What to Do if You Don't Feel Like a Man: Part 2—Who Triggers Your Insecurity?
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
''For after years of living in a cage, a lion no longer even believes it is a lion . . . and a man no longer believes he is a man...
''And so a man’s heart, driven into the darker regions of the soul, denied the very things he most deeply desires, comes out in darker places.''
― John Eldredge, Wild at Heart
Many of us have known a feeling of being 'not good enough', or not 'manly' enough, in comparison to other men. Most of us have, at times, had that debilitating feeling of simply being inadequate in situations which we know we should be able to handle; we can all recall moments in our past when we have felt deprived of the ability to say what we feel, not being brave enough to speak into a challenging situation at work or at home, and not having enough decisiveness, firmness, to live and relate to others in the ways we would really like to...
Not being able to change a flat tyre, or not being able to speak our mind to our manager at work — it matters little what makes us feel little and insignificant; what matters is the shame we feel: when is that shame at its highest, and where it is pointing us to.
Years ago, I took part in a men's retreat in the Scottish Highlands. One of the men who led the programme was a handsome, athletic man in his mid-thirties; he had blond hair, blue eyes, and a strong, uncompromising gaze; he was a husband of a beautiful woman and a father of two wonderful children. In the past he had been an army officer; at present, his job was doing something he loved — working with men. And as if all that wasn't enough, he was a deeply spiritual and compassionate man who seemed totally comfortable being himself; he looked everyone in the eyes and did not seem ashamed to express his emotions.
That man looked noble, strong and yes, even beautiful; he truly seemed to feel like a 'man among men', yet had not even a hint of machismo about him; he fully embodied a deep, masculine self, and did not seem to have much of that self suppressed and hidden; he was free, uninhibited, and as 'manly' as anyone could be — all in a way that was totally unique to him.
* * *
If you know something of my story, you would remember that, for the most of my life, I felt very uneasy in the presence of men like him — men who were so, well, present — and have avoided them whenever I could. Yet, after emigrating to Britain and embarking on an inner journey to find and reclaim my own manhood, I have come to realise that I too had more about me than meets the eye — as if the very fact that I longed to be a man who was different than my current self, proved the very existence of the possibility to be that man. And so, gradually, in time, I came to know that I too had a deeper self, a masculine heart, which, if fully accessed, healed, and allowed expression, would be as noble, tender, heroic and strong as the heart of any man I have ever admired — and yet, it would be fully unique and true to its own nature, like those men were. I would go as far as to say that the very fact that we admire men of gallantry, virtue and integrity, serves as a proof that something deep and glorious in them appeals to something deep and glorious in us! If we did not have a seed of greatness — a unique masculine potential within us — we would not be moved by the manliness of others.
And this is why it was very interesting to watch how other men responded to the presence of our leader...
'When we look at men who seem to have traits which we believe we don't possess — courage, firmness, decisiveness, ability to feel deeply, or simply a more ‘masculine’ presence — we tend to feel small and inferior, intimidated and even fearful of such men; or we may see them as rivals, and look for ways in which we can prove our own superiority by comparing ourselves to them — physically, intellectually, or financially.'
There was a man there who had quite a strong personality, and at times, at least in my eyes, manifested a certain coarseness in his approach to life. He reminded me of the boys from my first class in primary school — they too were aggressive, pushy, cold, and even cruel to those who did not belong in the 'alpha' pack. They were also successful on the playground and did not shy away from the girls; they embodied — at least on the physical plane — many good qualities of manhood.
Needless to say, I felt a little bit intimidated in the forceful presence of that man, who enjoyed camaraderie, back-slapping, and boyish ‘banter’ — the very things I had grown up lacking and so tended to avoid later — and was wary of him the whole time. I remembered the words of writer Stephen King who, talking about his early life in an interview, had once said:
‘I hated high-school. I don’t trust anyone who looks back on the years from 14 to 18 with any enjoyment.’
To me, my companion not only represented the boys in whose shadow I had grown up, but indeed, seemed eager to live back in those carefree years, and be the boy he had once been — full of life and at the pinnacle of his prowess.
It was amazing to me to watch that man, a natural leader himself, make (seemingly) light-hearted fun about the young, handsome leader of the retreat. It was also amazing to watch the other men — smaller, quieter souls, most of them — laugh readily at the jokes they were themselves either unable to initiate, or lacked the courage to do it.
‘Here comes Thor’, he would say, making a reference to actor Chris Hemsworth, and laughter would follow. Or, comparing our leader to Superman, he would say something like, ’He will come in a moment, not walking but flying over the hill, with his fist raised high!’
Although, giving in to my ‘natural’ conformist tendencies, I often laughed at those jokes, inside I felt uneasy, almost hurt. I remembered feeling that way at school, whenever my peers would make fun of the heroes I admired on the screen or in history. I could not help but wonder what provoked such a negative reaction in the men around me — here on the retreat, and back there, behind the veil of the passed years.
Today, I no longer wonder.
Today, I do not see such coarse, competitive, immature behaviour as any different from my own reactive introverted-ness and inward ’shrinking’ I have suffered from, and sometimes still do, when in the presence of something I admire and do not feel I possess.
It is easy to point fingers and write about others from a place of superiority but we are all in the same boat; we are just sitting in different places...
When we look at men who seem to have traits which we believe we don't possess — courage, firmness, decisiveness, ability to feel deeply, or simply a more ‘masculine’ presence — we tend to feel small and inferior, intimidated and even fearful of such men; or we may see them as rivals, and look for ways in which we can prove our own superiority by comparing ourselves to them — physically, intellectually, or financially. Sometimes our envy manifests as what I call 'sour-grape coarseness', and we are cynical — even resentful — toward such men; feeling unable to see in ourselves the qualities they seem to have, we try to diminish them (primarily in our own eyes and in front of others also) by joking and making fun of the very things we covet in them: their good looks, their athleticism, intellect, or success...
However, the truth is that they expose something in us — a sense of 'lack' which we would not consciously admit to, even to ourselves...as if the fullness of their uninhibited, embodied presence, pushes into the emptiness that exists within us. This in turn causes us to seek escape from our shame by adopting traits, habits, and relational ways which would serve as a defence against our ability to feel that shame. Thus is our character formed, and the result is indeed tragic; for, because those defences prevent us from feeling our ‘emptiness’, they also prevent us from being healed, and become able to access the ‘fulness’ of the masculine potential which, despite the outward evidence, exists within us all.
* * *
What do you feel in such a situation? What stirs — or shuts down — inside you, when you are in the presence of a man who makes you feel uncomfortable, weak, fearful and vulnerable — less than the man you know yourself to be?
Perhaps even, a lesser man?
Who in your life has ever had the power to make the man you are turn into an awkward, confused, frightened little boy?
The awareness of this, and an honest look, would be of grave importance to those who seek for the reasons behind this emasculating, overpowering condition...
There is a way out — I guarantee you that; but before any sickness can be healed, it must first be diagnosed. It must be faced...
You can do this.
With much respect,