How to Be a Man: Three Simple Steps

January 14, 2022

Article by Dr. Kyler Shumway

Video by Dr. Mike Balsan

 

“Just be a man!”  

“Man up!”  

“Be strong/tough/powerful/successful!”

If you were raised in American culture with traditional masculine values, you probably heard these kinds of things from time to time.

And yet, in a world riddled with violence, aggression, power grabs, and alexithymia (difficulty identifying, naming, and expressing emotions), we have to ask ourselves a very important question:

Is it working?

Is the way we raise our young boys and children healthy?  Are we preparing our youth for love or war?  Will the next generation make the same mistakes, or will they make the world a better place?

Questions like these keep me up at night.  Because I think I know what the answer is, and – though things have improved even in my few decades on this planet – it scares me.  

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Deep Eddy’s latest video, Dr. Mike Balsan shares a simple, yet clear message to all those who are building their masculine identities:

 

Whether you are figuring out what it means for you to be a man or want to learn how to raise children with positive masculinity, you can take Dr. Balsan’s word – the world needs men who help you feel safe and strong.  

So, how can you make that happen?  Here are three simple steps.

Step #1 – Free Yourself from the Rules

Society has taught us rules for what it means to be a man – what I like to refer to as “the old recipe for manhood.”  This recipe is around for one simple reason: it worked.  For a long time, there were characteristics that helped people survive; and if you didn’t follow them, you died.

Social scientists Deborah David and Robert Brannon (1976) proposed that the old recipe for masculinity has four main rules: No sissy stuff, be a big wheel, be a sturdy oak, and give ‘em hell.

No Sissy Stuff.  Sissy stuff refers to femininity – anything that is characteristic of being girly or womanlike is strictly prohibited.  From painting nails to having feelings, this rule has firm do’s and don’ts that “real men” were supposed to follow.

Be a Big Wheel.  The old recipe says that masculinity is measured by success, power, and the admiration of others. Big wheels are powerful, intimidating, and can roll right over whatever they want.  One must possess wealth, fame, and status to be considered manly.  Professional athletes, politicians, business tycoons, and the like are considered big wheels, role models for old recipe men to try to live up to.  

Be a Sturdy Oak.  Men who are tough, independent, and stoic are real men according to the old recipe.  You must be unphased by pain and loss.  You must admit no needs or weaknesses.  Like a sturdy oak in a storm, you have to be unyielding and strong. 

Give ‘em Hell.  Men are supposed to be primal, barbaric, and aggressive.  If someone makes you angry or threatens your possessions, you better be ready to make them pay through acts of violence.  People need to fear you so that you and your tribe stay safe from harm.  

Now, are these rules 100% bad?  No.  (Plus, only a Sith deals in absolutes!)  But, when we rigidly adhere to these rules, horrible things can happen.  If a man tells himself he can’t have feelings of sadness or fear, those things will translate into aggression and substance abuse.  If a person grits their teeth through medical problems and refuses to ask the doctors for help, they are going to suffer and die – needlessly, but only because the rules say so.  

Those who deny themselves aspects of life that fall under the feminine label live with one eye shut.  

Take a moment to reflect and think about how these rules have impacted you.  How have these rules helped, and how have they harmed?  What is the cost of living this way?  Is it worth the cost?

And then, give yourself permission to free yourself from the rules, and write your own story.

Step #2 – Notice Your Role Models

When I was young, I remember my father telling me about my Great Uncle Bruce.  He was a bear of a man who lived out in the wilderness with his wife in a cabin he made with his own two hands.  He raised cattle and horses, provided for himself and his partner, and didn’t need anyone else.  And one time, when he was shoeing one of his horses, the horse bit him – so he turned around, punched the horse in the head, and knocked it out stone cold.  

(Probably a bit of a tall tale, but who knows?)

See, I used to think of my Great Uncle Bruce as the manliest man who ever existed.  And in some ways, men like Bruce and other beefy meathead bros were responsible for inspiring the drive that eventually made me a top ten nationally-ranked shotputter.  But then, as I got older and wiser, and as my muscles converted to love handles, my masculinity was threatened.  And it was all because of the model I had in my mind for what it meant to be a man.

Without overthinking, ask yourself “who are the manliest men?” What kinds of men come to mind?

I’ll share some examples people share with me when I ask:

  • DeWayne “The Rock” Johnson
  • Vin Diesel 
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger 
  • The President of the U.S.
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Sylvester Stallone 
  • (you get the picture)

General themes of big muscles, powerful bodies, money, access to sex and women, and fame tend to weave throughout.  “Manly men.”

But then, if you think about the men in your life who have helped you feel cared for, safe, and strong, who comes to mind?  

I’ll name a few:

  • Fathers
  • Coaches
  • Mentors
  • Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

These lists aren’t quite the same, are they?  These kinds of men probably didn’t rigidly follow the old recipe.  

As you identify the values you want to live by, remember these lists. Keep in mind the kinds of men you aspire to be more like.  And make those men proud.

Step #3 – Feel Your Feelings (and Let Others Feel)

In our last blog segment, we talked about the importance of emotions – of feeling your feelings.  

So many of us were raised to ignore, feel ashamed about, or hide our emotions.  While this way of growing up wasn’t designed with malicious intent (again, the old recipe was all about survival in the old world), what once helped is now killing us.

Being a man means being human.  And just like Mr. Rogers once said, if it’s human, it’s mentionable; and if it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.  

Boys and men (and everyone!) deserve to have sadness.  We deserve to be able to ask for help, to have others support and nurture us, without being shamed and stripped of our identities.

We don’t have to defend against predators and enemy tribes anymore.  We don’t have to tighten our belts and carry others to the new land or ignore our fear in order to keep the party safe.  Our world has plenty of love and resources to go around – and it’s high time we let ourselves be part of that.  

Learning to feel your feelings is HARD.  It’s like learning to speak a new language or play an instrument for the first time.  But the more you practice, the better you’ll get.  

The best place to get started?  

Therapy.

Whether you are figuring out what it means for you to be a man or wanting to get in touch with your emotional world, we can help. 

Contact us today to get started.

Want to work with one of our Deep Eddy therapists?