For many years, I was ashamed of my masculinity.
I was deeply disturbed by all the aggression, misogyny, and violence that I saw being perpetrated by men – across many different cultures. It seemed that being a “real man” meant being a violent, angry asshole. And that’s not who I wanted to be, so I abandoned my masculinity. Or so I thought..
The truth is that my masculine energy never left; it just got pushed under the surface – shielded by a polished veneer of perfection and ‘niceness’ that I propped up in a desperate attempt to get the love and belonging that I longed for.
I created this elaborate facade in an attempt to mask all of the ‘shameful’ and ‘dangerous’ masculine energy that lay within me. And also to mask my deep insecurity – which was fueled by that shame. This public facade – a mere shadow of my true self – became so compelling and all-encompassing that even I fell for it; believing that it was my truth.
Navigating Masculine Archetypes
Two of the most common behavioral archetypes of modern-day masculinity are:
- The fiery, rage-full asshole who displays overt aggression, misogyny, and violence.
- The cold, polished, disembodied Mr. Nice Guy who enacts covert aggression and misogyny through conscious and/or subconscious manipulation.
While these appear to be polar opposites on the surface, they often come from the same insecure and wounded place within us.
I was the Nice Guy. I never got angry, never raised my voice. I always smiled at people, but had trouble holding eye contact. I felt afraid that I was taking up too much space and that my needs were a burden, so I subconsciously attempted to meet them through manipulation. I struggled with intimacy and connection, self-sabotaging to block myself from experiencing intimacy in order to avoid the vulnerability of potential heartbreak. In a word, I was fragile.
The resulting isolation was unbearable, so I did whatever I could to numb out the pain. I built defenses against vulnerability that kept me completely detached from my feelings, disconnected from my body, and unable to access or express my authentic power.
I’ve been using the past-tense here, but the truth is that I still find myself falling into Nice Guy patterns all too often. It still feels risky to allow myself to truly know and name my own needs, to set clear boundaries, to have compassion for myself, to be imperfect and messy, really – to be human. But why?
Because, like most of us, I desperately long for love and belonging. And the primary way that I’ve known how to find it has been by trying to get people to like me.
All of this is rooted in the dark, corrosive corridors of shame. And this shame has far too often led me to do whatever I think will make others happy (performing, achieving, acquiescing, etc.) while remaining disconnected from what I need and want, and where I stand. I’m guessing you know how this story ends. Hint: not well.
Breaking Through the False Dichotomy
Clearly, being a Nice Guy has not been getting me the love and belonging that I want. Quite the opposite, actually. But at least it’s better than the alternative: Being a violent, angry asshole. Right? Well, it turns out that it’s not that simple.
For a long time, I felt trapped in this “Nice Guy vs Asshole” false dichotomy of culturally-accepted masculine behavior. It was stifling and depressing.
What I’m discovering now is that the energies beneath these two masculine archetypes are essentially the same, only with different outward expressions. The essential masculine essence that lives underneath all of the wounding is primal, authentic, and vital – and it lives within each of us. So, rather than attempt to suppress or transcend it, we can choose to accept and integrate it fully into who we are – as wholehearted men.
Learning to Live My Truth
Bringing consciousness to this part of myself, and fully accepting it, is key to stepping through shame and living my truth with power and authenticity. Here are some of the practices I’ve been cultivating to begin to integrate this energy within myself:
- Slow down my speaking, get grounded in my body before sharing my thoughts
- Breathe deeply, check in with myself about what I’m feeling, identify my needs
- Express my anger in healthy ways, take a stand for my experience and my truth
- Hold eye-contact with other people, in non-romantic and non-aggressive ways
- Re-orient to conflict, engage with clarity and presence, rather than smoothing over
- Stop smiling to make people feel comfortable, only smile when I am truly feeling joy
- Learn to feel sadness and pain deeply, so I can open my heart fully to love and joy
- Trust my gut, set clear boundaries, stand firmly in my truth – but with an open heart
- Learn to love and value myself, even when I’m sitting in shame, fear, and doubt
- Take healthy risks to push the boundaries of who I think I am, to expand myself
Looking back, I can see that my ‘niceness’ has been a survival mechanism – rooted in the trauma I experienced with bullying and social isolation when I was younger. I honor the role that my people-pleasing tendencies have played in protecting my heart and keeping me safe. But the era of subconsciously bending and contorting to ‘make others happy’ and to ‘get people to like me’ has to end here. Now.
Awakening the Sacred Masculine
Today, I am stepping forward with greater consciousness to awaken the sacred masculine power that has been laying dormant in me for far too long.
I am opening to the part of myself that expresses my anger in clear, compassionate and healthy ways; to the part of me that turns in to the discomfort of facing what I feel, rather than numbing out or projecting my fears and insecurities onto others; and to the part that inspires me to stand up for what I know is right, even when that means losing friends or making enemies.
It’s about damn time that I learned to express my wild, raw, messy masculine energy – to give it voice, and begin to bring it back into balance in my life. To give myself full permission to let down my guard, drop the facade, and return to the essential truth of who I am – just another imperfect, vulnerable, lovable human.
This re-balancing and integration is not easy to navigate, but I believe that it’s at the very heart of the healing and transformation of masculinity. And the healing of our world. So, where do we start?
I definitely don’t have the answers; but I do have questions. I’ll leave you with a few that I’m sitting with right now:
- What does it look like to be caring and compassionate, while standing firmly in my power and truth?
- How can I set free the wild, reckless, and raw parts of my masculine self in conscious, generative, and loving ways?
- What will it take for me to embody my most authentic expressions of masculinity, in each and every moment, beyond the narrow expectations and limitations of our society?
- What does it look like to balance the sacred masculine and feminine energies within me to live a wholehearted life full of passion, purpose, expression, and connection?
These questions will never go away; they will only deepen and expand over time. But I think it’s better to have great questions to evolve into, rather than great answers to get stuck in.
My exploration of wholehearted masculinity has set me on a path that will take a lifetime to traverse. But I can’t imagine any journey more worthy of my existence. And I’m glad to know that I’m not alone. Onward!
With fierce loving compassion,