The False Mask of Masculinity

Back in 2005, Brian Buffini produced a six CD series with former NFL player, Joe Ehrman, called How to Love and Be Loved. Brian always says that tactics change but principles never do. This question and answer discussion between Brian and Joe demonstrates such timeless principles that are fundamental to loving. The series is currently being replayed, one at a time, on Thursdays through Brian’s podcast, “The Brian Buffini Show”, and I highly recommend it! The content feels more relevant today than ever.

In the first segment, Joe discusses the three lies that men are taught about what it means to be a man. These three lies have been passed down from generation to generation to help us men to feel a sense of worth, significance, and belonging in the world.  Yet the actual effect of belief in these lies has manifested as a mask we wear to hide our true selves, the false mask of masculinity. The three lies, explains Ehrman, happen on the ballfield, in the bedroom, and in the billfold.

He explains that the first lie shows up in sports when young boys learn about competing to be the best on the ballfield. They learn that it feels good to beat others in sport because they are praised and encouraged for such success by their peers and adults who all hold the same beliefs. Those who don’t win on the ballfield don’t receive the same encouragement, rather they are condemned for losing, which further motivates them to try harder. Coaches and parents were taught the same lies and often reinforce the need to compete for significance and a feeling of worthiness.

The second lie happens in adolescence when boys learn to compete through sexual conquest. The guy that gets the girl is the best.  He is either envied or admired.  Teenage boys learn to search for love, meaning and significance by competing for female attention. This lie is further exacerbated by the lies that girls are taught about body type and sexual attractiveness as their measures of worth. Brene Brown tells us in her books that a man’s greatest fear is appearing weak and a women’s greatest fear is her appearance. It makes sense that we buy into the lie that the strong and athletic boy who gets the most sexually attractive girl is the most significant. 

As we enter our 20s, adulthood, and working life, the third lie appears in the form of competition for financial success. We compete to see who can obtain the most money to buy toys and pleasure as a means to receive love and significance.

Sadly, these lies work because society values the athlete that dominates in sport, gets the most sexually attractive girl, and finds huge financial success. It is interesting that when the common person is asked what it means to be successful, money is the first thing that comes to mind. Our society most certainly judges success by the size of the billfold. 

This realization that boys are taught that they can achieve worth and meaning in the world through competition on the ballfield, bedroom and in the billfold was profound for me. I acknowledge that I experienced these lies as a boy myself.  The conscious recognition of the three lies felt like an awakening.

Maslow‘s Hierarchy of Needs describes what drives human beings in a sequential format graphically represented as a pyramid.  A healthy human requires that certain foundational needs be met before all others.  The foundational needs are Physiological and include food, water, shelter, sex and sleep.  Once those needs are met, the individual seeks Safety, Belongingness, Esteem, followed by Self-Actualization in that order. (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is fascinating and if you are unfamiliar, I highly recommend further study.)

I was fortunate to experience a childhood in which my physiological and safety needs were always provided for.  These were never something I had to think about.  This wasn’t a conscious thing for me as a kid, but looking back now I realize that because the first two levels of Maslow’s pyramid were always provided for me, my focus was on the third level of Belongingness. As an adolescent, that search for love and belonging goes hand-in-hand with the search for significance and is seemingly accomplished through the three lies of competition on the ballfield, in the bedroom and in the billfold.

Sadly, these lies do not go away on their own and they are not just a phase. Unless we consciously recognize the folly, the three lies remain part of us into adulthood subconsciously and influence how we act as parents, which means the lies are passed on to our children.

Society celebrates those who are successful at manifesting the three lies. We love and admire Tom Brady, his athleticism, his model wife, and his huge net worth. Personally, I happen to admire Tom Brady greatly because of his personal drive, motivation, and discipline to train and care for his body.  I read somewhere that his guilty pleasure is avocado ice cream.  I admire him for the hard work and self-discipline.  He has committed to a hero’s journey of being the best version of himself.  It is that journey he has chosen and his dedication I admire, not the so-called rewards.

Unfortunately, so many people see only the athleticism, the model wife, and the net worth and they fail to recognize the work.  Short cuts in striving to obtain the superficial rewards results in negative manifestations that result from the three lies.  In the striving to compete on the ballfield, in the bedroom, and in the billfold boys and men are likely to falter.  Add in the lies we learn about alcohol and the harmful effects become amplified.  (Annie Grace points out in her book, This Naked Mind, that alcohol is the only drug we feel the need to justify NOT taking.  Why is this?)

Aggressive behavior and violence stem from the drive for athleticism, strength and physical dominance.  Sexual conquest and trying to “get the girl” can result in the disrespecting of women, or worse, crimes against them. And the obsessive desire to acquire excessive wealth often results in greed and related offenses. This is an endless circle that will continue to manifest until the fundamental lies behind them are eradicated.

The discussion between Brian Buffini and Joe Ehrman brings to light possibility.  A conscious awakening and recognition of the lies is the first step.  As men, we believe these lies in the search for love and belonging.  There is another way.

So how cool is this? Lanny Basham wrote a book called With Winning in Mind that explains his Mental Management® system and I’ve written about this book in other posts.  It is a practical philosophy for winning in competition and we can use it to “win” at exposing and removing the three lies from our lives and from the lives of our children. I just love how the dots connect.  We can use a book about competition to help us eliminate an unhealthy focus on competition.

Bassham’s system requires a balance between the conscious mind, the subconscious, and Self-Image. The three lies are instilled into our subconscious early on even before we have awareness of our own conscious mind. The subconscious and the Self-Image develop without the help of the conscious mind. Yet, once we become aware, we can then consciously work to develop new patterns and beliefs. We can practice them consciously and we can change our self-talk through repetition until our new beliefs become subconscious.

The first step is to acknowledge the lies. Once we recognize that these lies are a part of who we are subconsciously we can make a choice to change! Carl Jung teaches that each of us wear masks that hide our true selves.  These masks make up what he calls our persona. The three lies make up part of that persona. But we can consciously choose to take off this false mask of masculinity and retrain our subconscious to develop a new and improved Self-Image.

This can only happen on an individual level one person at a time before a greater societal difference can be made. Jim Rohn says if you “work harder on yourself than you do on your job, you’ll go from making a living to making a fortune.” Your fortune is finding your true self and balance between a healthy conscious mind, subconscious and Self-Image.

We can’t change other people, but we can change ourselves. We can undo the lies by unlearning them ourselves. As more and more people wake up and begin to practice change, the collective consciousness will change. I am willing to take off my mask of masculinity and go to work on myself. How about you?

1 thought on “The False Mask of Masculinity”

  1. Thank you 🙏 for another great 👍🏿 piece!
    I, too, am willing to take off my mask.
    Looking forward to the next blog on on how we can all do so, together. Anyone can share their wisdom on where they are so far on taking off their mask?
    The way I currently am doing it is through the practice of authenticity…
    looking forward to more!

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