Toxic masculinity is, arguably, one of the most destructive forces in the world.
All of us have been harmed by it, and many of us suffer immeasurably because of it. So what is it and what can we do to improve the situation?
There seems to be a lot of confusion as to the difference between toxic and healthy masculinity. This is not surprising, given that today’s society invests little time educating young people in this area.
First, we have to define what we are talking about when we say toxic masculinity. The best way to do that is to first look at what healthy masculinity is.
What does healthy masculinity look like?
Healthy masculinity comes from a developed and connected place, one of compassion and strength. There are several foundational elements, including grounding, presence, emotional awareness, emotional release, self-love, and compassion.
The healthy masculine is stable and rooted to the earth. Grounding has been critical in my masculine development over the years. I began to practice a daily grounding exercise in 2006. Since then, each day, I have become more and more grounded and thus more connected to my authentic healthy masculine.
Grounding is your body’s connection to the earth. It is the force of gravity that stops you floating away into space. Extensive research has shown that reconnecting your body with the electron field and gravitational force of the earth can positively affect both physical and emotional health in a number of significant ways. (Ober, Google Scholar; National Institute of Health)
Grounding helps build self-love and self-confidence by helping us keep our awareness within our bodies. Being grounded is so fundamental that when people are not grounded, they can sometimes experience nervousness and anxiety. When we become truly rooted to the earth, we rarely experience anxiety or depression. (G. Chevalier, Google Scholar)
When I began to practice a daily grounding exercise, I became more connected to my inherent healthy masculinity. I discovered that healthy masculinity was my natural state—it was simply that I had been disconnected from it. It had been part of me since birth, but there was something blocking it: my buried emotions. If we suppress our emotions instead of feeling them, they build up inside, preventing us from grounding properly. For men, this also stops us connecting to our healthy masculinity.
In order for me to be able to handle and process my buried emotions, I had first to ground myself.
This process is similar to the black wire in an electrical appliance, like a refrigerator or stereo receiver. Without a grounding wire, electricity in an appliance cannot flow and the machine cannot function. The human body functions in a similar way. When a man is not grounded, he cannot tolerate feeling his own emotions.
Presence and grounding are part of the same thing. They need each other to exist, and both help connect a man to his healthy masculine core. To be present is to exist in the present moment.
Like many, I used to spend much of my time thinking about the past and planning or worrying about the future. We often have anxiety about what is going to happen. How will we get a better job and make more money? How will we get the partner we want? How will we afford that vacation?
We can spend a lot of time out of the present and in the future. When we do this, we’re not paying attention to our bodies, noticing our emotions, and we are not grounded. This state of worrying and planning can cause anxiety and depression.
On our long path, we eventually figure out that depression and anxiety exist only in the future. If we are in the present and rooted to the earth at the same time, it is highly unlikely we will worry or experience depression or anxiety. One of the aspects of healthy masculinity is to be calm and present. Grounding and presence go hand in hand. Each strengthens the other and, for most men, they help open the door to healthy masculinity.
When you are grounded and present, you can feel your emotions more easily because they exist only in the now. The only time to feel an emotion is now. You must be present to feel an emotion, but you must be grounded to be able to handle it. With a regular grounding practice you can, over time, begin to feel your emotions more and more. At first, it may be a challenge to identify your feelings. However, in time, you start to be able to distinguish the subtle differences.
For many men, the only emotion that they can really feel and identify with is anger. Men are often taught by family and society that showing emotions is wrong. The situation is a little different with anger. Though we are told by society that anger is not acceptable, we are shown that it is okay through the behavior of other men. Outbursts of rage are modeled for us as an acceptable alternative, even if we are told the opposite.
As we slowly become aware of all our different emotions, and start to allow and release them, we are able to be more grounded and present, and thus more in touch with our healthy masculinity.
When a man can allow and let his feelings flow, he becomes truly strong. When you suppress or repress your emotions, they don’t disappear. Instead, they get stored in your body.
Suppressing is when a feeling arises and you immediately bury it so you do not have to experience it. For example, you are on vacation and feel sad. You think, “No, I want to be happy,” so you push the sadness down. Repressing is the same thing, but it happens completely outside of your awareness. The emotions you block are then stored in your body—in your muscles, bones, and organs.
If you suppress or repress your feelings, it saps your strength. It takes a huge amount of energy to keep a lid on all those emotions and then all that energy is unavailable. When feelings are allowed to flow naturally instead of being stifled, an enormous amount of healthy masculine energy becomes available again. It is not just that emotions give power; it is that leaving them alone to flow naturally returns the power used to block them.
There are many different types of emotional release exercises you can do to let go of the feelings stuck in your body. Sometimes, you need to do a fair amount of this because you have been storing them for so long. Perhaps you are even experiencing health issues, which could be due to these stored emotions. These issues will slowly clear as you do emotional releasing exercises. Releasing and clearing allows you to become more grounded and present as well. Once you clear a fair amount of the stored emotions you begin to return to health and connect with your healthy masculine.
Self-love and Compassion
The central pillar of healthy masculinity is self-love. This may sound woo-woo or hippy to some people, but bear with me.
There is nothing weak about love.
In our popular culture, since the 1960s, there has been a connection made between certain words and phrases, such as “hippy,” “love,” “weak,” “flaky,” “irresponsible,” “unrealistic,” “disorganized,” “air-headed,” “unscientific,” and many others.
For whatever reasons these connections were first drawn, the most unfortunate one is between the words “love” and “weak.” Most of us have experienced a time or event where love was shown to be a truly powerful force. In love lies a great strength, and in self-love, we gain the most strength of all.
As you begin to love yourself more, you notice that it also becomes easier to ground, to be present, and to feel your emotions. You also begin to have a greater and deeper sense of self, of who you really are, minus all the beliefs and ideas that you have picked up along the way from parents, family, friends, teachers, and the media. You realize that most of what you think of as “me”—the way you behave, what you say, what you like and dislike—is not you at all.
Your real self has been hiding underneath somewhere, and if you are most men, your real self has a healthy masculinity. It may be difficult to accept this premise—that most of who you think you are is not really you. But once you start to shed that false skin, it is an exhilarating experience, because the real you has wanted to get out for your whole life.
When you learn to truly love yourself, even to a small degree, the real self starts to emerge and it brings with it your healthy masculinity. For most men, healthy masculinity simply means connecting with your authentic self.
What is the natural masculine state?
It is a state of being okay with whatever happens, of simply allowing anything and everything inside and outside to be as it is. To judge what is, or disagree with it, means fighting, and that drains your strength. Fighting requires constant effort with no benefits, it ungrounds you, diminishes your love and self-respect, and causes you to bury more emotions and drain even more strength. To judge, to fight, and to oppose anything weakens you.
Healthy vs. Toxic Masculinity
When healthy masculinity emerges in a man, it comes from his true, authentic self.
It rises when he is able to cultivate self-love. This self-love arises more easily with the release of old emotions, and by practicing grounding and presence. It is as if healthy masculinity is in a combination safe. Grounding, presence, emotional awareness, emotional release, and compassion are each one of the numbers in the combination; each is an essential part of the same code to unlock the door to the real self and healthy masculinity.
Healthy masculinity exists in a man who is both grounded and present, who is aware of and able to feel and process his emotions. It exists in a man who has compassion for others and the world, and therefore has some measure of self-love. The healthy masculine sees challenges in the world and then looks within for the solution. This man is capable of loving himself and therefore has extra love to give to others. His default is to give, not take.
Toxic masculinity is an earlier stage in male development.
Most men today come from a place not of unhealthy (or toxic) masculinity but of lack of any masculinity.
Most men are “nice guys” who have neither healthy nor unhealthy masculinity on the surface. Their masculinity is simply dormant. There is another type of man, however, who does have unhealthy masculinity—what we call “toxic masculinity.”
Unhealthy masculinity exists in a man who is unable to feel most of his emotions and who buries them instead of expressing or processing them. It exists in a man who has little compassion for others and the world and who does not love himself. This man has a fragile ego structure in place of self-love and blames others for his problems instead of looking within. This man attaches to others for support and may appear to love them, but actually just needs them. His default is to take, not give.
The Three Stages of Masculinity
David Deida in his book, The Way of the Superior Man, calls this unhealthy masculinity the first stage man. He lays out three stages of the development of masculinity in the male population.
The first stage is the traditional male, the toxic masculine.
The second is the nice guy, the people-pleasing person who has more intellectual capacity and understanding than the first stage, but is disconnected from his grounding and presence. The vast majority of men are in this second stage.
The third-stage man is a second-stage man who has learned to connect with his healthy masculinity through self-love. The emerging man who has healthy masculinity is always in some stage of growth—he is self-aware, thoughtful, grounded, decisive, able to face his own fear, aware of his body, in touch with his emotions, a compassionate leader, a healer, and connected to nature. He can hold space for the feminine and is capable of deep connection with the feminine on both an emotional and an energetic level.
These three stages are a linear progression of development.
In the ancient past, most men were in the first stage, the toxic masculine. The toxic masculine is our heritage. However, in our current era, most men are in the second stage of development. They are nice guys who are simply disconnected from their masculine. Some men are just beginning to enter the third stage: the development of the healthy masculine.
First-stage men are unable to experience most emotions outside of anger. They tend to enjoy violence in one form or another. They have not yet developed true compassion for others and thoughtful awareness, which is a necessary stage before the development of self-love. They can seem to love others, but this is generally more of an attachment or need for support than actual compassion. First-stage men can be in touch with their grounding and presence, but also their anger—and this can make them extremely cruel since they are so out of touch with compassion. For these men, growth means first to transition into the second stage, the nice guy.
There are many men who are in the middle of this transition and have aspects of both the first and second stage. These men are attractive to many women because unlike the solid second-stage nice guy, they still retain some masculinity. Unfortunately, that masculinity is unhealthy, and they may not possess deep emotional or intellectual awareness, nor will they have true compassion for others.
The three stages made simple:
>> First stage (unhealthy masculine): grounded, present.
>> Second stage (nice guy): compassionate, emotional awareness dawning, intellect.
>> Third stage (healthy masculine): grounded, present, compassionate, emotionally aware, intellect, decisive leader, healer, connected to nature, self-love.
In today’s world, most men are nice guys and there are few healthy masculine men.
The nice guy generally cannot stand up to the toxic masculine man and the healthy masculine man is rare. Thus, the toxic masculine holds sway in our world. The good news is that nice guys can become healthy masculine men!
The solution to the issue of toxic masculinity is to guide and educate the unhealthy masculine men into the nice guy stage, and to guide and educate nice guys into the healthy masculine stage. We can do this for ourselves, for our friends, or for anyone we encounter by sharing this information and the tools and exercises that go along with it.
There is a lot of work for us to do but the reward is a far, far better world.