Self-Esteem and Men
One of the most common reasons men seek out therapy is to gain help with self-esteem. As a counselor, I can tell you it’s an issue that pops up frequently during sessions.
You may be wondering why? It’s simple.
Guys would rather talk about anything other than how they feel. It’s not that they don’t want to – they do. But our society is such that guys are taught “real men” don’t talk about self-worth.
Chalk it up to toxic masculinity or false constructs about what it means to be manly. The result is still the same. A culture in which guys keep quiet about how they view themselves.
That’s a shame when you think about it. Research tells us that something like 10% of guys in the United States struggles with depression.
And if I were a betting at a poker table in Vegas, I’d wager those numbers are much higher.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, it may be helpful to have a basic definition of self-esteem (through the lens of men).
What is self-esteem?
At its core, self-esteem is an emotional evaluation of a person’s self-worth. It’s how a guy views himself in comparison to others.
This evaluation usually occurs by comparing oneself to others, including peers, family members, and friends.
Men’s self-esteem destroyers
Many pages on the Internet talk about how men can increase self-esteem. That’s cool. Goodness knows we need more of these resources.
But here’s the thing.
Few articles appear online that directly speak to the specific behaviors guys engage in that destroy it. In fact, that’s what inspired me to pen this piece.
What follows are 10 things guys do that chip away at self-worth. Some of these may some obvious. Others may cause you to pause and think.
I encourage you to read them all in context with your own life.
Let’s jump right in!
1. Buying into toxic masculinity
Right out of the gate, I’m mentioning this one because it’s a major annihilator of self-esteem.
Whenever you program your mind into believing that men “must” behave a certain way, you literally place a chokehold on your self-worth.
- Believing guys shouldn’t talk about how they feel.
- Thinking that you aren’t a man because you experience periods of self-doubt.
- Assuming that real men don’t experience sadness, shame, and depression.
I’m not knocking alcohol. Tying a few on occasionally can be fun. The problem occurs when men rely on alcohol to socialize with others.
The insidious part of this activity is how alcohol can transform into addiction. When this happens, a whole new set of problems comes to arise.
That’s when alcohol use becomes abuse. Here’s some examples:
- Depending upon alcohol to interact with friends.
- Needing to down a few shots before going out on dates.
- Regularly drinking alcohol before bedroom activities.
3. Clamming up
I mentioned this earlier but it’s worth reinforcing here. Guys are notorious for clamming up when it comes to how they feel. While there are generational differences, as a tribe we’re pretty bad in this area.
And things can go from bad to worse when we surround ourselves with others who do the same thing.
Here, I’m talking about buddies who are incapable of having conversations about anything real.
- Experiencing a major loss and pretending it doesn’t affect you.
- Minimizing past hurts, such as physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse.
- Always using humor as a shield against what’s going on deep inside.
4. Playing negative mental tapes
One of the first things I encourage men to do when examining their self-worth is to assess their mental tape. You may be wondering what means?
Simply put, a mental tape is an internal message you play repeatedly in your mind. Sometimes, the tape is healthy. Other times, it’s toxic.
When the tape is ugly, thoughts act like battery acid, quickly eroding your self-concept down to nothing. In turn, this can contribute to depression and loneliness.
- “I’ve always sucked at interviewing. Why will things be any different this time around?”
- “Who would want to be with me – I’ve got nothing to offer.”
- “I hate myself because (fill in the blank).
5. Unchecked body image issues
One of the best-kept secrets among men is closely held body image issues. I’ll give it to the ladies – at least this is a topic they talk about in open forums.
But not us guys. Oh, hell no.
That’s because many of us believe that if we talk about displeasure with our personal appearance, we somehow aren’t men. It’s a crock of BS but that’s our reality.
- Not going to the gym because we think we’re “too fat” to be around a bunch of bodybuilders.
- Thinking that to be a man, you’ve got to have a six-pack and giant guns.
- Unfairly comparing your physique to other guys who have completely different body types.
6. Denying mental health issues
Mental health stigmas have been around for as long as I can shake a stick at. But for some reason, they seem really bad when it comes to men.
Some of this likely has to do with toxic masculinity as mentioned earlier. How many guys do I know who think, “Real men don’t get depressed!”
Regardless, there are a lot of men who struggle with mental health issues. And when they aren’t addressed, they have a way of taking a toll on self-esteem.
- Not seeking help for depression because “guys don’t do that”.
- Pretending your anxiety isn’t real and that you can magically handle it.
- Equating mental health issues with a “sickness”.
7. Learned helplessness
This one may take time for you to absorb but I think it will make sense after giving it thought.
Learned helplessness is a ten-dollar term used to describe a dynamic where a person becomes a prisoner of the past. In turn, this acts as a permission slip to remain miserable.
When you buy into learned helplessness, you fall into the trap of inaction, thereby remaining stuck in misery.
- Not doing cardio because, in the past, it didn’t generate results. You believe this even though you previously only gave it a half-hearted effort.
- Not acquiring new skills in a given area because, in the past, you’ve experienced failure.
- Never trying anything new because you’ve already determined you suck at it – based some event from your past.
A major reason men worsen feelings of self-worth is by isolating. Here, I’m talking about avoiding others because you don’t want people to see how crappy you feel.
Paradoxically, isolating has a way of perpetuating. In turn, this can cause a man to become a recluse and cut himself off from important life relationships.
Moreover, ongoing isolation can lead to (or worsen) depression. When you throw in point number 4 from above, it doesn’t take long to see how self-esteem ends up in the toilette.
9. Abusing 420
Let me come right and say I don’t have an issue with marijuana. If I had a magic wand, I’d legalize the $hit everywhere because too many men are sitting in jail for past recreational use.
That said, there is a difference between use and abuse.
Abuse happens when you rely on marijuana to get through the day. Addiction occurs when you can’t function without taking a toke. And here’s what I know that a lot of guys won’t say in public.
Pot (when abused) can cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Some folks refer to this as paranoia. In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter.
But here’s what does.
If you are abusing 420 to interact or escape from serious mental pain, you are killing your self-esteem.
10. Blaming others
If you struggle with your self-worth, it’s easy to blame others for the crappy things that have happened in your life.
But here’s the real deal – blaming will only get you so far.
One of the core tenants of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (a form of CBT) is that we can integrate aspects of our past into the here and now without getting caught up in the blame game.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be pissed at whoever hurt you. And please don’t confuse what I am saying with reaching for the forgiveness card.
Instead, what I’m suggesting is that you accept really bad things that happened in your life while taking responsibility for the decisions you make in the here and now.
Hey, I admit it. This isn’t easy and may require that you engage in various forms of mindful living.
But if you keep playing the blame game, you’ll remain stuck in a negative morass.
Summing Things Up
Your self-concept represents your innermost perceptions about how you view yourself. What you feel inside has a way of projecting outward through what you think, do, and say.
If you are engaging in any of the behaviors described above, it’s likely damaging your ego; the middleman who lives in your heart and mirrors out what’s locked inside.
To my mind, guys who address these issues and are manliest on the planet.
That includes you.
Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R., & Stapp, J. (1975). Ratings of self and peers on sex role attributes and their relation to self-esteem and conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(1), 29-39.