I used to regard the life I was leading as a lie. My fear was that people would see me as weak, indecisive and scared. I wonder whether this is typical for men?
According to Tony Robbins we all have a Primary Question. It’s a question we ask ourselves everyday of our lives, one that controls our focus and the direction of our lives. For many years my Primary Question was, “What if I’m found out?” I regarded the life I was leading as a lie, a mask, an attempt to bolster my male power. My fear was being found out by someone, by anyone. My fear was that people would see the real me, the weak, indecisive and scared me.
To avoid being discovered I put on a front of strength and determination. I hid behind a view I had of masculinity, of male power, a view that I thought protected me.
As I developed my view of myself and moved beyond this phase, as I started asking myself better questions, I found that I was left with a borrowed view of masculinity. I realized I was lost, as a man. My view of myself was based on an idea of being a man that I thought was attractive to women. I realized this was false when I discovered that the women I knew saw through this mask.
It was only when I looked closely at myself, when I discarded what I thought a man should be, that I started living as the man I am. It was then that my outward presence shifted, it was then I became just me, a masculine man not a not pale shadow of a male stereotype.
The context within which I now see myself as a man is one of honesty and authenticity. Its not that they are necessarily masculine characteristics, but they do reveal a man in his true essence. My mask is swept away and what I now see as masculinity appears free and clear. Women see this and respond to the clarity. The nature of the masculinity revealed is personal to me. There is no one model, there are many forms of masculinity, all equally valid.
Looking from the other side of the shift I wonder where the mask came from and why it was so deeply entrenched. It contributed to the failure of a 30 year marriage and to the bankruptcy of two companies.
I am British, white, and from a normal middle class background. My family were not well off but we did not want for anything. I had a good education and nothing abnormal happened in my life. This is the kind of background that produces many normal men, men who grow up behind masks, feigning masculinity.
I believe that there is a core essence we are born with, an essence of sexuality, gender and personality. This essence creates us as straight or gay, masculine or feminine, extrovert or introvert, etc. This is not the whole truth but it does influence how we react to life, how we make decisions about ourselves.
This core is overlaid in the early years, up to about age seven, with the experiences that most powerfully influence our development. This period can re-inforce or suppress our essence. The influence and effect, or lack of it, of our parents is primary and it is backed up by friends, teachers and many others.
It is in this period that I believe the idea of a mask is born. This when we decide whether we are worthy, whether people like us. It affects our sense of self. Our sexuality and our view of gender can be affected as can be seen in the dramatic effect that sexual abuse can have. It often corrupts the victim.
Beyond these years we continue to grow in a cultural milieu that influences us. As men, if we have decided that by the age of seven that we are not worthy, we will often seek refuge in stereotypical ideas of masculinity to hide what we really are.
William Pollack said in his book “Real Boys’ Voices”,
When boys speak about ‘being themselves’. Many describe a double life in which they are one person in public — a cool guy who plays fast and lives by the rules of the Boy Code — and somebody completely different in his private life, often a much more creative, gentle, caring sort of guy. Others say they can ‘be themselves’ only after they go home, go to their own rooms, and shut out the outside world. What just about every boy says he knows all too well is what I call the mask of masculinity, a stance of male bravado and stoicism boys learn to use to cover over their inner feelings of sadness, loneliness, and vulnerability, to act cool, and to protect themselves from being shamed by their peers.”
This can happen to all of us but why is this particularly an issue for men.
Men are normally raised by mothers not fathers, although this is slowly changing. During the formative years, up to age seven, boys tend to be more influenced by women. This is still so today with the large number of absent fathers, for whatever reason. A boy accepts this female role model until the time of separation comes. This is the time when boys are about to become men, puberty is approaching and society dictates that they need male role models in order to develop their sense of masculinity. In tribal societies this was dealt with by ritual and initiation, recruiting the boy into the dominant male group.
The transition to manhood can fail to work for many reasons. It can be forced and happen before the boy is ready for it, the father may fail to provide guidance or it could be unnecessary and harmful to the boy. In many urban contexts this transition happens on the streets with gangs taking over the role of parents. The story of Oedipus is a myth about this period of transition.
This passage can result in confusion for the boy/man, depriving him of connection to his mother and not replacing it, causing him to fall back on the stereotypes he is fed by the media and by friends. This slowly becomes a mask, a masculine stereotype.
In my case I lacked the guidance from anyone to make this shift and, as I retreated from both my parents, I found it difficult to know who I was or how I should behave.
Much of the blame I put on the view of men I had from the media. All men face these issues and the resolution is to help boys and men face the shifts they go through and understand that they can make their own decisions and frame their own masculinity.
I now live way beyond the mask I wore when I was younger. I see myself clearly and understand the issues I faced through my life. I have successfully dealt with the issues and feel happy and relaxed as a man. I no longer worry about being found out, I happily let people see my true essence, see me as I truly am.
Many men have not had the advantage of gaining the understanding and experience to take their life beyond their troubles. I now work as a Men’s Coach, helping men to move forward and come to terms with what they have been avoiding.
Is your life relaxed and peaceful? Have you come to a clear understanding of who you are as a man? Have you dealt with the issues you had when making your transition from boy to man? Let me know in the comments what your view of masculinity and how you balance it in your life.
Life is all about making a choice regardless what is thrown at you. Overcoming these so call obstacles that will assist you in becoming a better person. Go against the grain and do not just grow into that idol that society wants you to be. Fighting to keep your own image and standing fast for what you believe in is the only thing that counts.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Martin Cathrae