Here’s the secret no one tells you about men.
In our heart of hearts, in that soft private place we’ve walled off behind the façade of toughness, we’re missing something we desperately need—we lack . . . self-respect.
Yes, men have a self-image problem. And it’s not because we’re portrayed in sitcoms as bumbling idiots incapable of understanding women or changing diapers. It’s because we’ve been raised to seek respect and respectability from purely external sources: success, wealth, power, influence, fame, and most of all female validation, instead of finding it where it already resides—within.
We’ve been raised to accept the validation dynamic.
Say what you want, but in our society men who attract and partner up with attractive women are not only held up as superior but also encouraged, through popular culture, to see themselves as superior, while men who remain frustrated in the dating game, “lose” their partners through breakup or divorce, “settle” for a woman on the plain side, or God forbid choose to remain single are perceived and presented as losers, as “less-thans,” the leftovers who are not worthy of a life with loveliness. And the pressure to achieve the things that we’ve been told attract that loveliness (fat wallet, flat stomach, four-hour erections) is intense.
This is why, when an ugly man is seen with a beautiful woman, we say, he’s either rich or good in bed. It couldn’t possibly be that she simply loves him.
This is why men flock to pick-up artists, to learn the secrets of getting pretty women to go out with and ultimately sleep with them, instead of working on being good relationship material.
And it’s why, I believe, there is an undercurrent of misogyny among some (but not all) men. Bear with me on this one.
Our social sexual rules set men up for rejection. Because men (mostly) do the asking, women have been given the power to validate, and when they withhold it, men get angry. Picture the frog stomping his frog legs when the beautiful princess refuses to kiss him, consigning him forever to life as a reptile. The anger isn’t right or appropriate or justified. But rejection cuts to the core, and its consequences can be devastating. Now please, please don’t interpret this as blaming men’s anger on women, who participate in but did not create the validation dynamic. Men and women both are 100% responsible for their own actions. But the anger men feel is real, and we can learn a lot by examining how a lack of self-respect influences male behavior.
I believe lack of male self-respect explains several things.
1. Male disrespect towards women. Plain and simple: if you don’t respect yourself, how can you respect others?
2. Male aggression. Power enables you to get things you want. If you feel you’re worthy and deserving of those things, you go out confidently and ask for them. If you feel you’re not, you either go without or go with force and take them.
3. Male competitiveness. When men compete, it’s not only to win the contest; it’s also to impress the woman who’s watching. Movies show us that the hero—the star athlete, the guy who goes from rags to riches, Bruce Willis in Die Hard, the savior of the world—is the one who gets the girl, while the supporting actors nod in deference. Respect is gained by winning, and to the victor the spoils.
4. Male fear of commitment. If men are so definite and decisive in business, why are they seen as wishy-washy when it comes to committed relationships? Is it fear of being tied down or the desire to keep having fun by playing the field? Possibly. But I believe it’s the deep-seated feeling of unworthiness, coupled with a lingering dread that the woman’s affection—and the worthiness it conveys—can be removed at any time. Rather than suffer the pain of that loss, men choose to stay uncommitted. This is not indecisiveness, but a form of self-protection.
5. Male homophobia. There are many reasons (all invalid) that hetero men hate gay men, but why do they find them threatening? They’re not taking away the available women. Perhaps it is because they are exercising self-respect by finding the courage to go with what they feel within. Men who are true to themselves and their convictions will always be perceived as threatening to men who remain trapped in their prejudices.
When men move towards self-respect and self-validation, male anger and the ugly things that accompany it will dissipate. Why? Because rejection will lose its power to hurt. Because a man with self-respect can say, “She didn’t want me. I will find someone else. I will find someone better. I will find someone who deserves me.”
Here are three ways men can start building healthy self-respect.
1. If you’re in a relationship with a woman, drop the assumption, “She is with me, so I am worthy.” Instead, say to yourself. I am worthy, so she is with me.” Women are not men’s better halves. They are just women, and a healthy relationship is a relationship of equals.
2. Be the qualities you want to attract in a partner. If you want a loving, respectful, appreciative, and affectionate, mate, then bring out those desirable behaviors in yourself. Whether or not you attract someone right away, you’ll be happier with and you’ll develop more respect for who you are.
3. Measure yourself only against your own standards. Remember that you can only be yourself. Set high standards for your own conduct and accomplishment, and never try to achieve an artificial ideal of success or happiness. True happiness—and the self-respect that underlies it—comes from accepting your imperfections and being comfortable in your own skin.
It may be hard to think of men, who appear to have so much power and respect from the world at large as lacking self-respect inside. But understanding this truth is, I believe, the first step down the road to building better men, and to creating a safer, more peaceful world.
This story first appeared at The Good Men Project. More from our partner:
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