“There have been so many times I have seen a man waiting to weep, but instead beat his heart until it was unconscious” – Nayyirah Waheed
Masculinity is in the air we breathe. It is an invisible force used to define who a person is. Even during infancy, boys and girls are treated differently as parents’ expectations lead to reinforcement of different (and binary) gendered behaviors.1
These behaviors are then reinforced by the media, teachers, peer groups, and society at large, creating an army of emotionally wounded men who desperately want to be loved, yet who hide behind the mask of masculinity. This impacts everyone as it leaves their romantic partners with emotionally stunted and distant companions.
The problem is that masculinity, as Joseph Losi highlights in this interview, convinces boys to hide part of who they are—the emotional part of themselves—in order to “be a man.”
“Hiding oneself is the hallmark of insecure attachment” – Joseph Losi
The problem with toxic masculinity is that “being a man” is not a given just because you have a penis or identify as masculine. It has to be earned and proved constantly. It’s an exhausting societal hamster wheel that many never learn to step off.
While the patriarchal system of society today privileges males (mainly white), it also castrates them of the richness of an emotionally connected and meaningful life. It puts many males in the “Man Box,” a prison that blocks someone from being wholeheartedly human.
It hides from them the possibility of the not-so-secret discovery that an 80-year-long study following males throughout their lives revealed: the benefits of emotional intimacy.
“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80” – Robert Waldinger
What is the Difference Between Unhealthy and Healthy Masculinity?
The essential difference between healthy and unhealthy masculinity, according to Joseph Losi, is the ability to express vulnerable emotions in moments of stress. It is the ability to be aware of what you are feeling and take responsibility for all forms of emotion including sadness, fear, joy, and anger (expressed without aggression).
The handcuffs of unhealthy masculine emotions restrict self-expression to a narrowly and rigidly defined set of acceptable forms. As I shared during the interview, it was more acceptable for me to express aggression in the form of hitting and breaking things especially around sporting events than by showing sadness or disappointment.
Being emotionally numb, often viewed as a strength in males, may have been advantageous in times of war or while hunting, but in a close relationship, it presents itself as an emotional wall.
It’s not uncommon for a romantic partner to email me saying, “My partner’s wall is so high and I don’t know how to bring it down. HELP ME! I’m so alone.”
As Terry Real put it in his popular book I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, it is common for wounded boys to become “a wounding man, inflicting upon those closest to him the very distress he refuses to acknowledge himself.”
In the interview, Joseph cites a little boy from the movie The Mask You Live In who says, “We have all these emotions stuffed up inside and you can’t express them.”
When we can’t express ourselves wholeheartedly, we wrestle with our sense of worth and belonging. We battle shame.
The Shame of Masculinity & Its Cost in Relationships
Part of the masculine culture is a pressure to measure up. To “be a man.”
“The greater the scarcity in true self-esteem, the greater the need for supplementation.” – Terry Real, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression
By being taught to cut off from emotions and pride oneself on independence, it’s no surprise that research indicates men to be more avoidant in their attachment styles than women. Men tend to avoid feelings not only in themselves but also in their partners.
So when their partner brings up sadness or difficult feelings, the masculine partner may shut down emotionally or be dismissive because their internal working model tells them that feeling those emotions is “unmanly” or unsafe.
Shame is part of the reason why male partners may be conflict avoidant. For male partners, conflict can symbolize inadequacy. When working with avoidant men in the midst of conflict I ask them, “What are you telling yourself right now?” They may respond with, “I can never make her happy,” or, “I can never do it right.” There is a deeply felt sense of never being enough.
And as this male partner goes into a shame spiral, shame convinces them to hide and not express this part of themselves. The emotional wall goes up and their partner who feels hurt also feels abandoned in their pain, not realizing their lover is lost in shame.
“Shame cannot survive being spoken and being met with empathy” – Brene Brown
One of the key ways to break out of shame is to connect. As Joseph Losi highlights in the interview, he has had the privilege of guiding men to connect with their partners in his office.
He works with them to try on emotions and both partners come together to create a safe space to vulnerably understand each other. A key pathway out of the man box is to open up and be vulnerable in a safe container.
“The most functional way to regulate difficult emotions in love relationships is to share them.” – Dr. Sue Johnson, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships
When partners are able to see each other, including their hidden fears and longings, a new bridge is built. A bridge of security that connects one partner to the other.
Learning how to leave shame is learning how to be wholeheartedly yourself in a relationship with someone else. It is a willingness to reach out for connection with others and yourself.
It requires a willingness to be emotionally soft and strong simultaneously. And this emotional maturity is the new way of living that is being created by many in the world.
A Roadmap to Mature Masculinity
The road to maturity is unpaved for many of us. It’s bumpy and off the beaten trail. Luckily for you and for me, there are individuals in the world who have left a map to wholeheartedness.
As Joseph highlights in the interview, one of the first paths is to recognize your emotional inner world and to befriend yourself even in the midst of discomfort.
After interviewing people from all walks of life, Brene Brown uncovered that those who had maintained loving relationships for more than thirty years had one thing in common:
“They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.” – Brene Brown, Rising Strong
By attuning ourselves to our emotions, we move closer to staying out of reactive, aggressive, and defensive responses. We change the way we relate in relationships.
Joseph Losi’s ABC’s of Emotional Attunement (as discussed in the interview):
A: Be quiet to become aware
B: Breath into the body to be brave and bold on the way…
C: To becoming calmer, conscious, curious and more connected with your relationships
A great way to build your emotional maturity is to connect with others on the journey. Men’s groups such as the ManKind Project are a great place to redefine masculinity. If you have anger problems, Google Anger Workshops near you to learn how to self-soothe and express yourself in a healthier way.
- Men’s Groups and Programs:
- The Little #MeToo Book for Men by Mark Green
- Remaking Manhood by Mark Green
- Man’s Guide to Women by Drs. John and Julie Gottman and Rachel Abrams
- Manhood in the Making by David Gilmore
- I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terrance Real
- How Can I Get Through to You? Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women by Terrance Real
- The Good Men Project
- Movie: The Mask You Live In
- Emotionally Intelligent Men are Key to a Lasting Relationship
- Do You Bottle Your Emotions? Susan David, Ph.D. Describes How It Hurts Your Relationship
- 6 Steps to Become an Emotionally Available Lover
- 3 Powerful Ways to Overcome Emotional Blocks in Love
- This is discussed in more detail here: Mallers, M. H., Charles, S. T., Neupert, S. D., & Almeida, D. M. (2010). Perceptions of childhood relationships with mother and farther: Daily emotional and stressor experiences in adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 46(6), 1651-1661. & Rivers, C., & Barnett, R. C. (2013). The truth about girls and boys. New York: Columbia University Press. & Raley, S., & Bianchi, S. (2006). Sons, daughters, and family processes: Does gender of the children matter? Annual Review of Sociology, 32(1), 401-421. ↩