toxic masculinity

What Is Hypermasculinity, and How Does It Harm Men?

Published on November 20, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

The term “toxic masculinity” is thrown around a lot these days. It may sometimes seem like a phrase used to equate masculinity with poison. While masculinity itself is not negative, hypermasculinity is a cultural issue that harms men just as much as it does women. Researchers continue to uncover the many connections between hypermasculinity and poor mental health in men. This is especially true for men who were raised or work in hypermasculine environments. Understanding how hypermasculinity may be affecting you or your loved one is an important first step in creating better mental health and a happier environment for everyone. 

Hypermasculine Behavior

Hypermasculinity is a learned behavior in many cultures, including America. We have all been socialized to think of specific characteristics as masculine and others as feminine. Men are encouraged to display dominance, suppress their emotions, and take control of every situation. “Feminine” traits, such as vulnerability, emotionality, and passivity, are often socially punished when displayed in a man. Of course, the reality is that every person, man or woman, is a combination of masculine and feminine traits. Neither category should be labeled as superior to the other. Unfortunately, old-fashioned stereotypes persist in every aspect of our society. They may cause many men to internalize their emotions and find unhealthy ways to cope. 

For some men, a lifetime of gendered socialization creates a barrier between themselves and others. They might feel as if sharing their feelings or expressing emotions is wrong. This attitude can be further exacerbated by specific subgroups that encourage hypermasculinity. Such groups include gender-segregated sports teams and some male-dominated professions. While these environments offer a connection with teammates and colleagues, they can also create a sense of pressure and shame. Whenever anyone behaves in a way that is not considered masculine enough, these groups punish them socially.

Hypermasculinity and Depression

While everyone is different, there are some common issues to look for in men with mental health issues who are struggling with hypermasculinity. For example, these men may feel sad or unmotivated due to depression, but express their feelings like anger or rage. They think these emotions are more socially acceptable than sadness or vulnerability. Some additional symptoms to look for include fatigue, irritability, sleep issues, a lack of concentration, and a disinterest in things they once enjoyed.

While hypermasculinity and gendered thinking harm women as well, women are often given more “wiggle room” when it comes to conforming to gender norms. Men, however, are often forced to fit into rigid definitions of masculinity. When they are inevitably unable to live up to the social standard, they may face a crisis of identity. This is especially true for men who have spent most of their lives conforming to hypermasculine behavior. In circumstances where that is not possible, such as the development of a mental health disorder, they don’t know what to do. Depression is a common mental illness among men, claiming the lives of more men than women every year by suicide. The only way to combat depression and other mental illnesses is through treatment that usually involves talk therapy. Letting go of a hypermasculine perception is often the first step to mental wellness for many men.

Hypermasculinity and Addiction

The harm caused by hypermasculinity is often severe. Many men feel as if they will never be good enough or struggle to recognize themselves as they go through an emotional hurdle. Many men who struggle with these common issues turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Substance abuse serves to numb the pain, but may also allow men to express themselves in a way that is considered unacceptable while sober. Additionally, hypermasculine subcultures, such as those of first responders, encourage alcohol use. Inevitably, using drugs or alcohol in this way leads to addiction in many men. Unfortunately, talking about addiction can be tricky in the presence of hypermasculinity. It is crucial for men and those that care about them to do away with these damaging cultural norms. Suffering men must be allowed to open up and talk about their trauma, emotional pain, and struggles with addiction.  

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.

At Simple Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction. This approach makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community. At Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we dedicate our time to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490