Putting the men in mental Health. 

Confidence, Mental Health, and Your Ability to Thrive

visibly stressed man sitting at a kitchen table

Even in 2021, the idea of the self-made man– the strong, stoic, machismo, self-sufficient man– is as prominent as ever. 

We've come to believe the narrative that men are supposed to be inherently strong in all aspects of life, but especially when it comes to emotion. There's still stigma attached to men being fully expressive of their emotions. As a byproduct, many young men internalize that it's better to lash out or act out in violent outbursts (such as the trope of punching holes in drywall) than it is to cry, mourn, or ask for help. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's a wave of criticism of how masculinity has traditionally been expressed. Phrases like "toxic masculinity," which originally were coined for productive purposes of highlighting attributes that harm both men and women, get thrown around and misapplied to the point that a lot of men feel like they're being criticized simply by virtue of having been born male. 

As a result, a lot of guys struggle to figure out how they're supposed to process their emotions. They're caught between two extremes– one in which masculinity is a violent, dominant force and another in which it's something to be suppressed. 

Frankly, both extremes are garbage, and neither serve men in prioritizing and treating their mental health, building their sense of confidence, or living up to their full potential. 

One way to strike a balance between the extreme ways men are expected to treat their mental health is to think about your mental health in terms of toughness and resilience. 

On the surface, this may seem like the same old macho mindset that has very little benefit. After all, isn't toughness a way of shrugging off pain or remaining stoic in the face of a challenge? 

Not at all. In fact, mental toughness is less about being immune to pain but rather about knowing how to respond to it. 

It's comparable to how we think about bravery. For example, in pop culture, bravery has come to be associated with the absence of fear. Fear, however, is not a bad thing. It's not a weakness. It's a defense mechanism that we have evolved over millions of years that prepares our body for action. Someone who does not recognize fear is not brave– someone who recognizes their fear and then decides how to best respond to it is. 

The same is true when we think about stress, insecurity, negative emotions, and mental illness. To be mentally tough is not an act of pretending that these issues do not exist. Pretending they don't exist is avoidance, not toughness. Instead, mental toughness enables us to take a step back and decide upon the most beneficial way to proceed.

For many men, this requires embracing both positivity and competitiveness. In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth looks at West Point cadets and analyzes the common traits of who is able to complete the grueling stint known as "Beast Barracks" and who ultimately drop out. 

Those who end up enduring Beast barracks tend to display a common set of traits. As Duckworth defines, it Grit is "passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades."

Grittier people tend to view themselves as underdogs, and challenges as opportunities to be overcome. Rather than seeking to overcome challenges for rewards or praise, they seek to do so for the satisfaction of succeeding.

For guys looking to develop mental toughness, you can take a similar approach.

Rather than treating anxiety and stress as something to avoid or react to with violent outbursts, consider treating it as a challenge to overcome to the best of your ability. This reframing can help expand the options you perceive for yourself. 

But that's not the only way to deal with mental health issues, stress, or a lack of confidence. 

 

Stoicism has gotten a bad rap in recent years. It has come to be synonymous with being unfeeling or not expressing one's emotions. 

That's a pretty long journey from its origins. 

To oversimplify, Stoicism is an ancient philosophy rooted in logic and virtue as the means of pursuing the good life. Within the writings of the Stoics is a wealth of knowledge that is simultaneously ancient in its verse and modern in its application.

Yet, this isn't a philosophy lecture. Rather than analyzing the works of the Stoics, I'd prefer to focus on one of the core teachings we can take from the writings of the likes of Epictetus and Seneca: all that matters is what is in your control. 

By the evaluation of the stoics, it is a waste of time and is not virtuous to invest time and energy into anger, stress, and fear for what you cannot control. 

Easier said than done. Still, it's a helpful framework when we experience difficult times. 

Creating Space for Logic Amidst Negative Emotions

When dealing with negative emotions– whether that be anger, insecurity, stress, fear, or feelings of inferiority– one of the healthiest approaches you can take is to practice creating distance between your current experience and your logical mind. 

To the best of your abilities, avoid speaking or acting immediately when negative feelings overwhelm you. To do so is to invite rash decisions and speaking or behaving in a way you'll soon regret. 

Avoiding that behavior is hard, but it can be done with some practice. For most experiences, you can apply the thought process of the stoics to your trials. Remember, while you may not have control over the situation that has been brought upon you, you do have control over how you react to it.  

Step back and ask yourself specifically which variables are in your control. 

If you're in a situation where you could more directly affect the outcome if you had additional knowledge or skills, how might you acquire that knowledge? 

If you're in a situation that is unfair and unjust, how can you contribute to the creation of justice? 

If you are stressed and angry, what is it that you're wanting to change and how might you do so?

To make things as practical as possible, journaling is a good habit to get into, especially when you're in the throes of negative experiences. Spend time reflecting on what you feel physically– does your heart rate increase? Do you feel nauseous?– and then turn your attention to what you want to do about the situation. A few minutes of reflecting does wonders to help you gain deeper insight into your personal desires, patterns of behavior, and the outcomes you want to create for yourself. 

Confidence is one of several factors affecting your overall mental resilience. 

The less confident you are in any given situation, the more likely you are to make rash decisions. Confidence is a form of leverage. It's a form of power. When you are confident in a situation, you are better equipped to remain level-headed. Remaining level-headed, in turn, helps you facilitate outcomes based on logic and clear thinking as opposed to irrationality. 

Developing your sense of confidence also helps you avoid the trappings of destructive ways of thinking that prey on people who lack confidence. In recent years, there has been a growing trend in digital spaces of "alpha male" and "incel" communities popping up. There are even "alpha male" TikTokkers that claim to be able to teach other men how to become alpha males, which usually includes objectifying women and presenting themselves in a verbose way. 

These so-called alpha males are mere grifters. They're little more than schoolyard bullies pretending to be something admirable, and they build their platform by preying on the insecurities of young men and outcasts. Swaggering and bragging aren't signs of confidence. They're signs of insecure people pretending to be confident. 

Remember, smart people don't have to tell you they're smart. Strong people don't have to tell you they're strong. Confident people don't have to tell you they're confident. 

The more someone seems desperate to convince you they are something, the less likely they are actually that thing. 

To authentically build your sense of confidence, there are a few things you can do. 

  1. For starters, one of the best ways to go into situations with a sense of confidence is to be prepared. Tony Schwartz, the President and CEO of the Energy Project writes, “The best way to build confidence in a given area is to invest energy in it and work hard at it." 
  2. Beyond preparation, learning to question your assumptions and limiting beliefs is another way to bridge the confidence gap. If you've already internalized the idea that you can't do something or succeed at something, you've already lost the battle. Why do you believe that you can't do something or that it is out of reach? Is that belief rooted in an absolute fact or is it circumstantial, temporary, or changeable? 
  3. Finally, one of the keys to developing confidence is to cultivate honest feedback from someone you can trust to be objective. Understanding what you're doing well or where you can improve through the perspective of someone else can function as validation for what you're doing well, but also can help you identify weaknesses and opportunities for growth, which you can then use to give yourself a sense of direction as to where you can continue to improve. 

An Important Note On Mental Health

Much of what we've discussed so far has been focused on aspects of mental fortitude that are largely under your control. 

Your mental health isn't so straightforward. Much of it is outside of your control. If you're dealing with depression, chronic anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness, the advice and exercises in this article are not going to be sufficient to "cure" those issues. 

Your mental health is a health matter. A doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist is your best resource for assessing what interventions are most appropriate. Medication, therapy, and other forms of treatment are all valid and should be explored when you're struggling. Our site's owner has been taking antidepressants for a few years now and credits them with giving him the quality of life needed to be able to even operate Self-Himprovement! 

Speak with a medical professional if your negative mental health symptoms appear to be chronic. We all experience temporary periods of sadness, depression, and anxiety, but when it sticks around and becomes an impediment to your ability to live a high-quality life, you need to reach out. 

If you're actively experiencing a mental health crisis, please consult this site. If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.