Uncovering Toxic Masculinity
Is toxic masculinity a cover-up for insecurity? According to the dictionary, toxic means very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive and insidious way, and masculinity is a set of behaviors, attributes, and roles associated with men or boys. Therefore, I’d say—toxic masculinity is very harmful or unpleasant behavior from men or boys. Some examples of toxic behaviors are; yelling, coarse joking, outbursts of anger, and shaming.
In this blog post, I will answer the opening question by sharing my toxic masculinity experience and how I discovered the root cause that led to a change in my behavior. I’ll start with the way my wife and I discussed taking out the trash early on in our marriage:
Wife: “Hey, did you take the garbage out?”
Me: “No, why?”
Wife: “Well, it’s filled up and needs to go to the dumpster.”
Me: “Why are you asking me to take the garbage?” “You’re not my mother and can’t tell me what to do and when to do it!”
Wife: “Never mind, I’ll take it out.” She responded hastily.
After our conversation, I felt ashamed watching my new wife take out the garbage. Not only did I yell, but I didn’t help her. Responding to her requests or direction with toxic masculinity was a recurring issue in our marriage. I’d feel threatened by an innocent request and, in return, respond with toxic masculinity. It was my default setting. I was afraid to appear inadequate or incapable. I was scared to be vulnerable. Those fears came from being bullied in school as a child and being criticized for who I was growing up.
Furthermore, I discovered that being sexually and verbally abused as a child made it hard to take direction without feeling controlled. My mind would say to me that being told what to do would lead to being abused. The unfortunate thing for my wife was she didn’t know what made me feel threatened—she was trying to communicate her needs.
After a while, my wife expressed how my behavior impacted her. She shared how yelling made things worse, and my outburst of anger made her feel. After she shared, I asked God to help me, and the Holy Spirit told me, “you’re insecure.” At that moment, I recognized that being insecure was the root cause of my toxic behavior. I carried all of that into my marriage, which was unfair to my wife. I needed to change.
Today, I’m more secure than before. I understand what I’m capable of doing and am more aware of what I cannot do. I’m not afraid to say I don’t know or to ask for help. I had to identify what made me insecure— to change my behavior. To improve myself, I started therapy. I learned that taking directions from others has to do with trust, and asking for help has to do with humility— it takes vulnerability to do both.
Not only did I start therapy, but I turned to Biblical scriptures to help me become secure. When I read the Bible and saw how God loved flawed men—I became encouraged and confident. My favorite story of God’s love is in the New Testament. It’s in the short book of Philemon. It’s about a runaway person who was enslaved and found freedom. In this short story, the enslaved person runs away from his enslaver after stealing from him and ends up serving the Apostle Paul to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The enslaved person was helpful to Paul and valuable to the Kingdom, but he had a past that haunted him. However, Paul took it upon himself to help the enslaved person by writing a letter to his master asking that he be emancipated and seen as a brother in Christ instead of an enslaved person. Paul told the owner to charge the enslaved person’s debt to his account. The enslaved person went from useless to valuable. The moral of this story is feeling valuable is essential to be secure, and God loves flawed people.
Later on in my marriage, I got better. I’m more vulnerable than I was. I’m not perfect, but I am more self-aware and have more tools to express myself and give my wife the love she deserves. Like the enslaved person in scripture, I feel valued, which makes me secure and less defensive.
Here are a few actions I make an effort to take to avoid toxic masculinity:
- Discover what I’m good at and do it.
- Ask for help.
- Take direction.
- Don’t yell to make a point.
- Communicate how I feel with words, and don’t shut down.
- Recognize my weaknesses and own them.
- Admit when I’m wrong and apologize.
- Allow God to determine my value.
- Be kind.
- I pray.
Lastly, being a Black man is complicated, but it doesn’t give us a right to be toxic. Let’s get every ounce of help we need to treat those we love and encounter well.