood and on. As a result, we have seen that men mask their emotions from others and refuse to acknowledge their mental health concerns because they believe it will make them less masculine or at least break from what they believe to be traditional masculinity. This is obviously detrimental to their mental health and can cause an overflow of emotions to be trapped causing both mental and physical reactions. 

Masculinity vs Toxic Masculinity

Masculinity refers to the norms & expectations set on men by our society. The reinforced ideology of masculinity makes it extremely important to comply with cultural standards, roles, and behavior.

“Manliness” is defined differently by different cultures, but the common ground is the restrictions & limitations of expression. Straying outside of those boundaries means rejection from the group or society.

Toxic masculinity is a relatively new term that describes more aggressive and toxic behaviors and reactions to things that are considered unmanly. The more common aggressive reactions commonly surround ideas such as domination, homosexuality, power, and aggression. 

The Impact Of Toxic Masculinity

By definition only, toxic masculinity is simply a more aggressive version of traditional masculinity. However, in practice, it means more than simply reactions. Toxic masculinity also causes internal struggles of identity and beliefs. 

For example, when a child is injured or is feeling sad and their father says “man up”, it is a reinforcement that tells a child their display of emotion is unmanly in some way and therefore incorrect or bad. As a result, there is a large societal concern where men mask any form of emotion & do not speak or ask about the mental well-being of others or themselves.

Why Men Mask Emotions

With the reactions described above, we can deduce that masking emotions are a defense against rejection. Toxic masculinity can make a man feel powerful, strong, and dominant especially when those around him have the same standards. Showing weakness would lead to others believing that they are not meeting the standards and therefore should be ignored or seen as inferior. 

Men will then hide emotions like sadness and fear from themselves and others. If there is a problem, a “manly” thing to do is suffer through it alone and learn to cope or adjust. 

Contrary to what society and past gender-specific roles have characterized as “manly”, mentally healthy men are those who confront and embrace their emotions. 

The Impact Of Masking Emotions On Mental Health

Emotions are important for understanding others, understanding yourself, making decisions, and avoiding emotional exhaustion. If we ignore, guard, or suppress our emotions we are creating a perfect storm for a future “breakdown”, anxiety attack, or worse. According to many recent studies, anxiety and stress seem to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Asthma

Learning to respond to our emotions and release negative thoughts & emotions in healthy ways allows anyone to process and heal from the emotional toll of everyday life and be better prepared for major life events. 

In many cases, if a man cannot ignore or run from an emotional struggle, they may simply shut down and become apathetic. This reaction is a defense mechanism built from the lack of knowing how to process and communicate their emotions. This lack of communication and unlearned processing skills are major causes of marital issues and even self-harm.

Asking For Help

First and foremost, please understand that reaching out and asking for help is not showing weakness. The uncomfortable first step is a sign of strength, understanding, and recovery from the toxicity that may have filled a void since childhood. Together with a trained professional, you can work through negative thoughts and emotions and learn healthy emotional processing skills you can use & share with others. Find out how Dr. Keise & the experienced Insyte Psychiatric team have provided quality mental health services to the communities in East Brunswick, NJ.