Easily misinterpreted, we see the term “toxic masculinity” being thrown around the news cycle as a way to address cultural issues facing men today. At first glance, toxic masculinity isn’t clearly defined. The boundary between common social interactions and negative misconduct is often blurred. However, toxic masculinity is connected to aggression, violence, and sexual prowess, describing a deeply rooted ideal of how a man “should” be.
Understanding the signs of toxic behavior early on can provide great insight into breaking apart this dangerous brand of masculinity.
Toxic masculinity extends beyond obvious aggressive behavior seen in the headlines. There are direct correlations between toxic masculinity, addiction, and dangerous behaviors involving substances like alcohol. Excessive drinking happens especially with college-aged men due to the societal pressures put on them. With drinking challenges and pressures to perform in crowds of their peers, it can quickly lead to normalizing binge drinking during their college experience and well into adulthood.
In a survey conducted in the research article “Man-ing” up and Getting Drunk: The Role of Masculine Norms, Alcohol Intoxication and Alcohol-Related Problems among College Men,” 68% of male college students equated consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol without an adverse physical reaction as part of “masculine” behavior.
Excessive or binge drinking paired with competitive environments creates the perfect storm for unsafe interactions. This includes risky sexual behavior, aggression, alcohol-related injuries or even death.
Suppressing Emotions and Masculine Norms
Disordered drinking connects to another aspect of toxic masculinity: suppressing emotions. Suppressing emotions, forming a ‘hard’ appearance, or extreme self-reliance is often associated with stereotypical masculinity. For many, not being able to be vulnerable or asking for help leads to drinking as a coping mechanism to avoid or numb emotions.
The “Man-ing Up” study continues with a list of other masculine norms,
- Striving to win at all costs (winning)
- Sexual prowess / Hypersexuality (being a playboy)
- Controlling one’s emotions (emotional control)
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviors (‘YOLO’ / risk-taking)
- Inclination towards physical aggression (violence)
- Asserting influence over situations (dominance)
- Proclivity towards independence (self-reliance)
All of these defined and idealized traits can be magnified and abused with alcohol.
Healthy Masculinity vs. Toxic Masculinity
Untangling the overt nature of toxic masculinity ultimately means being vulnerable. For many stuck in the toxic masculinity cycle, the idea of asking for help seems unheard of. Usually toxic behavior is only addressed when there are academic challenges, dropping out of school all together, health scares from binge drinking, or destroyed relationships.
When going through the beginning stages of recovery, opening up about the emotional toll that toxic masculinity has taken can be seen as weak. Discussing not only the triggers of drinking, but the underlying emotions surrounding it can be a real challenge. The first step to creating healthy masculinity is to start the conversation.
Here are some behaviors shown in healthy masculinity:
- Being able to ask for help
- Expressing a wide range of emotions beyond anger, especially sadness, fear, or tenderness
- Creating healthy relationships through communication, support, and consent
- Being able to express self in nurturing or traditionally “feminine” roles
- Calling out behavior in other men that are seen as toxic in their communities
Green Hill Recovery believes in building a strong emotional vocabulary. Substances are often used to avoid feelings all together, so communicating specific feelings is essential for growth. Recovery will break through the anger, the first emotion associated with toxic masculinity.
Then comes the hard part: asking for direct help. Asking for help challenges the toxic belief of self sufficiency with direct community support. Having immersive sessions with a therapist or group therapy will put toxic hypersexuality in perspective by modeling open communication with partners, giving and receiving consent, and redefining healthy intimate relationships.
At Green Hill, we use the resource 7 Pillars of Masculinity Exercise when working with clients to help facilitate discussions around what toxic masculinity looks like, and help explore alternative healthy concepts.
One aspect that is very common for us to see in our clients is guys exploring the stereotypes of hypersexuality. We also explore how sex may in fact be another addiction, or at least is a substitute for substances, in early recovery. Tied to this, we sometimes see “flexing”, a form of bragging, in group interactions where some guys try to show off amongst peers.
In our programs, we have really pushed for modeling respectful and non-degrading communication about sex and partners as a key focus. This is because one reason flexing or jokes about sex can come up is because it is an easy way for a group of people who struggle with intimate/vulnerable conversations to deflect away from their real feelings.
Simply put, there isn’t a quick fix for dealing with toxic masculinity. It involves a in-depth look at actions that have caused harm to oneself and others. It then means getting involved in a community that supports healthy masculinity, vulnerability, and a deep committed willingness to change. While not easy, there is help available for those dealing with the effects of toxic masculinity.
At Green Hill Recovery, our Outpatient program offers a hands-on community of support, ready to work through any lingering issues that are associated with toxic masculinity. With a knowledgeable staff that specializes in young men’s recovery, our team is dedicated to working through understanding the nuances of both toxic and healthy masculinity, triggers associated with addiction, and the challenges that young men in society face today.
Want to learn more about recovery options in Raleigh or elsewhere in North Carolina? Give us a call at (984) 204-1106 and we’ll help you find the right resources.