“The Stoic Mask”
The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes
Howes explores the idea of how men put up psychological “walls” from other people in order to seem strong, capable, and competent. Growing up in a world where being “cool” was a huge deal in middle and high school, I have found that in the past it was particularly difficult for me to overexert my own feelings in any given situation, even when the situation calls for it.
The mentality of “toughness” was embedded in my life growing up with family members, students in middle and high school, and friends’ family members who didn’t have to tell other people they were “cool” in any way. Their actions and words revealed so much about themselves that exuded a deserved sense of power and respect.
I wanted that…so badly.
I didn’t have much of a father growing up because he had died when I was in the second grade, just around the beginning of the time I started to really begin observing the things around me. I had a step-dad come into my life, but he had only just begun his journey of learning to be a dad to his new children. By that time, it was a little too late for me. I saw him as a dad, but not a father, it was different and it just wouldn’t be the same.
Later on, I realized that I did not respect my dad the way I should have. His bursts of anger and frustration, impatience and negativity, all of these things subconsciously contributed to the anger and frustrations that I had built up inside of me growing up. Who could blame him though? He was married to a controlling Asian wife who had lost her husband, starting and running a business that he had no experience in, and had to take on three kids after years of never being around any children.
However, being a younger kid, I didn’t completely understand the struggles of being a father, let alone a dad, and at some point, I had enough and took it upon myself to be my own “man” in my own life.
To do this, I looked to other people to be my role models, which in the end, lead me to become the nonchalant, unemotional “cool” guy of my circle of friends so that I could seem “put together” and live a life on my own terms.
Being “put together” was what every man seems to want. It wasn’t ideal for a man to be fearful, especially in the environment of a toughness that was forced upon me with the friends I was hanging out with. They ultimately had to be “tough” and be given that sense of respect to the eyes of the world.
Below are the main points from Howe’s chapter on the Stoic Mask that were bolded which resonated a lot with me as I read it.
“Sometimes it’s not just the women in your life or your family whom you lockout when you hide behind this mask of strength and unflappability. Sometimes it is the entire world you lockout, and what you are keeping from them is your true, authentic self. The real you.“
This is a summary of a good portion of my life.
Growing up, I had deep, dark secrets that I just came naturally for me to hide in order to maintain the peace. In the end, all I wanted was to show people how composed I was in spite of the mess I had made in my life.
Recently, one very important person in my life had to deal with my desire to keep something secret, which in the end, only ended up making things very complicated and much worse for the both of us since it showed in my emotions throughout the day.
It started off with a comment she made about my room and apartment not too long after she got there. As much as I joked about it and tried to play it off, it hurt me, but I wasn’t about to simply allow that to let it get into my head (even though it did anyway).
I was hurt because I hold my bedroom in high regards.
My work is done in there. Everything I have built for myself, my reading, my self-development, business, meditation, and escape from the world as an introvert. I strategically made my room into the safe haven I needed to grow and develop myself as well as have the ability to relax and engage in having time for myself. I’m an introvert. An introvert’s room is almost everything to him/her to escape from the draining day to day activities.
However, when she rejected it in her way, it just put a ton of pain in my heart.
Here, a girl that I want to accept me and love me, I had failed. It was as if I had done all of that building for nothing. Yet the worst part of it all, I kept it all inside of me, not allowing her to see the pain in my heart, almost near tears because of the thought I put in to build the room just right for myself only for her to essentially tell me that it was…a bit unwelcoming.
And it is. I agree. It’s not a welcoming place for visitors because it’s not supposed to have visitors. IT’S A PLACE FOR ME AND ONLY ME. An office space, a studio, and a bedroom all in one.
Yet, keeping the emotions that I hide from her revealed itself throughout the day in short bursts of anger and frustration while driving. During dinner, I had a short fuse with her and got overly upset over small things. I kept my eyes fixated away from her a lot of times as I dwelt on the belief that she just didn’t want to be in my city as well as how much I had failed her in not being able to provide a comfortable space for her. I had also kept thinking to myself, “I even spent the morning cleaning it and rearranging my room for her!”
At the same time, I felt all of this was just so utterly insignificant and petty. I didn’t think it was something worth getting upset about whatsoever. And of course, it really wasn’t, but as much as I wanted to ignore these feelings, I couldn’t. And it was especially NOT FAIR for my lady to experience the pain coming from me without knowing what it was that was bothering me.
“Taking off that mask to show vulnerability is one thing, but when you do it to show the world who you really are, that is something else entirely. That is true strength.“
At the end of the day, things were better between us. We talked about it, shared a drink, laughed, but the day was indeed quite rough for the both of us. So rough in fact, that she still couldn’t sleep at night and had to call me up to confirm that we moved past the situation. We spoke for ten minutes about it and confirmed that yes, I realized my mistake in the matter.
Revealing the true pain in my heart is difficult for me. It’s still a work in progress but I learn as go along that it’s better to simply reveal it then to let it explode or let it tear you apart from the inside out. The actions that I took, the choices that I made, resulted in catastrophic emotions on both sides and it wasn’t until I finally let go of the Stoic mask and revealed to her what was REALLY going on, that was when I was able to find peace with her, TRUE peace.
Now, being an introvert, it’s quite easy to remain seemingly stoic around others.
However, as a huge “FEELER” type of person, I found it difficult to keep my feelings from showing to others. My feelings got hurt easily, I was sensitive and didn’t take criticism very well what-so-ever as you can see from the situation with my lady.
Yet when I didn’t express myself right away, I ended up exploding or allowing it to dwell to the point of no return. If I didn’t somehow talk about my feelings, write about it, or outright confront them, eventually, it would come out in a negative way whether it be through drinking, smoking, or some other form of escape.
I had a somewhat of a bully in college once during my Sophomore year. He lived in the same household as I did and being the unconfrontational person that I am, I didn’t lash out at the inconsiderate and hurtful comments that he would often make.
About a few months later after a specific comment, I had enough. I walked upstairs talking about how I was going to “explode” and sure enough, the room looked like it had gone through a tornado after I was done with it. I threw stuff around, cussed, and cried my eyes out, something I haven’t done for at least a few to several years.
After about a year or so I finally was able to have my outlet, a close friend of mine who eventually became my best friend because of all the things I was able to tell him. I need someone to listen, and he was perfect for that, he listened to everything that I spoke to him about. Those were vulnerable moments of my life, unfortunately, they were the only TRUE vulnerable moments.
Most of my conversations with people were fabricated to hide the deep emotions that I held back within me. I left my old church without them fully knowing how I really felt and what I really wanted to do with my life. At least, not until recently. I posted a blog post about the reality of my life and the choice that I made.
Even though it’s a bit difficult, I think this is a good time to reveal the hardships that I have had in my life and the choice that I decided to make for myself. Being with the lady that I am with right now has allowed me to bring both worlds together and I have to embrace that in order to truly be happy with who I am.
“Our beliefs about what it means to be a man-that we must be reserved and tough and solitary-are leading us astray, down a lonely road to nowhere. More specifically, they are holding us back from getting to the place we all know deep down that we want to go.“
Lewis tells us to let down our guard down. To allow ourselves to embrace the reality that we have emotions, feelings deep within us that aren’t typically what the world may consider “masculine” but who is really to tell us that?
I think that actually being able to have someone to talk to is what allowed me to keep from being so utterly depressed in this life. Having that outlet and being vulnerable allows a man to fully embrace the reality that they aren’t superhuman, that they don’t have things under control all the time and things do indeed hurt them.
I’m a sensitive person, no doubt. To the world, I might even be considered a “crybaby”. But, I’d rather speak on these feelings than to allow my soul to slowly die inside as I cope by drinking and then eventually exploding in some way that I would cause a significant amount of regret and guilt.
I don’t want to go down that lonely road that Lewis speaks about. I know that in order to truly have a life that is full and lively, is to embrace the pains and deep emotions that I have rather than masking it by allowing others believe that I have it all put together.