MINDS & MEN

"His speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.” - Of Mice & Men

The Unnecessary Divergence between Healthy and Masculine

In another post, we talked about how guys often have to make the impossible choice between doing what might be perceived as “masculine” and doing what actually might be the best and/or most authentic thing. The right thing and the masculine thing can be the same thing if we make them so. A lot of times we forget, as guys, that we have the freedom to create what is masculine for us.

It’s the same with health.

I don’t get it. Somewhere in our history, avoiding healthcare has become synonymous with “masculine.” And further, healthcare somehow just equals physical health. Period. But what the heck? The brain is part of the body. All health is actually physical health. Heart health is physical health. Mental health is physical health. But we differentiate “mental” and “physical” health. To go nerd-quoting for a sec, it was Dumbledore who said that just because it’s in your head, doesn’t make it less real. For some reason, a lot of guys think of health as the gym meathead that everybody actually hates. Why is an athlete more of a “man” than Bill Gates?

James Harden (not a meathead) signs an unprecedented contract but we’ve got professors living in poverty? Not saying The Beard shouldn’t get his, I’m just saying a lot of times guys have to make the ridiculous choice between being perceived as “smart” or “masculine” but rarely are both given equal cred. In Harden’s case, he’s got the beard to go along with the baller so, I mean … basically unquestioned manliness.

But I’m confused here.

From an evolutionary standpoint, strong health in all its forms, social intelligence, emotional insight, professional savvy, and academic intelligence all give us a leg up. But then guys can give guys shit for getting good grades? Or talking about emotions? Or doing work at a computer instead of at fight club?

I get that in centuries past guys are supposed to hunter-gatherers or warriors or whatever, but millions of us have the privilege of not living in that world anymore. Masculinity should be changing with evolutionary adaptation. If you’re a Navy SEAL, alright, great. Get your warrior mentality on. But even the SEALs are doing stuff like mindfulness meditation to hone their cognitive abilities. Cognitive/mental/brain health is real health. Brain and bicep are all part of the same health system. It’s about time we take ownership, as men, of making brain health part of the workout.

Like we’ve talked about in previous posts, getting anger under control or regulating emotions in general isn’t about releasing it onto the nearest wall, bag, or idiot. It’s about using the tools at our disposal to better develop cognitive strength and resilience. That’s what the smart folks with all their nerdy degrees about brain stuff are for.

I’ll go to James Harden for tips on driving the lane. But I’ll go to Neil deGrasse Tyson for some science, Bill Gates for organizational and technological savvy, a physician for heart health tips, and psychology professionals for some better cognitive, emotional, and relational intelligence (granted they have some – side note: how can some psychologists study people but not know how to actually talk to them?).

Brain and body are all one health system. High performance, however we operationalize it in today’s society, can be healthy and masculine – if we use the right tools for developing it and the right body part (brain) for knowing it’s not weak to build cognitive resources.

 

*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it).

Fathers and the Freedom to be Authentic Men

Zach's research recently got some attention from the Psychology of Men and Masculinity division of the American Psychological Association. As it turns out, dads with strict expectations about their sons' expressions of masculinity can have some unwanted consequences. Check out Zach's article about the study.  

 

*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it).

The Decision All Men Have to Make that’s Killing Them

So I’m at a bachelor party. Everybody’s chatting up some ladies and there’s this moment where a beautiful woman flirting with my buddy suggests they “get intimate” at his place. Other guys in the group are stoked for him, saying things like, “There you go! Get it!” My buddy declines her suggestion and takes a ton of heat from the group: “C’mon man … why not?” He offers some valid reasons and eventually everyone backs off. But in that moment, he had to make a decision: do the thing he wanted and thought was best or do the thing that would make him “more of a man” in front of his bros.

Here’s why that sucks.

What we know from research is that endorsing or conforming to “norms” of masculinity that psychologists have identified (like guys restricting emotions, acting tough, taking risks, etc.) is related to whole host of crap. The more guys believe or conform to these stereotypes the more likely they are to: abuse substances, be aggressive and violent, have psychological stress, be sexist/have negative attitudes towards women and sexual minorities, take dangerous risks with health issues and not seek help, have higher blood pressure levels, have low self-esteem, be more anxious and depressed, and have more relationship and family problems.

Well shit.

Now let’s go opposite here. Let’s take the opposite of these so-called “masculine norms.”

Masculine norm = restrict emotions / Opposite = feel and express emotions.

Norm = default to anger, aggression, violence / Opposite = stay calm, resolve conflict without violence.

Norm = “take charge,” act tough / Opposite = be collaborative and don’t put up a front.

Norm = sex is priority / Opposite = healthy relationships are way more than sex.

Norm = avoid seeking help / Opposite = use resources to be better.

So here’s the thing. Research shows us that all those opposites are way better for men’s health and relationships. It’s obvious that utilizing resources (like healthcare treatment) leads to better outcomes than not. We know healthy intimacy includes more than just sex. The most effective teams and organizations rely on authentic role players more than fake leaders. Violence resolving conflict usually leads to more violence and conflict. Staying calm is better than blowing up. Expressing and regulating emotions in healthy ways is a huge part of a bunch of empirically supported health treatments.

Conclusion: a lot of masculine norms are related to worse outcomes than their opposites.

This means men are often left with a lose-lose dead end: choose the thing that will be better for them or choose the thing that makes them look and feel more like a man.

That’s the choice my buddy had to make when he turned down that woman. That’s what most guys have to choose between in a lot of situations. Take Kid Cuddy. It took a spiral down before he was able to reach out for emotional support and health treatment. What if he had an option when he started feeling depressed and started using again that was both best for his health and boosted his masculine identity. How about an option that’s something like, “You gotta man up and share how you’re doing with your bros,” or, “Quit being weak sauce and get yourself into some treatment.” These seem counterintuitive to our default norms but they’re the third options we must somehow necessarily embrace.

We can’t keep guys at the dead end of choosing to do what’s best or doing the thing that’ll throw a blow to his masculine front. There has to be a third option.

For healthy masculinity to be a thing, we’ve got to quit making guys choose between what’s good for them and what it takes to man up. What is good and what is masculine need to be the same thing. At the fork in the road, we have to figure out how to walk straight ahead.

 

*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it).

Good Pitching, Running into a Screen Door, and How Anger Screws Up Men’s Brains

The leadership behind Man Therapy (really good stuff there) invited Minds & Men to write about some of the science behind how anger can mess with men. Check it out.  

*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it). 

“If it ain’t broke...” it ain’t getting better – Mindset Matters in Men’s Health

Minds & Men was recently invited to guest blog for the CEO of the Carson J Spencer Foundation regarding men's health. Check out Zach's take on men's self-reliance, strength, weakness, and Geo Metros. 

*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it). 

The best offense is the one that exists.

When the Seahawks destroyed the Broncos in Superbowl XLVIII in one of the biggest blowouts in NFL playoff history, it didn’t matter that the matchup was best defense (fear the Boom) against the league’s best offense. Seattle simply dominated every aspect of the game (all due respect to the Sheriff). Denver’s 8 points wasn’t much, but 8 points has won some football games (heck - it would have beat the Seahawks last Sunday). The point is, when you dominate every aspect of a game, of course you’re going to win.

But somehow, guys forget this when it comes to our own health. A lot of us only play defense. We play to not lose rather than build up a lead. We say, “Unless I can see the bone sticking out of my arm, I’m not going to the doctor,” or “I can’t see chunks of brain falling out my nose, so no way I’m talking to some shrink about anger or stress.” That’s like punting on 1st down. Or the offensive coordinator telling his guys to get back to the sideline when they've got the ball. It doesn’t make sense. Part of the game is about getting ahead. Playing offense before you’re down two scores. Making sure bad things don’t happen before they do. In the 2000 football classic, The Replacements, Gene Hackman plays a coach who tells the QB (Keanu Reeves), “Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.” (Which is why you need to feed Marshawn on the goal line!! Why didn’t Seattle feed the Beast against New England?!). As men, we need to take our health into our own hands. Otherwise we’re only putting our defensive unit out there. Defense might win championships, but I’ve never seen a Super Bowl winner put a fat goose egg on the scoreboard.

And the game is on the line for men right now. Men kill themselves at more than double the rate of women. Yeah, double. Like 2x. As in twice as much. Around 80% of all suicides in the U.S. are men. And overall, we die sooner than women, especially due to heart disease and substance abuse.

I was always taught that being a man meant that I shouldn’t need any help from others. Well here’s the reality. Last year we did a research study looking at what self-reliance is related to for men (the findings got presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association). Here’s the rundown. The more men solely rely on themselves, the worse their relationships are, the more depression they’ve got, and the less courage, resilience, endurance, self-esteem, and life satisfaction they have. Across 17 studies and over 4,000 men, self-reliance was related to a total of 25 negative outcomes. In other words, being proud of being self-reliant isn’t working for us. Because science.

As a man, I have a responsibility to myself and the people who love and rely on me to be the best man I can be. That means having the strength to take care of myself using all the tools at my disposal to do so. Reluctantly, that probably means a couple more visits to some doctors to get my mental and physical health offense on the field.

Checkout Mantherapy.org for some resources on brain health and stay in tune with Minds & Men for more updates.

*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it).

**Author: Zach Gerdes has a master’s degree in counseling and is getting a doctorate in psychology. He’s a Seahawks fan still in mourning after the 2015 Super Bowl loss to the Pats.  

©2017: Zachary Gerdes