Men Seeing Ourselves thru Broken Mirrors

Seeing ourselves in broken mirrors.

Seeing ourselves in broken mirrors.

By Alexander Ghanma

A man cuts himself shaving and his wife quips, “That’s the second time this week!”

He goes ballistic and starts yelling at her. Why?

Because he hears: “You’re a complete dumbass, I can’t believe you can’t even shave your face properly.”

Sounds crazy. But it’s all about “Broken Mirrors.” 

Therapist, David Wexler uses that term, and that example, to explain that others act as mirrors. And how we see ourselves in the reflection affects our wellbeing.

Over-the-top reactions are especially big if we were shamed early in life, he says. Shamed boys become hypersensitive men, exaggerating slights, whether real or perceived. So these mirrors are broken and not reflecting reality.

This made me think about how many times I have done this to someone and how others have done this to me.

Men aren’t supposed to be sensitive, right? I never realized how truly sensitive we can be. Men don’t like to announce their sensitivity but the fact of the matter is that we are, even if we don’t display it as often as women do.

And maybe the fact that our more sensitive side is stifled leaves us over-sensitive so that we explode instead of talking about what’s going on and dealing with it before it becomes overwhelming.

Holding in our emotions may be caused by what Wexler calls “relational dread.” We men too often feel unequipped for the hard task of discussing feelings and connecting intimately. And that leaves us lonely and without love.

Unfortunately, those who are most desperate for affection are the ones who usually can’t ask for it, he adds.

They can’t ask for it because shame-o-phobia can leave us fearing being de-masculinized in public, or even in our private thoughts.

De-masculinized, meaning feminized. But what does “feminine” really mean? Men don’t want to be feminine but are feminine qualities bad? Actually, they are often very good: kindness, caring, connecting, being in touch with our emotions.

And we all came from women, so why would we not want to be like what created and supported us?

I feel that “masculinity” and “femininity” — and in particular, insisting we all stay in our sphere — limits our potential and creates separation and shame, leaving us all unequipped and feeling unworthy.

And shamed when we seek fuller selves.

This was written by one of my students who gave permission to post it. Also reposted at The Good Men Project.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 9, 2015, in feminism, gender, men, psychology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I personally enjoy my guy friend’s company because he shows that he’s very caring, thoughtful etc. To the point that I have come to value those qualities because I know that guy’s now a days don’t like to show emotions. And as for me, I prefer having a more “humane-like” company than be stuck with a “Robot-like” company.

  2. Absolutely amazing! Very well structured writing and truly reaches depths which are rarely understood. Good Job!

  3. Geat piece, but as somone who keeps thoughts and feelings in a double locked vault this isnt just a masculine thing

    • You’re right, it’s not just a masculine thing. And if you look at social patterns there’s a lot of overlap between women and men, but on average guys are more likely to bottle up their emotions because it’s actually part of the male gender role in America (and large parts of the world).

      • Yeah I’d agree with that, women are, in general more likely to share their feelings, I think men sometimes feel it would not be “manly” to be emotional……. I think this is sloooooooooooly starting to change, like if I compare my generation to my grandparents generation.

      • Yes. I even see a difference in my students after teaching for 15 years. So it’s heartening to see that things that so many of us have been working to change are changing — even if slowly.

  4. As soon as I seen the title to this article and read the first few sentences, I automatically knew what the writer was talking about. Being a male, I believe I am one of those sensitive types. Growing up with a single parent specifically my father, he was very loving and caring, but if I didn’t do something HIS WAY, he would automatically become very upset and scold me. So being exposed to strict criticism at an early age has led me to hold my feelings in rather than express how I feel. As much as I want to express how I feel, I just feel that I will get some type of backlash that would probably make me feel terrible, but you never know until you try. It just sucks that the social construct of men is to be viewed as manly and masculine. As I talked to many of my girl-friends who are in relationships, they prefer a male to be sensitive with their feelings and to be open. Being in a current relationship has really taught me to be more open with my girlfriend, which she really likes. So being “feminine” is not a bad thing at all, its actually great.

  5. Definitely familiar with triggers that cause me to respond bigger than the actual situation. And I am all for reclaiming the power of the feminine in both men and women and allowing both genders to express both sides.

  6. This was a fascinating post revealing a side to men that is often kept concealed and can lead to social anxiety to practice. Men are always portrayed as being strong individuals who set out to dominate enterprises and lead others. I enjoyed how the author presented how this shaming could start from boyhood and how the gender roles set then carries on with them through adulthood. The author states “shamed boys become hypersensitive men, exaggerating slights, whether real or perceived”.
    However, while I do see the importance this topic brings to our society and one we should all be aware of more, I don’t feel said emotions should be labeled as being “feminine”. Society has categorized our gender roles and as the author states by “insisting we all stay in our sphere — limits our potential and creates separation and shame”. As a society we need to understand we can’t label our actions and emotions pertaining to our gender anymore. It is time our generation should acknowledge that we are all equals, who can freely express ourselves if we should so choose to, and to being accepting of each other choices.

    • It makes sense to eventually stop using labels. But at the same time it can be hard to have conversations about societal change if you don’t. Because the fact is that our culture divides traits into two categories, masculine and feminine, and values one over the other. We devalue traits that have been labeled feminine and we need to examine that. And so we need to use the words to do so. Because there is nothing wrong with what we call feminine traits, But it’s a curious thing that we devalue the so-called feminine.

  7. Sometimes it’s hard for men to show their emotions, even though we do have emotions. Due to the reason that men sometimes have to play unique roles in the society that the situation sometimes doesn’t allow us to expose the real emotion. For example, as a company’s team leader, especially for a start-up company, the leader plays extremely import role in the company. I have attended a lot of start-up company’s events, and I found out that more than 90% of those companies’ owners or leaders were men. At certain point for these company, the financial situation can become very frustrating. However, the employees or the team players don’t take as much as pressure as the leader does because the company owner has the responsibility to make the decisions for the company, on top of that, the owner knows he/she has the responsibility of his/her team followers’ fates whether the company will become a profitable company or it will go down. At moment like this, the owner of the company must not show any sign of frustration, worrying, disappoint, etc. Because those signs he/she showed will affect his/her follower’s confidence that the team loss it confidence to play. Therefore, most of the men were taught a lot to hide his emotions.

  8. I find it very hard to see stories like this that remind me of what the negatives are of gender roles. The concept of masculinity held up to such a high standard that the self doesn’t embrace the better qualities because they are “feminine”. If more men were open about discussing their feelings and really harnessing the power within emotions, there would be a lot more who have a progressive mindset recognizing the benefits of knowing yourself. Being able to verbalize these emotions is another skill set as well, but the fruits of labor in being in touch with emotions give you a more clear insight on many issues within your life.

  9. This article bring up a few points I find really interesting. The first one being that man use other men as mirrors, meaning that’s how we see ourselves. This is weird because more often than not the way other people see you isn’t the way you see yourselves. Men may think they’re sensitive or caring but they don’t want other men to see them that way. Because being sensitive is weak, and therefore must be considered feminine. It’s sad that most men (including myself at times) will go above and beyond to try to prove he is “manly” instead of being there true self. It’s sad that men have to try to prove that they’re not weak, but tough rather than just being honest. Sometimes you’re tough other times you’re not, its ok, that’s called being human. Men can be sensitive just like women, but because of all the gender roles that have been engraved in our DNA, men will always be slightly bottled up. When really we are just hiding in a broken mirror.

  10. This is such a fascinating post ~ showing a side of men that most would never want to hear but the importance of them needed to hear such words (myself included).

  11. This is an excellent piece. Job well done!

    The biggest challenge before men today is the need for emotional growth. Emotional intelligence. Without it, we are doomed to increasing levels of self destruction such as porn, drugs, depression, alcoholism, womanizing etc.

    The current state of things leaves whole swaths of men feeling isolated. The biggest impediment to men growing emotionally is their fear of being called sensitive (read weak man…gay…girly man etc). Women do not want/desire such men. Other men detest such men and do not respect them.

    My advice to young men and all men is to become more emotionally intelligent for your own well being.

    I grew up as what one could describe as a sensitive man. The only thing I would not do was cry in front of anyone. I was never shamed or bullied. I avoided “manly” shit like the male bonding crap. I always preferred to company of women (and yes sex was a big factor). I genuinely like women. I admired their soft and gentle ways. Their smell….Their touch..All of it was intoxicating to me you could say. Yet no one ever thought I was gay…..just odd. Because I did not hang out with loud beer drinking ass guys acting stupid.

    I too am guilty to this day of being “overly sensitive” to any slights. My ex wife used to say things like, “wow, a phd mind but you cannot do….” So, yes I would fire back, always. Not ballistic, yelling, or hostile. Never over the top. I simply felt the need to defend myself. In my mind, I was being attacked. I still feel this way. However, I have learned to exercise restraint. I am now a duck and allow most of it to roll off. But, I feel the same as ever.

    So, it is indeed interesting how we reflect in our own mirror. Somehow we men have to become better able to deal with our emotions AND the emotions of others without fear and dread. Or violence.

    • Thanks so much. Nice addition to the conversation.

    • I too am guilty to this day of being “overly sensitive” to any slights. My ex wife used to say things like, “wow, a phd mind but you cannot do…”

      Yeah but I don’t know if you’re wife was joking or some people can be a wise ass, but others do it too often and enough that even though joking, sometimes, a wiseass remark during certain times could be irritating and cause me or someone to get mad. And in that sense, I can’t blame that person as long as not being juvenile or ballistic about it. Because I mean, saying something like that, what you quoted, that sounds insulting. Perhaps communication is better, and a good relationshop and couple understand when to not make a wise ass remark and when too. I have been guilty of getting irritated if and when someone makes a comment, not from me doing stupid or whatever.

      That;s one thing, it happens, and I’ll shrug it off. But if I’m particularly having a bad day, anxiety is high and somethijng that’s made me struggle or some reason do somethign stupid, but have doen it before and said person makes a comment like quoted. It would piss me off, because, like thiis is not the time, I already extremely frustrated that what is happening, and something, I don’t want want to hear anything and want any person to stfu, and like I need a moment to myself and need silence and it’s leave me the fuck alone time. So I can stew and sort things out and cool down. No noise, no funny remarks, let me be. Everybody has different coping ways, some want to talk abut things right away. That can and does help, but for me, the last thing I need is something being said or being messed around with when something just happened.

  12. I work with someone like this – and seeing it up close has made me realize how many men I have known that are dealing with something similar. Men who are sensitive seem to try very hard to hide it, but in moments of intensity they “leak” emotion all over the people around them.

  13. Tell your student that (he/she) is well ahead of the game and should hang on to that intact mirror.

  14. Useful perspective and insights here, Georgia, vide a post from one of your students, holding an impressive mirror of the pedagogue herself. Terms such as masculinity and femininity are societal constructs serving largely to ring-fence human traits within limiting definitions. What is desirable is for woman and man to grow in humanity, as opposed to restricting femininity and masculinity, with each one becoming powerful over negative and constraining forces within, whereby each one reflects his or her fuller self in external mirrors, held by other individuals with equally rounded capabilities.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Good to see men appreciating and celebrating their full selves. Including the part that has been labeled feminine. Which should be appreciated and celebrated instead of disparaged.

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