Many men harbor a great deal of anxiety about if they're good enough, yet few would admit to that — even if it would make them feel a lot better.
Men have plenty of insecurities — but good luck getting them to talk about it. Men who own up to their insecurities often feel as though being vulnerable is akin to admitting inadequacy. So they suffer in silence. “Men feel insecure about being seen as less-than,” says marriage and family therapist Hanalei Vierra, Ph.D. “Less than strong enough, less than smart enough, less than sexy enough, less than good-looking enough, less than funny enough, less than competent enough.”
Fatherly asked Vierra and other experts to weigh in on what men are most insecure about, and how they can learn to cope with these fears and address them head-on.
Gynecomastia, pejoratively known as man boobs, is a condition in which men develop breasts as a result of imbalances in estrogen and testosterone. It’s very common among boys during puberty, and among men 50 and older, but it is especially distressing for men under 40, according to New York–based plastic surgeon Joshua Zuckerman, M.D.
Zuckerman has noticed that many men who finally come to see him have attempted to hide this on their own for years, because they were embarrassed to get help. “I do think there is an issue with men being able to express their feelings about body insecurities, and many times a male patient will not consider treatment for many years.”
Having Old, Baggy Eyes
Many men visit a cosmetic surgeon because they’re worried about their baggy eyes making them look old. This is especially true for men over 40 who have endured some sun damage. And since few men wear sunscreen on a regular basis, this amounts to a lot of people. Ironically, men don’t have the same mental baggage about their eye baggage as they do about breast growth.
“I think there is less shame around this procedure,” Zuckerman says.
Losing Their Hair
Hair loss is quite common among men as young as 30, and some embrace it better than others. Despite evidence that some women may be more attracted to bald men, “many men have a real association of baldness with being less attractive, less masculine, and appearing older,” Zuckerman explains. “I personally suffer from partial baldness as well, and I think it is difficult to convince the majority of men that the completely bald, shaved look is attractive.”
Being a Waif of a Man
In general, men have a lot of body image issues women can relate to. They’re inundated with unattainable images of what men’s bodies are supposed to look like. But the biggest difference with men is that they worry about being underweight, too. “Men usually worry about their stomach or abs, just like women, but they can also have insecurities about being underweight,” therapist Katie Leikam says.
Where They Are in Their Careers
“Men can be insecure about where they are in their career, based on their age,” Leikam explains. Although money is an important part of this, earning potential is connected to broader anxieties about living up to social standards of being a man. And the more insecure men become, the more they tend to compare themselves to other men, which tend to make them feel worse. It’s a vicious cycle and a terrible way to keep score.
“Older men could wonder why they aren’t as far along in their careers as their peers are. Men can benefit from understanding that they are still successful in their own way and are striving to be where they need to be.”
How Tall They Are
Shorter men may be concerned about their height, because they fear that they are unattractive to women, or are taken less seriously by their peers. However, very tall men have insecurities too, such as feeling uncomfortable in small places or awkward around average-size people — and occasionally having to explain that they’re not good at, or even interested in, basketball.
“Men who are shorter may naturally surround themselves with friends around their same height. This builds a sense of normalcy,” marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind told Fatherly. “Men who are taller, above 6 foot, can be more self-conscious because many men and most women are always shorter than them. They can feel like an oddball.”
How Big Their Penises Are
“Men are very insecure about penis size,” Ziskind says. This despite the fact that studies show that women actually prefer smaller men for long-term partners, potentially due to fear of pain during intercourse. Still, men can hang on to negative feedback about size from past partners, or even peers in the locker room growing up, for most of their lives. “Men take insults about their penis size to heart. Comments about penis size can linger negatively with a man for decades.”
Whether They’re Circumcised or Uncircumcised
It’s not only size that matters to men, but how their penises look. And when it comes to circumcision, men are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Ziskind has seen insecure uncircumcised men want surgery as adults about as often as she’s seen men who were circumcised as infants and are upset about it.
If Their Penises Even Work
As much as men may worry about their penis size and appearance, the way it works may matter most, therapist William Schroeder says. Erectile dysfunction affects over 50% of men, but Schroeder has found that the prognosis is best for men who can discuss this with their partners. Men who cannot communicate about this insecurity risk getting caught in a negative feedback loop where they’re even less likely to be able to perform sexually, over time.
“Erectile dysfunction is a perfect example of something that can be very anxiety producing if not dealt with in a direct and open way,” he warns. “Conversely, if men discuss sex, then it can make it into something with very clear expectations and understanding on both sides. That vulnerability can be very endearing to a mate.”
Having (and Showing) Emotions
“Men are often told to tough out their emotions and are shamed for showing them,” Schroeder says, noting that because boys are taught this from such a young age, many insecurities men struggle with their entire live start there. “The result of being this way causes men to wall off anything that feels vulnerable and thus, insecure.”
If They’ve Made the Wrong Choices
It’s not just a cliché or a television trope: the man who refuses to stop and ask for directions. Most men struggle with admitting they might be wrong. “Men suffer from denial and inability to share that they are imperfect and that the choices they have made were sometimes guesses or the easier of the choices,” explains addiction counselor and trauma specialist Stephen Cohen Henriques, Ph.D. “Being vulnerable is to admit and own that they do not know everything, and that can be crushing when families rely on them for so much.”
Whether or Not They’re Good Husbands
Much like being stable providers, being a good partner is an important facet of being a good man. A stagnant or unhappy marriage can take a tremendous toll on a man’s self-worth over time, especially when he’s unable to communicate this to his spouse. When this happens, resentments tend to build and relationships get more distant, Vierra says.
“Marital misery shows up in my office quite often in the form of a husband’s attempt to compensate for his lack of feeling ‘good enough’ by being a workaholic.”
If They’re Good Dads
Vierra in not just a therapist who sees this insecurity in his patients, he’s a father who’s felt it first-hand with his daughter for the past 18 years. “My fears of not being involved enough, or not being tough enough, or not being wise enough, or loving enough, or fun enough, or protective enough toward her have rarely subsided since she was born,” he says.
Vierra’s professional insight makes it easier for him to recognize that many of these anxieties stemmed from insecurities he had his entire life, but he acknowledges that all men are capable of that. The best thing insecure dads can do is be vulnerable enough to model healthy ways to cope.
Having Insecurities at All
One of the main reason so man men carry all these insecurities for most of their lives is because they’re taught that they’re weak for admitting they have them at all, experts agree across the board. Instead of verbalizing their shared sources of shame and realizing they’re not alone, men double-down, and hang on to bad feelings about themselves for as long as they can.
“Men have been trained and socialized to avoid and ignore knowing their insecurities, which is one of the reasons they are less verbal than women about their insecurities,” Vierra says. “This results in less being known and understood about them.”
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