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Gender and sexuality play large roles in how we have come to understand mental illness, especially in regards to their development. While society today has come a long way in challenging typical male stereotypes, ideas surrounding toxic masculinity continue to negatively impact life for many. 

Although men and women are both affected by mental illness, mental health is often overlooked or neglected in men. Although men are four times more likely to die by suicide compared to women, men are still significantly less likely to seek out treatment for their mental health. It is essential to acknowledge how toxic masculinity can play a role in mental health, not only by limiting men from getting the help that they need, but also by contributing to the development of prolonged mental illness. 

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

“Toxic masculinity” describes the negative characteristics associated with exaggerated masculine traits. Toxic masculinity is often misunderstood because it causes a person to question the traditional roles of men. Although toxic masculinity typically affects males, similarly unhealthy traits can surface in any gender. As modern-day society evolves, it is important to recognize that toxic masculinity can cause significant issues for mental health. 

In order to grasp an understanding of what toxic masculinity is, consider these harmful concepts within masculinity. These include:

  • intense and exaggerated strength
  • lack of emotion
  • extreme self-sufficiency 
  • unhealthy dominance
  • sexual virility

Based on traditional and historical roles, a man that does not display these traits to their fullest extent may fall short of being a “real” man. Overemphasis on these traits can cause significant damage to development, especially regarding mental health. These unhealthy expectations may lead to:

  • outward aggression
  • entitlement
  • showing little or no empathy
  • showing little or no emotion
  • sexism
  • isolation
  • problems with self-worth
  • greater depression and anxiety
  • substance use or abuse
  • problems with intimacy

Understanding How Toxic Masculinity Affects Mental Health

Toxic masculinity is often learned from the traditional roles of parents or guardians and, if it is not addressed, it can continue from generation to generation. Although society is working towards changing negative stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding gender-defined thinking, it is necessary to address how masculinity still contributes to problems with mental health. 

Toxic masculinity involves a mindset that needing support or guidance can make one seem weak. It also involves a mindset that neglects to address psychological distress, as acknowledging stress can also make one seem weak. When feelings are repeatedly dismissed, a person learns to avoid their feelings entirely. They also learn to avoid expressing themself alongside their feelings, which causes distress to bottle up internally. Over time, prolonged sadness will likely lead to dysfunctional emotional expression and depression. 

Extreme Self-Sufficiency and Lack of Connection

An exaggerated belief in self-sufficiency related to toxic masculinity can also lead to numerous problems in mental health, especially when it comes to connecting with others. The historical sexist dynamic that originated in traditional relationship roles affects men’s ability to be interdependent in intimate relationships today. This may look like unhealthy dominance in relationships with others, exhibiting symptoms related to narcissism or other personality disorders. This may surface as aggression and violence, especially when unhealthy masculinity is not addressed. 

How to Address Toxic Masculinity

For those who exhibit toxic masculinity, these traits have been deeply ingrained into their minds. There are many positive steps that men can take to challenge their own version of normal. It is important to help create a healthier and more inclusive culture of masculinity, not only to avoid mental illness but also to promote well-being for men. 

If you feel that you or your loved one exhibits traits of toxic masculinity, here are some suggestions of ways you can address these unhealthy traits. 

  • Examine your unconscious biases by paying attention to what behaviors trigger you, especially when behaviors come from those that do not share your same gender identity. Try to find the root of what is triggering you, and take the opportunity as room for growth. 
  • Be transparent about your own health. Whether unhealthy traits are being exhibited by a male or not, encourage genuine, intimate conversation with people that avoid talking about their mental health. It is essential that everyone feels comfortable discussing their mental health so that distress and personal feelings are not avoided. 
  • Advocate for gender rights. Not all those that exhibit toxic masculine traits are sexist, but it is important to call out those that are. Do not allow societal conditioning to spread so others grow up exhibiting the same unhealthy traits. Speak out when you feel compelled to do so, even when it is hard. 

Toxic masculinity is an ongoing issue. It is essential that we learn the nature of toxic masculinity as well as how to identify it in others and in ourselves. Toxic masculinity can cause individuals to neglect their emotions, focus aggression outward, and exhibit unhealthy self-sufficiency. No matter where these unhealthy traits develop, it is important to acknowledge them when they surface so that people can recognize the importance of their own mental health. West Coast Recovery Centers is a gender-responsive treatment center that respects and values your gender. We understand that toxic masculinity can play a role in your life regardless of whether you identify as male. It is important to us that you get the individualized treatment you need and deserve to secure mental health and addiction recovery. For more information about the treatment and other resources we offer, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509. We look forward to speaking with you!