“Man up!” roars the battle cry of the masculine. All of the beefy, burly, visceral men line up. The fast, daring, and courageous men fill in, bubbling with energy. But you … you don’t fit it. And there you … comparing yourself with everyone else around you and questioning whether you are “man enough” for that challenge. And thus enters the masculinity lies.

This is not an ancient battlefield. This can happen today. My church denomination put out a video in celebration of all things “manly” when it advertised a certain retreat. It involved shooting, sporting, and gaming. It was filled with challenges of who could be the best. There was fire, firing, and being fired up. I was just waiting for the primal men to rip off their shirts, beat their hairy chests, and destroy defenseless luggage.

It made me sick.

Worse yet, it hurt.

As the video concluded and everyone grunted their excitement, I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t measure up. At 5’4” and being minorly overweight (major pounds ago), I have a better chance of being confused with a basketball than I do shooting a basket with one. The noise of crowds – and certainly guns – overwhelms my senses and leaves me feeling distraught and disoriented. And I would so much rather sit down and have a quiet conversation with a few good men – or to cook them a meal – than I would competing against them.

You see, I am part of the 15-20% of the population that is considered to be highly sensitive. I am also amongst the half of those who bears XY chromosomes (also known as “man”)

And if you empathize with my narrative, there might be a good chance that you are too.

Highly sensitive men are still men. We are still masculine. But because we have been lied to about what it means to be a man – by Hollywood, by society, and by our own family – people question this about it. And it’s no wonder why we are questioning it too.

Here are the five lies about masculinity that may be affecting your relationships today.

Masculinty Lies #1: “Why can’t you be more like _______”

Measuring up. It’s ingrained in us from the moment we’re born. Immediately, we are measured by weight and height to see how close to “average” we can be. That carries through … forever. What’s your size? Weight? Height? Unlike women, it’s socially acceptable to ask men what they weigh or how tall they are.

We also measure up to others with our wallets. “What kind of car do you drive? What do you do for a living?” These are questions that try to quantify who we are.

The Real Problem: 

We are measuring pieces of ourselves against pieces of someone else, without taking into account the whole person. This means that we are basing our self-esteem on who we are in comparison with part of someone else.

I will never be as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger. I highly doubt that I will ever amass the riches of Bill Gates. And if could only be as athletic, good looking, rich, philanthropic, intelligent, or married to a supermodel as Tom Brady. But those men are not who I am. So I will fall short.  Yet, if I’m measuring myself against them, I will fall short.

The Fix:

We need to measure ourselves against … ourselves. When I ran track in middle school, I knew that I would never be the fastest on my team. But I taught myself to run against my own time. Maybe I still came in last … but I would shave a few seconds off my time – and that was good enough.

We need to find the things that make us who we are and work at growing those. It’s not a Brad Pitt smile, but maybe our smile is what that customer needed this morning. It’s not a luxury SUV, but maybe buying the Starbucks for a person in uniform was the act of kindness that sparked someone else’s generosity. And even if our hands aren’t strong enough to rip phone books … they are always tender enough to take a loved one’s hand.

Masculinity Lies #2 “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Crying is a response to emotion – we cry because we’re hurt physically or emotionally. This can be directed towards us, or it can be that we just feel empathy for others. For me, I know that every time I watch a video of soldiers coming home to their families, I will bawl. I promise you. I know what it’s like to be away from my family for a few weeks – and that’s enough to tell me that I have no clue how hard it is to be away for months at a time.

 

The Real Problem:

Denying honest tears denies the emotions behind them. When you don’t cry – you stifle the emotions that are inside you. It’s no different than stepping in the trash can to compact the garbage so that you don’t have to take it out. You’re not “handling it” when you squash it down. And there will come a time when that doesn’t work. The bag will rip or the can will finally overflow. Likewise, if you keep shoving your emotions down, you will either finally break down in tears or lash out in anger.

I  vividly remember one night when we were part way through my wife’s pregnancy. I ran out to the store to find something that would help with the daily “morning” sickness she had been experiencing. Driving late at night, alone with my thoughts, I suddenly realized how overwhelmed I felt just caring for one human being. And they were about to become two. I questioned whether I would be a capable father. And then the song “What do I know of Holy” by Addison Road came on the radio and the tears flowed.

They didn’t last forever. I think so many times when we cry we feel like we are entering some permanent state. But when they stopped, I wiped my face and I was able to go grab some ginger ale and bring it home better equipped to handle the stress of the night.

The Fix:

Let the tears flow. Be in touch with who you are as a person. Use them to fuel your empathy and understand people better. Crying is way of working through the emotions – it will soothe you. It releases endorphins to help ease emotional and physical pain. If it’s easier to do it by yourself, that’s okay.

Please note too – if you are not a person who cries, that doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” with you either. We are all made differently.

Masculinty Lies#3: “Step up and Defend Your Woman’s Honor”

“Hey Biff, get your d*** hands off her.” Who can forget the immortal words that brought George and Lorraine McFly back together in Back to the Future. Because nothing is sexier than decking the town bully. Except maybe watching him drive into manure.

But fighting is hard for sensitive men. We empathize and we feel. Most of us don’t like the idea of getting hit – nor we do like the idea of inflicting pain on someone else. Granted, there may be cases where this is necessary, but I have to think that they are about as common as needing a branch to get out of quicksand (another Hollywood lie that disappointed me greatly; I always assumed quicksand would be a much more significant problem in life).

The Real Problem:

The number of times that fighting is actually necessary to defend the honor of our significant other seems to pale in comparison to the days of not needing to do it. Let’s assume that we have to do this – for whatever reason – once a year at a football game when Joe Fanboy gets a little handsy after having one or ten too many beers.

That’s one 1/365th of the year (or 366th). Am I going to spend every waking moment preparing for this “inevitability?” I have the “Eye of the Tiger” playing in my head now as I mentally punch hanging stuffed animals.

Honestly, in 21 years of marriage, the only time I have felt the urge to do this literally had nothing to do with our relationship and everything to do with me feeling insecure as a young husband.

I’m glad I put the bulk of my effort into the other 364 or 365 days.

The Fix:

There are so many more ways to honor a woman than pugilism. I don’t have to be the biggest guy out there. I need to have the biggest love; and that I can do. I can defend her honor just as effectively with words, flowers, chocolates. I can send her sexy pictures of myself – usually involving me doing the dishes while fully clothed. The sensitive man can offer empathy, attunement, and the ability to be present with his significant other … and that seems to be more significant than a sucker punch.

So stop comparing yourself to the heavily muscled hunk with the prehensile pecs and work with the strength that you have. Unless you ARE the heavily muscled hunk with the prehensile pecs, in which case, carry on, my friend.

Masculinity Lies#4: “I can do it myself.”

Deep within every one of us there is an inner 3-year-old, screaming, “I can do it myself!” The jokes and stereotypes abound with his: the man who doesn’t stop to ask where he is while lost, the man who tries a home-improvement project only to call a professional who has to fix the original problem – plus the ceiling where the man fell through it, and the man who attempts an Ikea puzzle without the instructions.

Why is it manly to wander lost, to fall through ceilings, and to try to smash together fine furniture? Yet asked for help is frowned upon?

The Real Problem:

You probably have a man in mind when you read that blurb. But the problem is that the whole description is that of a child. Doing things by one’s self isn’t a measure of adulthood. It’s a measure of a stubborn refusal to ask for help. Realistically, collaboration isn’t a one-man job. With apologies to the Army, many of us take the “Army of One” slogan literally and try to fight by ourselves. We take “Team Lift Only” warning on the box as “Name that Tune” challenge. “I can lift that box with 2 people.” “I can lift it with one person and a weight belt.” “I can lift it without the weight belt.”

The Fix:

Being a man means asking for help. We can’t have babies on our own. We can’t fight wars on our own. Heck, most of us can’t even build the Ikea table on our own. We need to realize that there is strength in the right numbers. There is wisdom in the right companions. And, as one of my favorite writers penned so eloquently, “If you need to know the measure of man, you simply count his friends.” (That’s from The Muppet Christmas Carol, by the way).

Masculinity Lies#5: “Win at all costs.”

And then there is the sacrificial man. The man who throws himself into his project or work so deeply that he’s willing to give up everything for it. The Egyptian King Pryrrhus has lent his name to this concept: a Pyrrhic victory. This is a conquering that has come at such a high cost that it could be measured as a defeat.

My sophomore year of college, I almost quit. My stress levels were high. And I was throwing my anxiety every direction. The dean of students called me in and asked what was going on with me. I explained that my grades were horrible. He asked what they were. “A’s and B’s,” told him. Yeah. He laughed at me too. But he also explained that many of the students with all As did nothing but study. I worked 2 part-time jobs, I had a family and a home, and I was a student.

Could I have gotten all A’s? Probably. But what other part would have suffered?

The Real Problem: 

The problem of winning at all costs is that you will most likely succeed. In men, this comes into play when we work so hard to provide our family with a lavish life that we don’t get to enjoy it with them. Or we sacrifice the intrinsic pieces of ourselves to get ahead. We might give up our honesty.

The Fix:

Step back. Many times it seems we are made for struggle. We get locked into “winning” – whatever that means. We continue to push into a career that’s wrong for us. We hold onto grudges. We don’t stop and ask for help.

Clarify your values.  Take some time away and ponder (or better yet, write down) what are your values. What adds significance to your life? Are you putting your efforts and energies into this?

Count the cost. We all have one constant currency in our lives. The writers of Rent penned it so well (and so repeatedly): 525,600 minutes in a year (or 527,040 in leap year). We spend them every 60 seconds and never get them back. Are we investing this time? Are we getting value back for it?

Maybe we need to step back and strive for mediocrity … or for balance.

***

Five lies. Five statements that carry with them an innate sense of shame that grabs ahold of our – ahem – manhood, and screams that we are not man enough. But that’s it. That’s the fighting point. The fix is not about embracing the stereotype that all men must be an emotionless Adonis fighting for the honor of Aphrodite and taking on hordes of bad guys by ourselves.

Instead, we fight against the principalities – the stereotypes that bind us. We need to take them by the throat and cut off the words that tell us we are not enough. And instead, we turn those words back.The stereotype is not enough. It’s not big enough to encompass the sensitive man with his subtle strength, his creative touch, and his attention to detail.

We are man enough.

This is what I do. As a man who is walking his way through this mess of stereotypes and semantics, I turn around and see so many others who are lost. They have been lied to. In my therapy sessions, we call out the lies and build strengths. If you are ready to make that step, I have an office in Canal Winchester, OH where I see clients or I can see them all across the state from my virtual office (online teletherapy). Check out my webpage for more details. or schedule a free consultation