In our previous post, we discussed the toxic effects of shame on women’s mental health and well-being, and the research finding that shame is experienced differently by men and women because it is linked to cultural expectations about gender roles.
For men, shame arises from the imperative to never show weakness. Men are frequently held to the unwavering demand that they demonstrate strength and control at all times, even—and especially—in situations when they may be experiencing fear, anxiety, sadness, hurt, doubt or uncertainty. Experiences that can trigger shame evoke those parts of ourselves that we’ve been taught to deny or reject—those vulnerabilities that are associated with weakness. Experiences like being unemployed, learning your partner is having an affair, and coping with childhood sexual abuse can trigger intense shame, as can daily occurrences like being chastened for a lack of mastery in any number of “manly” pursuits (i.e. sports, cars, home repair, sex and career advancement).
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes that we live in a culture where “emotional stoicism and self-control are rewarded, and displays of emotion are punished. Vulnerability is now weakness. Anger becomes an acceptable substitute for fear, which is forbidden.” As a way to avoid appearing weak, men are conditioned to react to shame with denial, indifference and anger, which leads to disconnection and isolation. Depression, anxiety, addiction, and interpersonal difficulties are all linked to chronic experiences of shame.
Brown’s research indicates that shame grows in silence and dissipates in the presence of empathy.
She suggests three strategies that can help men to build shame resilience and gain greater connection and intimacy:
- Reaching out for help: No one can handle all of life’s difficulties on their own. It’s a vulnerable practice to ask for help, and the courage to do so is rewarded with more genuine, closer relationships.
- Owning mistakes and being accountable: The myth that being wrong shows weakness sets the stage for conflicts focused on blame rather than opportunities for honesty, learning and strengthening the connection.
- Setting clear boundaries: The willingness to honestly express difficult emotions is integral to the setting of healthy boundaries, and to cultivate relationships based on mutual support, respect and empathy—a triple threat for shutting down the shame.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.