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What is "Toxic Masculinity?" 5 Ways Boys Are Taught to Self-Destruct as Men

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

By: Logan Cohen, Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach - Balanced Man Plan

There are so many beautiful parts about being a Man - from memories in Childhood of riding bikes, pickup games in the neighborhood, and late night video game competitions with my Friends - all the way to being a Husband & Father as an Adult, Manhood can be an AMAZING thing!

Even though it was(is) a reality of Life, the dangerous lessons my Buddies & I were taught about what it took to be a “real man” were not open for questioning - they just WERE - which made (makes) them VERY hard to SEE as they are.

In many ways, these rules - now called "toxic masculinity" - are invisible to us because in many ways, they are the standard expectations to "Man Up."

Now as a professional therapist & online life coach, I specialize in helping Men & their Loved Ones break through the barriers of social and behavioral expectations that the American Psychological Association (APA) calls “toxic masculinity.”

In addition to working with Men & Boys directly in the field for about 15 years, I am also involved in the clinical training of other talk therapists, social workers, and psychologists around how to affirm healthy male identity through their professional counseling, therapy, and psychological assessment.

Personally, I would like to start by being clear that I am NOT a fan of the phrase “toxic masculinity,” but in many ways it is fitting and I want to help you remove the “toxic” from YOUR Self-Identity, so you can experience the freedom for your True Self, rather than get sick from this social poison. Yes, I said it - POISON.

The APA released a formal statement on toxic masculinity once the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noticed that the last 15 years have seen a SHARP increase in “deaths of despair” - fatalities resulting from suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol toxicity.

This trend was enough to drive the life expectancy of American Men DOWN, while Women's lifespans have continued to increase.

With further study, The CDC recognized that MANY of these deaths of despair were Men who were under 50 years old. The CDC's mental health department quickly went to work in order to figure out what was happening and soon after, came out with APA Guidelines For Psychological Practice With Men & Boys.

Before studying to become a mental health practitioner, I grew up as a typical Boy in an urban area of Atlanta, Georgia - complete with my “rough and tumble” years as a young man that were in large part overlooked by authority figures because well, “boys will be boys.”

After I completed my studies, started a successful group practice, and settled down to create my own Family, I picked my head up to check in with the Childhood Friends I grew up with.

I was shocked to learn that many of my old Childhood Friends had passed away from suicide, drug overdoses, and drunk driving accidents in their 20s and 30s - those SAME causes of death that I specialized in treating & even training for other mental health practitioners.

At that point, I decided to create the Balanced Man Plan in order to develop a program of online life coaching for Men - designed to help Men even when they can’t - or won’t - ask for help in Person.

There are so many AMAZING parts of being a Man, but some of them are no longer fit for Human Beings who also want to be healthy with any quality of Life.

Men have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to be the primary Hunters & Warriors - ready to protect and/or provide for our Loved Ones by any means necessary. In fact, this is why our shoulders are WIDER - in order to promote more explosive power of the upper body.

On the other hand, Women have evolved to grow Life inside of their BODIES! That is why their hips are wider (no, it’s not only because they are BEAUTIFUL).

You can even see this in the way little Boys the time they are 3 or 4 years old, it is more common to see little Boys more interested in throwing rocks, rough-housing with their peers, and even making sticks into “swords and guns” with limited exposure to those ideas from the outside world.

In many cases, Men CONTINUE to be socially & culturally prepared for these same jobs of being the primary Hunter & Warrior in Modern Society from Boyhood - with many of the same ideas and methods that came from the "Old World"

This is the “nurture” part of experiences and life lessons that gets combined with the “nature” that we are born with on a biological level as men.

These life lessons were a good fit for our early hunter/gatherer societies and even the isolated farming communities of old, but Modern Society now requires us to “grow along with the times”.

If we are not able to evolve socially & culturally, we are just on the same path that leads us back to "the grind", towards chronic health conditions and social isolation - even 4.5 times more likely to lose our life to suicide.

For these reasons, our online life coaching for men is strategically designed to help Men create their OWN natural balance, free from the pitfalls of toxic masculinity. Are you ready to learn more about WHY this is important for YOU and/or the Men you LOVE?

What is Toxic Masculinity?

#1 Aspect of Toxic Masculinity - Be Successful

Men are trained to measure our success by winning in competition against others to gain social influence. Once we “rise to the top”, whether this is in sports, academics, or collecting wealth, Boys are taught we “have arrived.” After all, second place is the first loser, remember?

As a result, Boys often grow into Men who look for validation of success from outside markers that show social influence, rather than learning to Identify with our OWN Personal Integrity.

While this might involve collecting wealth and the “finer things in Life”, we cannot take any of those things with us after we die. And to boot, this nonstop “hamster wheel of staying on top” is enough to create exhaustion, workaholism, and/or social isolation that easily makes for chronic disease and poor quality of life.

It is essential for Men to learn how to ground our Self Identity into a PERSONAL sense of Life’s Purpose - a powerful combination of Personal Integrity, Gifts & Passions - then learn how to collaborate with those who are most important to us - rather than always being focused on #WINNING.

Have you heard the old saying that, “If you want to go fast - go alone. But if you want to go far, travel with others?” The short dash of the Old World no longer works in Modern Society and if Men want to live full, healthy & happy Lives with our Loved Ones, this requires some important adjustments around how we see “success.”

What is Toxic Masculinity?

#2 Part of Toxic Masculinity - Be Strong

Boys are taught that the STRONGEST has the best chance at WINNING and in order to attain this, “toughness” will be required. We are NOT told very clearly what exactly toughness IS, but we DO know that it is best measured by NOT expressing pain and/or fear.

If you are an athlete, you know how much a focus on this culture of “no pain - no gain” is a part of more traditionally masculine spaces - like sports.

This is more obvious in social spaces where toxic masculinity is more established, like in sports or the stock exchange trading floor, where People are likely to cover up illness, injury, and/or any sense of vulnerability until they are permanently wounded, even killed.

We can see an example of the “backlash” against Men speaking up about their own pain and fears in the recent story of the young & talented quarterback Andrew Luck, who retired from the NFL in his 20s due to the toll this culture of toxic masculinity in football was taking on his physical & mental health.

Here is an excerpt from a recent article where Luck explains his position and ultimately, decision to retire early:

"It was a HELLISH inventory. But the medical particulars were just part of it. Luck had also grown overwhelmed by the soul-crushing cycle of injury and rehabilitation—the arduous process of recovering from pain, or at least recovering enough of the pain to get out there and risk damage again. He’d been to that awful, mentally-draining spot before—it had made him miserable, he said—and back then it had almost made him quit. He did not want to go there again...
" 'It’s been unrelenting,' he said. 'I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.' "

Even though Andrew Luck was faced with a stadium full of booing fans and leaving $60 million dollars on the table to be collected over the next 3 years by walking away from his contract with the Colts, Andrew Luck clearly stated, “It’s taken my joy of this game away.”

Even so, football fans were NOT happy with his decision and Andrew Luck faced HARSH criticism for his decision to prioritize his health and happiness over his football career.

Our online life coaching for Men from the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help Men identify how this habit of covering up our fear - something we are taught to do in order to “be tough” - is keeping Men from creating a healthy balance with Self & Loved Ones.

POWERFUL emotions like Fear are full of information, but only if we know how to read the signs, as covered in our Self-Guided Coaching Plans on Self-Identity, Life’s Purpose, and Emotional Intelligence - all within the Core Areas of Balance in the Balanced Man Plan.

What is Toxic Masculinity?

#3 Part of Toxic Masculinity - Get it done NO MATTER WHAT

As Boys, many of us are taught that we should not “go out looking for a fight”, but if one comes to us, we better “put them on their butt.” This is the message from toxic masculinity that as Warriors and Protectors from the Old World, we must be ready to defend Self & Loved Ones from any perceived threat and use violence if it is necessary to “get the job done.”

As a Father & Husband MYSELF, I must say there is a time and place for this willingness to “make the ultimate sacrifice,” but the problem becomes identifying WHERE this "line" starts, and STOPS.

It is one thing to allow Self to use violence when necessary, but who gets to decide when violence IS necessary? Unfortunately, this often gets turned into “it’s OK to use violence for Men when we feel threatened,” and this is a recipe for disaster.

A common result here is that Boys are often taught if they want something bad enough, they should be able to use whatever leverage is available in order to meet the intended goal(s), even if that means getting verbally or physically aggressive.

Our Self Guided Coaching Plans from the Balanced Man Plan are designed to support Men in recognizing how this invitation to behave aggressively has impacted our decision making along the way, as well as our childhood growing up that taught us about the decisions that will be available as Adult Men.

Many experts believe this particular part of toxic masculinity is one of the main drivers behind Men being 4.5X MORE LIKELY to complete suicide than our female peers.

This is just ONE of the reasons that 20% of our proceeds from the Balanced Man Plan are donated directly to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

What is Toxic Masculinity?

#4 Part of Toxic Masculinity - Emotional Restriction

While covering up our fear is often seen as evidence that we are “tough”, fear and pain are just a FEW of the many emotional experiences that are “off limits” for Men to go through, as taught by toxic masculinity. This is another left-over from the days where Men were the primary Hunters & Warriors, where it was common for a Man to be in a physical state of “crisis” regularly whilst “on the hunt” or in battle.

In times of crisis, it still comes in handy for ALL People - Men included - to practice emotional restriction. As stated by Sun Tzu in The Art of War:

“It is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached warrior who WINS, not the hothead seeking vengeance - and not the ambitious seeker of fortune.”

During a crisis, we are most likely to get drawn away from our core values (as covered in the Life Purpose Self-Guided Coaching Plan) with emotional reactivity. However in Modern Society, we are not faced with a “real crisis” very often and in fact, most People are prone to making the mistake that “crisis” is totally SELF defined.

As a result, it is common for Men to run into the road blocks outlined in Part 3 above, where we FEEL “freaked out” about something that is NOT a “crisis”, but make the decision on our own to withdraw socially, or much worse.

This social withdraw is a central feature for Men who are struggling with toxic masculinity, yet have not yet identified the issue. In this situation, Men are taught to believe that we are fundamentally FLAWED for experiencing emotions like Fear, Shame, Guilt, or Jealousy, and are trained from Boyhood to “go handle that, then come back when you are ready to talk like a MAN.”

“A 2015 study led by Steven Cole, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, provides additional clues as to why loneliness can harm overall health (PNAS, Vol. 112, No. 49, 2015). He and his colleagues examined gene expressions in leukocytes, white blood cells that play key roles in the immune system’s response to infection. They found that the leukocytes of lonely participants showed an increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral responses.

Loneliness, it seems, can lead to long-term "fight-or-flight" stress signaling, which negatively affects immune system functioning. Simply put, people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who don’t.”

Our Self-Guided Coaching Plans take this into consideration by building “Love & Belonging Needs” back into a balanced Life - the way Human Beings were designed.

Our Self-Guided Coaching Plans around Family Life (Core Area of Balance) & Friendship (Support Area of Balance) are designed to help Men “break through the barriers” that keep us STUCK in social isolation. From this position, the Emotional Intelligence Self-Guided Coaching Plan provides the communication skill-sets needed to create healthy boundaries in those important relationships so we can meet our OWN Personal Integrity, WHILE remaining meaningfully connected to our Loved Ones.

What is Toxic Masculinity?

#5 Part of Toxic Masculinity - DON’T “act like a girl”

It is common for People to get stuck in a "thinking error" called “black and white thinking.” Black and white thinking is the thinking error that TWO ideas cannot be true at the SAME TIME, like “being tough” and emotionally expressive at the same time.

The Powers That Be often recognize these errors of thinking, and make strategic “plays” at taking advantage of People and their resources by exploiting these blind spots.

One of these errors in black and white thinking is that Men and Women are “opposites”, so they must be “opposite” in all practical ways as well. While it DOES take the sperm from a Man to fertilize an egg created by a Woman, who says the rest of life has to be set up like “yin and yang”? There is a HUGE range of what it means to be a Human Being and depending on the unique balance that woks best for YOU, this will rhythm will create the best flow for your daily Life!

Besides being the “icing on the cake” around what Men are trying to avoid when it comes to toxic masculinity, the acceptance of aggression as a tool to achieve a "means to an end" can ALSO make things potentially dangerous. 1 in 3 Kids will experience anxiety symptoms, but Boys only make up 30% of Anxiety diagnoses, versus 70% of Girls.

Girls age 14-25 are TWICE as likely to be accurately diagnosed with Depression and/or Anxiety!

When it comes to mental health for Men & Boys, Anxiety & Depression symptoms are misdiagnosed, or missed altogether and mistaken as “Boys will be Boys.” Boys are 2-3 TIMES more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and/or “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” (ODD) and TWICE as likely to complete suicide than Girls because of their disruptive behavior? And grow into Men who are 4.5 X more likely to end their own Lives by suicide?? NO!!!

The Self-Guided Coaching Plans that deliver the Balanced Man Plan are designed to help Men access ALL of their Humanity with a SOLID Core grounded in our TRUE Self-Identity & Life’s Purpose, then guided with Emotional Intelligence to create healthy boundaries in our most important relationships with Family, Friends, and even achieving the ideal “Work/Life Balance”.

My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.

I painfully discovered that more than a few of my childhood Friends passed away at a young age from preventable health conditions and decided that as a Man, Husband, Father, and Friend, I could no longer stand by as People suffered in silence and self-destructed rather than ask for help. It doesn’t have to be like that and the holistic healing methods offered by the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help People “get unstuck” and break free from old patterns that are the barriers between Self & quality of Life.

The Balanced Man Plan is a therapeutic digital experience delivered through Self-Guided Coaching Plans created by a Male Therapist with the common barriers & strengths of Men in mind. The Balanced Man Plan has the goal of introducing a natural Balance back to Life so it is sustainable for the optimal Health & Well-Being of Self and Loved Ones - and ALL from the privacy and comfort of Home. If you have enjoyed what you see so far, check out our Self Guided Coaching Plans!

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