In some way, Men carry shame simply for being male. Images abound for men to make them feel inadequate: Examples are everywhere for men to compare themselves to guys with ripped bodies, driving expensive cars and if they ever come home it is to big houses and loving wives and well-mannered kids. These men are always successful, happy and strong.
Granted these images are how advertisers makes us feel inadequate. It is implied that our lives will be satisfying if we purchase all the products we see on the screen.
The comparisons that men make are a short cut to feeling shame and inadequacy. When we compare our insides (financial insecurities, emotional struggles and vulnerabilities) to other people’s outsides (perceived financial success, effortless perfection and relational bliss).
Because aren’t we as men supposed to have it all together? We are supposed to know all the answers, the questions, the right way to do everything. Wrong, but we are raised to not ask for help and to know next to nothing about intimacy in relationships.
Another source of shame for men is the way that we self-police to disavow our own feelings and their expression. Men are shamed starting in childhood for shedding tears out of frustration, being physically hurt or scared. If a boy survives emotionally it is by either pushing down his emotions or by becoming numb to them.
If a boy or man express tears he either tries to hide them; “I have something in my eye,” or he expresses them and then feels shame for showing “weakness.” He may later apologize to his friends or others as if his grief or distress was something he needs to feel shame for having. There is not room for his humanity to come through. Any expression of his vulnerability is an unforgivable slight to himself and others.
There is also shame for men around our most intimate relationships. The things we have been taught: To always look strong, etc. are at odds with the vulnerability we need to express and receive to be close. We are raised to disconnect or bury feelings so we are poor communicators of our own feelings and struggle to connect to other’s pain or upsets. When our partners walk away in anger, disgust or tears we may feel our own anger and beneath that the sense of our own inadequacy. Some of that inadequacy is not knowing our own wants, being passive or unresponsive when our full attention is needed, etc.
And finally, there is the way that men feel shame about not knowing our wants. There is an expression that says, “Tell me what you want and I will tell you who you are.” By that I mean that some men are good at finding out what others in their lives want or need but come up short when they need to speak their own wants. When asked what they want they might reply with, “I don’t know, whatever you want, dear.” This over time is sure to be met with steam coming out of their partner’s ears. By expressing what we want we are defining ourselves in an important way so our partners have something to push back against and define themselves as well.
There can be self-reflection and then shame when told, “Oh, come on, just say what you want for dinner, or what color you want to paint the house!” As they reflect they may feel shamed by themselves as they think “Yeah, what is wrong with me that I have no idea what I want?” The answer lies also in how we raise boys so that a disconnect happens between their true wants and passions.
It is no surprise that there is a great deal of shame in men in our culture today.