Changing MENtality

Self-esteem and Masculinity

May 14, 2021 Changing MENtality Season 3 Episode 1
Changing MENtality
Self-esteem and Masculinity
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode George S talks to Dan Rothko about the relationship between self-esteem and masculinity. Dan left university prior to graduation due to poor mental health and struggles with self-esteem. Now in his thirties, he is happily married, has a child, and works in a complex needs school (a job he loves!) He talks openly about the issues he has had to deal with and what has helped him along the way. 

Content warning: this episode contains mention of sexual assualt and suicidal ideation. If you would like support with sexual assualt, you can visit:

https://www.thesurvivorstrust.org 

If you would like support specifically aimed at men and boys (including trans men and boys) you can visit:

https://www.survivorsuk.org/ 

If you are looking for support with suicidal ideation, you can contact the Samaritans by visiting their website at:

https://www.samaritans.org

And you can call them anytime, 24 hours a day, on: 

116 123

If you would like support with depression or anxiety, you can visit the NHS website:

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/

If you're a student looking for support with this, check out Student Minds:

https://www.studentminds.org.uk/jobswithus.html#scc

If you like the podcast, please share it widely!

George S:

Hello and welcome to the changing mentality podcast. This is a podcast created by a group of male students and recent graduates from across the UK, about issues around masculinity and men's mental health. We're supported by the charities comic relief and student minds. In this episode, I talked to my friend Dan about self esteem, the effect that the norms of masculinity can have on one's sense of self, one sense of belonging and feeling comfortable in one's own skin. I thought that was really insightful on this and it was also a good while since we've spoken, so it was a great chance to chat with him. Just a warning, this episode does contain mentioning suicidal thoughts. And at one point, Dan talks about his experience of sexual assault. I also wanted to let listeners know that though we only spoke about this briefly in the episode, we don't go into detail. I did check in with Dan afterwards to make sure he had had all the support with this that he felt he needed. And he reassured me that he has spoken about it with many therapists. And then it mostly has only a small emotional charge with and now I wanted to mention that in case any listeners are worried about Dan, and also to indicate support is out there. For those that have had experiences like this, that it can be really effective. And that might have been in Dan's case. that in mind, if you've experienced sexual assault, you can get in contact with survivors trust. And if you're looking for support specifically, for people who are men, trans or non binary, you can visit survivors UK. If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is really important to seek support for for this, do this you can call the Samaritans gets us river GP, or visit the NHS website. And if you're looking for support for your mental health more generally, you can visit student minds website or the website, the charity mind. And there'll be links to all of those in the description. Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy the episode.

Dan:

Hi, George, how you doing? I'm pretty good. How are you? Yeah, not

George S:

too bad, not too bad. Welcome to the podcast.

Dan:

Thank you for having me.

George S:

So we're going to talk about self esteem and its relationship to masculinity. And being a man whatnot. Why don't we start by just if you could tell a little bit about who you are, what you're interested in that kind of thing.

Dan:

So I'm 33 years old, married with a little boy of 14 months now. Er, was a lockdown baby. I live in Norwich in Norfolk in England. And yeah, I work in a complex needs school. So my job has three elements to it. I teach music and instrumental lessons. I work with children with a lot of behavioural issues, so mild to moderate learning needs. And also I do an ELSS provision, which is emotional literacy and support system. So yeah, I have a very nurturing role in the school and I also deal with a lot of behaviour. So I suppose in terms of biography, I'm originally from a small market town in Lincolnshire, called Stamford, a very affluent town, I went to a all boys school, private school on a scholarship, which was a mixed experience, quite complex experience, which we'll get onto that terms of masculinity and mental health as well. So yeah, I finished school and I, I did most of a philosophy degree, York University and I left due to mental health problems, depression and anxiety and a lot of things which I didn't understand fully at the time. I had a lot of intrusive thoughts, a lot of somatised emotions, so things that were building up in my body from a lifetime of repressing them. So yeah, at that point, I started to become interested in mental health, also spirituality, which fed into it, I suppose about 15 years now, I've been interested in Buddhism, Eastern thought in general. Yeah, what else do you need to know I suppose since then. So I had a period of very poor mental health with these intrusive thoughts for about three or four years, very depressed, quite dissociated as a result of them. But I had a lot of a lot of my externals were positive and good, but my inner world was very complex. And as I've later learned, that sort of fully somatised into a quite a complex muscle tension condition, undiagnosed, but seems to be quite a common thing, sort of a systemic almost breakdown as a result of holding on to a lot of emotion. Not having the self awareness to understand what was going on in my emotional landscape. And I suppose not knowing at the time, mental health wasn't as big in the public consciousness, so I didn't really know what to do with it. I saw that primarily at the time as a physical condition that I didn't understand. became a very acute for a few years. Which was a huge battle. I was waking up in the morning trying to get through the day. And one day would go away. There wasn't any quality of life involved. My posture was out. Yeah, I had a lot of pain and tension, and then all the other systems started to go wrong as well. My asthma got worse, I got allergies, all sorts of you know, you can imagine the whole shebang, everything went wrong. That gradually been improving for the last sort of seven, seven or eight years to the point where I'm at now. where life is gradually getting better and better, better all the time. Occasionally have setbacks, but I found a job that I absolutely adore. That gives me everything I need. A really rare environment and a beautiful environment full of very nurturing people. Interestingly, a lot of men who are not your classic masculine man. So for me a very, an environment in which I can make sense of myself, which, yeah, I say is extremely rare. So I'm very grateful for that. And that's been a huge healing thing for me. Over the last few years, I suppose I've built up my confidence from what was at a very low ebb throughout my life. through teaching meditation classes, which was a big, a big boost something I'm sure was a big boost for you as well. Cause I know you took over for me when I stopped.

George S:

Yeah.

Dan:

And yeah, so I play music folky and guitar and singing. And I'm confident enough to do that in front of people now. Yeah, I've had I've had a lot of growth experiences that are getting better and better. And I've recently taken on more responsibility, my job, which is a real boost. Yeah. I suppose I write a lot of poetry as well. That's that's a big thing for me. I've written a book that I've not yet built up the courage to publish, but is there.

George S:

Oh, wow. Okay. I didn't actually know that. Oh, thank you. Yeah, that's, I thought it was really beautiful, the way you described the environment, you found a new job in the way things have gotten better for you over time. I think that sounds really positive? Yeah, I think we'll talk more about one of the things he brought up this issue of self confidence and masculinity, I think that'd be really important to touch. Well, yeah, it's good to see more detail on that. Yeah. So I guess one place to start would be, we're going to talk about self esteem. What do you think of when you think about that concept?

Dan:

So I guess it's something that sort of come to focus a lot more for me recently, since I did the ELSS training, which to reiterate, is a sort of low level emotional health and teaching intervention sort of Teach pupils to understand their own mental processes and feelings. And so I came across this is called the building blocks of self esteem if you don't if you come across that. Michel Bauber, I think I'm saying that, right. So it has these sort of five elements that self esteem is broken up into, which was a new thing for me, I'd sort of thought of self esteem as as quite a basic idea. all encompassing, that you could almost quantify in principle, I have low self esteem, you have high self esteem. Some people are in the middle, and that have a sort of pervasive effect on your life. But I think being aware of it having many elements made a lot of sense to me, because sometimes, and certainly I think it's context dependent as well. I felt like I held myself in very high regard. And certainly in in certain elements, for example, one of the aspects of selfhood that is broken up. So I'll tell you what the what the elements is, it's quite interesting. So the first one is security. The second is Selfhood. So I suppose having a sense of differentiation from your environment, having I suppose sufficient feedback, maybe in childhood to understand who you are, how to make sense of yourself, where you stop and where your environment starts. affiliation, sense of belonging, I guess, connection to those around you. Mission, having goals. feeling like you're moving forward, I guess, a sense of meaning. And I suppose Yeah, maybe that connects in a spiritual context to having a sense of purpose on a higher level outside of yourself. And the last one is competence. And, yeah, so for me, interestingly, competence has always been something which I've held in really high regard, almost sometimes excessive regard. regard, which is interesting, almost like having a higher view of my competence, in order to bolster perhaps some of the other areas that I felt deficient in. So yeah, having having this breakdown into lots of elements, I'm sure there are many other ways of breaking it down, but just the basic feeling that self esteem isn't one homogenous lump But it's is many elements, I suppose. Yeah, I mentioned the context dependent thing. And I think that is also, that's something I've come up in front of in therapy recently is this idea that we not only have lots of elements of ourselves lots of parts that almost seem almost like coherent sub personalities affecting us at a subconscious level parts from our childhood patterns of behaviour that can come up and sort of crystallised. And in certain contexts, we find ourselves reacting and behaving in quite a coherent way that was different from the way that we would act in a different contexts. And I think some of those parts are connected to certain elements of self esteem. There are certain contexts in which I feel very secure, for example, there are some some environments in which I feel extremely insecure, and that in those environments, I feel like my self esteem was a lot less. So yeah, having having in mind this sense of context dependency and also dependency on your inner state, as well. Obviously, mental health is a very diffused thing. And there are many elements playing into each other. Even something like sleep as a father of a young child. I can almost, I can feel really awful about myself at my job one day, if I've had an hours less sleep than normal, you know? Yes. Anyway,

George S:

I love noticing, sorry to interrupt, but I love noticing in myself, I have a day where I'm a bit tired, or I haven't eaten properly. And for some reason, I start being like, what am I doing with my life? Where's this PhD? It's like, it's going terribly. And then I eat a sandwich. And I'm like, Oh, no, it's fine. I was just hungry.

Dan:

Exactly. And I think our minds are so quick to form a narrative around. I mean, I like I like the sort of Maxim that emotions come first, and thoughts come afterwards, it's as if, because our feelings feel like they're the world in a way we haven't, we're no different the children and that way, it feels like our felt emotions on our body feel like reality, rather than a context, a contingent circumstance. And then our mind goes forming narratives around that. Something which I used to find when I was at particularly low point was, I could be fine during the day, and then when I got tired, the feeling of wanting to go to bed would turn into sort of suicidal thoughts. That feeling of wanting to let go wanting a break, there were obvious parallels between sleep and death. And for a long time, I would have those suicidal thoughts at nighttime, until it was almost funny that I realised that Hold on, I'm just tired. This is a really basic, basic bit of self awareness that I didn't have, because I was so used to pushing through all these confusing mental states that actually go to bed, realising that that's, you know, context dependent. And so I suppose that's those examples in which, you know, General mental health is context dependent and dependent upon your own feelings in your body. But I think self esteem is as well, like it's a it's a feedback mechanism that we come to rely on. But unmitigated by an understanding and being able to take a step back is something which can give us maybe not a false idea, but as I say, a contingent idea of how we see ourselves and knowing that self esteem is something which flows and fluctuates and changes depending on how we're feeling what's going on even who we are with certain people might trigger a really low self esteem in us a bully, for example, or parents, some people and other people who we feel a real resonance with a sense of our self reflected in them real you know, the sort of people that you I mean, I certainly feel that with you, George got a lot of shared interests. And when I'm talking to you, I feel like I make sense I feel like I understand who I am, you know, I feel myself reflected our, you know, our ideas and flexes on the world resonates visually to feel like that element of selfhood is really strong. affiliation is strong, our sense of mission in many elements is, is similar. We're talking about things that I feel very competent to talk about really filling a lot of the self esteem space, and I feel great, like I feel really good in this conversation, but put me in another context and I could feel small and worthless and ridiculous and incompetent and like I don't want doing this my life. Yeah,

George S:

I mean, firstly, I'm very glad to hear that I'm almost welling up. How but yeah, those I thought the same of you. And I think it's, it's a really good point that self esteem is not this one fixed thing. There's something that my counsellor stressed as well if you want me to go away and like do a mind map of all the various things that seem associated with self esteem, I think. I don't know. I don't think she used this terminology, but it's something I picked up from talking to her about it of like trying to build self esteem from the outside in, because I feel like sometimes we feel like self esteem is this core thing you either have or you don't have. And there's not really anything you can do to change that. But the idea of no like, looking at these different elements like how would a person who had self esteem behave? What kind of relationships? What boundaries would they have in their relationships? What decisions would they make about, you know, would they choose the job that they know they're not going to find satisfying, but they feel some perverse sense of obligation to go and do and, or things like that, I found that was really helpful and quite empowering. And as you say, when you realise that it is contingent on so many things, that's actually very helpful, because you can start to change certain things. So if it's people that are bringing a sense of self esteem down, you can choose to hang out with different people, or if you don't feel competent in your job, I mean, this is kind of idealised, obviously, not everyone's going to be able to change their circumstances, immediately. But if you can notice, oh, I don't feel competent my job or I'm being bullied or my boss or something, then you can think, Oh, well, I don't actually have to stand for this. And I can go and I think being assertive is a big part of having self esteem and being able to assert your needs.

Dan:

I spent a lot of time when I had really bad health. And I struggled to connect with people as a result of it. And I didn't have a job and such like, spending a lot of time on my own. And I think whilst having a spiritual practice, a lot of the focus can be, and this can sometimes be an insight, to take responsibility for your own emotional state to take responsibility for your life. That's certainly the motivational speaker, angle, taking responsibility, take hold of the wheel, you know, but actually, sometimes it's too much to expect of yourself in a given context to be able to move forward in that way, sometimes you just have to have sufficient resources. And in therapy, recently, I've been talking with my therapist and learning really about resourcefulness. How well resourced you are in a given context and a given way to be able to do a certain thing. And often, we can talk about internal resources and external resources. And something very prevalent in Buddhism, actually, is that often people take far too much responsibility for their internal resources, and their internal states without just changing some simple stuff in their environment that will help. Because at certain point in your life, it's, you know, you're not going to be able to move forward, if you're if you have a toxic relationship, or a toxic job, or you're flogging a dead horse sort of thing, if that's the right expression, I think the outside in approach is, I think, really good, especially when you're beginning to build self esteem. And obviously, once those, and I suppose I'm at a point now, right, I sort of have everything laid on, like I have a supportive relationship, beautiful child, a job that I love. And at that point, I can confront what's left, and there's quite a lot. But that's, that's at the point when I've done a lot of work already. But when I'm okay, I have some, some work to do. Yeah, also, rather than just focusing on the sort of feedback loops that exists, or thinking a certain thought, and then it making you feel better about yourself, which is, you know, the self hypnosis approach, I think, is very powerful. But also, there's only so far you can go with that. And you need to start acting like someone that does certain things for your unconscious to really understand that you are that person, that you can do that thing. It's something that I've experienced recently is, is what

George S:

I've experienced similar things that not being I suppose the best way to put it is occupying space, in relationships is taking up room with my needs, with my feelings, something that I have never done since childhood, I've learned certain ways of being to sort of placate and please and maintai social harmony and that classi sort of nice guy syndrome. An then to really start occupyin space, and seeing mysel occupy space and not only rusting that that has a ositive effect. nothing goes rong, but also that I can feel his sense of existence. My, my ctual physical feeling of xisting in the world is more ubstantial. is a bit ewildering when it's that I'm ot I don't know if you've had ny similar experiences. But hen you start to, I don't know, feel more tuned into my body, feel like I exist. It's very ifficult to put into words more ubstantially. I feel like by utting my feelings out into the orld, my needs out into the orld. I'm not only getting that eally positive feedback that 'm worthy of expressing those eeds, which is important for elf esteem, but also just a eally fundamental feeling of inally existing, not being so nvisible, not being small. Yea , able to speak up for myself say what my sort of, if I have a problem or something, in relationship to be able to voice that. And it's kind of remarkable when you realise you can, because I think part of, you know, often the way the reason we feel that way is because we've been in relationships where it hasn't been an option. And so we kind of internalise that and go out into the world thinking that it's never an option, rather than just, it wasn't an option in this particular relationship, which was all I knew at that time. I think, you know, in my case, like one example, it just might seem mundane, I remember spending time with like, a really close friend. And we were hanging out together and trying to decide what to do with the day. And she suggested we go to the long walk, and I was actually feeling really tired. And Didn't you want to go on a walk, but I didn't feel like I could say that. So I just sort of, like we're kind of pushing on as though getting ready for this walk. And we're, we've got out the door. And I look not very happy about having to do this walk. And then at some point, she says like, do you want to do the walk? Or we could just like sit in the park or something? And I was like, Yeah, that'd be great. Let's sit in the park, and she was like, h, that was easy. And it was ike, she sensed that I didn't want to do this thing. But becau e I hadn't said it. There was no really much he could do. But i the moment she suggested with them and see if it's something ike oh, because she suggested i , then I can, I can assent to hat rather than having to be l ke, rather than me having to sa , Oh, actually, I prefer to do t is thing, which takes more ssertiveness, I think increas ngly, I try and notice those experiences and notice that no the the actual these people in my life now, they want me to ay those things they want to kn w, like, no one wants to be with someone who's unhappy in their company, but isn t saying anything, especially wh n it can so easily mitigated y just saying what you'd prefer o do with the time you're

Dan:

Oh, absolutely. And I've certainly learned, I've been my wife for five years. And it's taken pretty much five years, for me to learn that lesson. Poor woman, I've driven to distraction with it. Because I suppose you let you learn that sense of how to keep yourself safe in the world, sort of emotionally by doing what other people need. And you know, for example, that nobody's going to, or it's less, a lot less likely that you're going to be insulted, people are going to think you're horrible, people are likely to think you're a nice person if you do what everyone else needs all the time. But once you get into a relationship where communication is essential, and when you're I mean, in friendship, this is true also. But I think in romantic relationships, when you're physically in the same space, especially lockdown. It's been a catalyst. For me learning it. Being with someone that doesn't express their needs, creates huge amount of resentment, because you're sort of, you're in this almost regressive, childlike state of expecting your parents to expect your partner to be able to anticipate your needs, which I can't remember who was telling me about this, but they there's sort of a theory that you go into a relationship expecting your partner to be able to fulfil the same role as your parents, which is where a lot of conflict comes from. And a parent's role, especially when the child doesn't know how to explore their emotions or their feelings or their needs is, especially in young childhood, is to fulfil those needs to understand those needs to inform the child of their needs to sort of mirror what they're feeling back to them and co regulate and all these things, and that, that decreases as you get older. But if you're not able to do all these things for yourself, especially then you find a partner who, you know, in our romantic ideal is supposed to fulfil everything that's left that you can't do for yourself. And for someone like me that is expressed my needs. So my wife needs to express my needs for me. And it doesn't work when she's not able to. And she's tried really, really hard. It's not her fault. And I would get really resentful, and I feel awful about it. I'd get I do absolutely everything to an absurd degree, she would say, Oh, I really want a cup of tea. And I'd get up and make a cup of tea. Not like that if she didn't want me to make a cup of tea. But I would just get up and she was like, Dan, you don't have to actually, you'd have to make me a cup of tea when I say that's not what I'm doing.

George S:

Yeah, that's not a request. It was more like, yeah, I'm expressing something and now I'll go and make myself a cup of tea because I can do

Dan:

it. And it was a real revelation to me that if someone asked me something, I could say no. Yeah, I can say I don't want to make you a cup of tea, will you make me one? You make me one. You're doing doing that just to begin with felt really jarring, which was it's astonishing how far down a road of you know with the right perspective, something that seems absurd. How far down that road, you can be Without being aware of it, and you need that person to reflect and go, Oh, hold on. And ever since then I've sort of been practising and practising and practising and occupying space, asking for what I need. Even in conversation, this is something I'd certainly give as a piece of advice to anyone that wants to build their self esteem is to occupy space in conversation, because I'm a very giving compassionate, caring person that's interesting in how other people feel. And so I end up asking questions, and asking questions and asking questions. And that's not a pattern that everyone buys into. So sometimes people will just answer and answer and answer and I'll go away thinking, I formed a connection with that person, but oh they're very selfish, self involved? And it was because I wasn't saying anything about myself and asking them questions the whole time. And I think it's something that they think it's a Taoist phrase or something is that is meet halfway, I may be wrong about that. Some somebody says it to meet someone socially, halfway is the best, sort of most harmonious way to be in a relationship with someone. So if they're a person that doesn't ask questions about you don't ask questions about them. And I've adapted that, and there are certain people that I have a lovely relationship with now I don't really ask them any questions I just talk about myself. And that's more comfortable for them as well. And I think that's a real that's a really positive way of feeding back to yourself that you matter, that you can you can occupy space, and also those people know about you, yeah, able to care about you and know you and fulfil the function that a friend needs to fulfil. You know, it's not all about them.

George S:

Yeah, I think that's the other thing is, again, it's, you have these ideas about what the other person wants. And you imagine, and I think this also connects to your own self image, if you don't think you're interesting, or thta anything you do is something that someone else could be curious about, that you know, that your personality is something that other people might want to get invested in and learn more about, and understand how you're doing in your life and what you're interested in. I feel like it's an you quite naturally think, Well, yeah, of course, I'm not going to talk about myself, they don't want to hear that. But what I can do is I can ask them loads of questions about them, so often be very patient and understanding and attentive. And they. And of course, like people do want that in their friends, or their romantic partners, but they also want to know, who they're having a relationship with, and who they're telling all these things, to. And they want to be able to fulfil that role for you as well. And I think it's one thing when you realise that I mean, for me, another example is, I felt like often these things manifest in these kind of rules that you don't tell people you have. But govern a lot of what you do I had this, I seem to develop this rule at one point that I couldn't, you know, if someone, if I was on the phone, someone, when they asked me how I was, I had to say, like, Oh, I'm good. And then ask them about how they were, and then make sure that they had spoken as efficiently as long enough time about how they were before I could start talking about how I was, and now I don't, this is why we get on. So well. We have the same rule. Yeah, it's amazing. We've learned anything about one another. Given that we're not just like trying to divert one another's questions to ask the other one question. Well,

Dan:

I suppose Yeah, we diverted back again. someone gets to say one thing, and then it gets back to them soon enough that they can say another one.

George S:

Yeah. And it's what was I saying. Yeah, I feel like it's only really been having counselling that I've stopped doing that. And I can just, you know, if I'm having a difficult time, I don't need to give the other person half an hour's talk about like, the mundane things that have happened to them. You know, if it happens, that, you know, there's nothing particularly eventful that's happened in their life. It does. Again, that's where the resentment can come in. Because if you if something big has happened in your life, you want to talk about it, but you don't feel like you can talk about it until they've said something until they've like, gone off. Like something which they might even consider trivial. But since you're not saying anything, they think, well, I have to fill this silence somehow. And then you're like, oh, they're talking about such trivial things. Don't they know that like, I've just had this big thing? And it's like, well, why would they do that?

Dan:

When are they going to ask me about you know, what happened with my mum the other day?

George S:

Yeah,

Dan:

very almost childlike thing. And that's not to say that it should be ashamed of it or it's not okay, we all have these childhood patterns. And I think they they do develop in the, in the family home, and I think my family are all quite like that. I think, I think I hope they won't mind me saying that. They're, they're quite compassionate, quite giving. They have a lot of the same issues, perhaps that I do about not occupying Enough, enough space and perhaps a preoccupation with making sure everyone else is okay. To the point that that works really harmoniously in my family because much like with you and I, you know, everyone's always asking each other how they are. And, you know, as my wife's family is slightly different to that. And they have more of a predisposition to say their thing, and that's how they interact is to say that thing, and then someone else will say their thing and say their thing, it is a very polar opposite to me. You know, I'm sure there's a natural harmony in the middle. Or perhaps there are just different ways of doing but I would almost say it's, it's probably more positive to be on the other extreme in terms of your general life happiness. Because you just by default occupy space. And I almost wonder if it's more common. I think there's a lot of people that are more inclined to offer. I think, I think also potentially more with men, I've certainly noticed, there's a certain there's a certain masculine thing about saying your pie-ce was really confident that I often find, or at least, superficially confident that they will, perhaps not ask as many questions as maybe a woman would, because I think, me a lot of male conversations in the in the really sort of stereotypical stance tend to be about either external things, not about their own emotions, or about talking about achievements or things that they're doing, you know, what I mean, rather than as women, I think more emotionally invested in one another traditionally, in relationships, so they are more inclined to ask each other how they're doing, because they, you know, they want to know, and it's, that's, that's part of the thing, I don't know if that's something that you've observed

George S:

is Yeah, I think this is difficult, partly because I think the kind of men I end up forming close relationships with, aren't those kind of men in that they're more they are, and perhaps as well, this, this relates to being a bit a bit less forthcoming and a bit introverted is, I'm probably unlikely to form a close relationship with someone who doesn't ask me a lot of questions or sort of go out of their way to try and get to know me, because I think there can be some of that social reticence, but it is definitely I think, as you said, it's a kind of stereotype. But I think it is true to some, to some extent, I know, when I talk to female friends who go on dates and stuff with men, if they've got something to complain about, it's usually that the man just didn't ask them many questions. I feel like it's Yeah, right. Okay. Well, how do you think masculinity plays into all of this?

Dan:

Well, again, it's one of those things where you sort of, like the fish can't see the water that swimming around and doesn't know exists, it's, I'm acutely aware that I don't want to make any sweeping statements about men's experience, because I'm on my own peninsula out somewhere, and so is everybody else. I guess my own experience of masculinity has been quite complex and confusing. I was in a public school. So private school, boys school,

George S:

and we should say sorry, for our non UK listeners, the UK has this annoying habit of defining the terms public and private differently, and then using the same word to describe the same school.

Dan:

I think also my understanding is that public schools are the particularly impressive ones. And I don't know if my was okay. Any wants to be anyway,

George S:

but um, you're a fee paying school.

Dan:

I was fee paying School, which I didn't pay any fees, I was lucky enough to get and thankfully, it was relatively compared to some grounded because it was quite a large proportion of scholarship places, because either way, it was quite a masculine environment, quite a very traditional, masculine environment in which you had to cut your hair, you weren't allowed long hair. So at the end of the summer, I'd always have long hair, and not being willing to have confrontation as I am, I would cut it. Whereas other people would get told, you're not allowed to have long hair. But also in a lot of the old fashioned senses. There was a big military thing everyone did CCF on a Friday. I'm trying to think back about what other I mean, I sort of hung around with people that didn't want to occupy that space. Sort of I was in bands and stuff. hung around with punks and hippies. What as much of a punk and a hippie as you could be at that time. It felt like it felt like the masculine element and I'm told the girls school was a real bearpit as well in different ways. Very catty, and unpleasant and my sister had a horrible time. I think she'd agree. But the sort of hierarchical element, the doggy dog, putting people down. I think my year group was particularly toxic to be a compassion. A caring giving person that wanted to look after people was a very difficult I mean, which, to some degree are traditionally considered more feminine traits difficult to exist in a school like that, and I got trampled all over to the point where I experienced a sexual assault at one point, which is a sort of extreme end of boys will be boys messing around at a party. I won't go into great detail, but that for me wouldn't have happened with Girls, I can't imagine girls doing that. Perhaps it happened in certain context. But I think there's something of the masc-, there's something about that group's perception of how to be a man how to be masculine, how to be impressive how to be a, you know, an alpha or to be accepted in the pack. And it was certainly a pack mentality. None of those individual people, if I just passed out on the sofa, or a party would have done any of those things to me, it was a pack mentality, which is something that I think masculinity can lead itself to lend itself to sorry. So yeah, I guess that was an extreme example, seems to say something about how those people thought they had to be a man, and how, me being how I thought I had to be a man or at least a person didn't fit. And therefore, you know, I was thrown under the bus. And it was a, you know, a really recurrent pattern. I got into Buddhism, in order to try and compassion my way out of this situation, which to some degree only made it worse, because I was going into school going, be compassionate, don't let other people's pain and anger all this, all this stuff sort of intrude on your own principles and inner life, and I got trampled and trampled Bramble trampled by these people that I was friends with, who were sort of they were the cool kids. You know, some of them were the cool kids, I got in with a crowd of people who were quite masculine. In the toxic sense. Yeah, so and that obviously massively affected my self esteem, because I wasn't, I didn't feel like I could authentically be like that. I'm sure I had my moments of putting people down because the, you know, the environment so toxic that that, you know, bleeds into everyone around you. But yeah, yeah. So my early experiences of, I suppose that teenage period where you're finding yourself, you're making sense of your own gender and place in the world led me to want to hang around with women more. To be honest, I struggle to form relationship, romantic, romantic relationships with women. But yeah, I found this really unusual, or at least troubling relationship to men in the sense that I was, through I experienced felt very insecure around strong, confident men. I felt very secure around sensitive, compassionate men in touch with, you know, traditionally more feminine qualities. But confronted with a real alpha male, I would fear and this is starting to recede a bit as I become more confident and have better self esteem. But yeah, I formed Yeah, a difficult relationship with masculinity and expressions of it. And some of that goes back to childhood as well. Yeah, it's different. It's difficult thing to pin that pin down. I'm sort of waffling a little bit, because I'm, it's not something I've put a lot of thought into. But

George S:

no, that's fine. Yeah, I think I mean, firstly I'm sorry to hear about the sexual assault in which she shouldn't have happened to you. Yeah, I think it's, I mean, what came across to me from what you're saying it's just a kind of callousness and almost like, there can be this reverence for invulnerability to the point where you wouldn't you just so utterly would not respect another person's boundaries or another person's body? And yet as well I can relate to what you said about feeling insecure around alpha men. I think I definitely feel that and feeling drawn towards either as you say, more compassionate, nurturing men or compassionate nurturing women I think, and it can manifest in certain ways are hard to pick up on like I found I only noticed this in the last year or so that i i've never enjoyed going to pubs and didn't really know why. I mean, I so I don't drink now. So partly, there's like less incentive to go to pubs. But, but I think it's because they've always felt like very masculine environments. And I think men especially men when they're drinking. And this is, again, this is not all men, but there's a, there's this, I feel like there's a certain kind of man that you can encounter, or at least maybe it is just one that I have ever encountered, or just I'm very sensitive towards, like, I'm kind of they're very much on my radar because they feel threatening. Yeah, yeah. who, you know, and usually it's not one man, it's, it's a group of often men who are much stronger than me and much. Yeah, much more within that alpha male stereotype. And then you add alcohol to that, and it the whole thing, just supercharges. And the thing is, it's not that anything needs to happen that didn't need to be any violence or anything, but just the presence and the sense that like, as you're saying, they're always taking up so much space in the room, I find that very difficult to screen out, and to not feel kind of on edge around it. And I think, you know, I've encountered that and, and other environments, like, I think traditionally, multiple environments, sometimes depending on what a given barbers is, like, I can go to the barbers and feel learn, you know, from talking to me. Like I remember, I, there was a barbers I used to go to when I was at southampton, that was just the men there were just, you know, covered in tattoos. And we're like, trying out jujitsu moves on one another in the barber shop. And, and I always used to just get my hair cut by the one woman who I felt sorry for who like, surrounded by all of this, like, Yeah, and I think masculinity is something you sort of feel like a low level, you constantly have to defend. And it's kind of fine if there's nothing threatening it or there's no, you're not in a context where it can be called into question. But then the moment you encounter someone who fills that alpha male stereotype? Or is, it becomes very easy to feel like, well, this is someone who out because they're fulfilling the stereotype. Well, they really have the authority to undermine my own masculinity

Dan:

Exactly. And I think, because there is something of particularly for an alpha male, I'm not saying that it's an inherently bad thing. I mean, almost think, if it didn't exist in the world was more in tune with compassionate ideals and such like, then maybe it'd be more harmonious, but then I calculate, I think it will hold on, we do need leaders and they don't need to be men definitely not. But there's there is a place for that energy for that sense of. And I think that dominance needs to be sort of mitigated and taught, people need to be taught how to deal with that in themselves. But I think what it does is it creates an implicit hierarchy when someone is behaving in a way, which is, to some degree testing, I think there's something about banter, which is something I I'm becoming more comfortable with, because I'm more comfortable in my own skin. But when someone is bantering with you, you, you've had your control taken away, you know, you've been disempowered because you don't want to buy into that dynamic, but it's there. And when it's in the room, and by the definition of banter, it sort of pushes and pushes and pushes until you give a reaction. Yeah. And then it's incumbent upon you to try and react in a way which is authentic to your own personality, and doesn't sort of kowtow to the dynamics that that other person is presenting, because it's you know, you ought to be able to walk your pace based on that situation. But you also don't want to be a real buzzkill. And when it seems the implication is it's just a bit fun. Are you doing you're being a spoil sport? Now I just don't really want to be prodded and prod and product until I react in some way or dominate you back in which case the person will respect you. So banter's is something that is seemingly innocuous and is around people who are like minded and happy to play the game. But between a person who is dominant and willing to engage in that dynamic and someone who isn't, the person who isn't is going to socially come off worse. And I think being around that. But alcohol tends to bring that out and also single sex boys schools, from my experience, very definitely bring that out in a really big way. And I was at the wrong end of that for so long that I I was called down the bum at school, which was I don't think these people realise as hurtful as it felt to me but it felt very dehumanising because I didn't have my own name. nicknames are sometimes funny, but equally, the energy that was behind it was very diminishing, you're sort of you're sort of fool guy all the time. And but it was presented as banter. Like all everyone takes the piss out of each other. Yeah but I haven't bought into it. I'm trying to be nice to everyone. I'm always trying to bring this lovely vibe to a party. I'm bringing my stereo along. I'm looking after the people who are drunk in the corner. I'm being nice to you when you have a moment of you know, sincerity and want to talk about your feelings. And then the rest of the time. You're engaging in this dynamic that I haven't bought into I'm coming off worse, but I'm trying to be authentic. So I was just nicer and more compassionate and more giving and probably more feminine. And people saw that, as you know, unconsciously, that's someone that I can take out my pain on someone, I can take out my feelings of inferior inferiority on that someone I can easily dominate in order to feel feel like I'm further up the hierarchy than, you know, which is this. It's not the person's fault. It's the system's fault. It's the dynamic that's been set up based on people's expectations of what masculinity is. But yeah, I think it's that implicit hierarchy and dominance attitude, which can be particularly toxic, and can be very difficult to navigate as someone which really doesn't fit the mould.

George S:

Yeah, I think that's a good point is, you know, I think there is such thing as healthy banter. And but it has to be consentual and reciprocal, and it has to be something everyone is understands that rolls off. I think it It sounds, you know, there's a way of doing it, I think, where it's just a way of saying, like, look where you like and care about each other. So when we take the take the piss, we know that it's not meant maliciously, but then it sounds like some

Dan:

form of approaching vulnerability, as you're implying. We all trust each other sufficiently to hurt each other a little bit, but still be friends. Yeah, know where the limit is? Potentially?

George S:

Yeah, I think it's in the dynamics you're describing, it sounds much more like there wasn't that trust. And there was there was malice, or at least callousness behind some of that, because it's, it's, I mean, I can imagine it's a circumstance where everyone's feeling insecure, and everyone is trying to navigate it. And it sort of depends what your model is. Because I can imagine those other boys thinking, well, in order to protect myself, I need to harden myself up. And you in that dynamic thinking, well, in order to protect myself, it must, you know, I mean, I don't know if this case for you. But I know often, if you have this model of like, Well, my value is comes from being able to be really supportive and compassionate to people or generous with my time and my attention. If people don't respond to that, well, you must think, well, it must just be I'm not doing that enough, I need to do that more. And so you then start doing it even more, trying to be more sensitive, trying to give even more of yourself thinking or, you know, at some point, it's got to be enough for this person. And then you realise that it's not really what they want, or they only want it from you in certain circumstances where they're happy to be sincere and vulnerable. But then it sounds like that's almost it's kind of a dual personality thing going on, where when they want to be vulnerable, it's good, you're there, when they don't want to be vulnerable. you're someone who they have to kind of shoot down.

Dan:

Yeah, and I was having this very confusing relation, I suppose. Going back to the self esteem, I guess. Something that I always struggled with was that my mum is a very, very nice person not to say saccharine or anything. She's very, very lovely and giving and kind and sees the best in everyone and sees the positive and everything. And she taught taught me to be extremely kind, and taught me to care about people and taught me to feel other people's feelings and to be very sensitive, which is all in context a wonderful thing. But because I didn't have enough of the other elements of self esteem. I relied upon feedback being about my niceness, yeah, that you're stuck in this iterative pattern of needing to be nicer, a nicer in order to, that's your sole way of gaining self esteem and positive feedback as to be nice. So in this dynamic in which the nicer you are, the more people take you for granted. And as you say, you're sort of asking, please like me, please, please make me safe. Yeah, I'm really nice. I'm really nice. This is the only tool I have from my childhood. I didn't know how to be okay in social situations. and in this situation, it's putting me in a lot of a lot of danger. Something which is a sort of side thought something which to give a whole picture of my experience of masculinity is being confusing is that I've been interested in a lot of stereotypically masculine things like I used to play a lot of rugby. I was in a band, which can sometimes be quite a masculine sort of a rock band. I always loved sport. I was quite competitive. So these are all elements of my personality, but it sounds like for you, it's been even potentially more challenging because you haven't had those crutches like I could sort of feel at home in a masculine crowd because I knew about rugby and I used to know about football. As a kid, so I could get by I didn't want to talk about it. But I could get by and feel some kind of resonance with those people. Yeah. So I had this sort of split feeling. I also love doing DIY, and I tend to occupy more masculine roles in the house. So yeah, sometimes I certainly have a masculine side, and I don't I don't give the impression that I don't. But certainly my approach to relationships is not a traditionally masculine one. Yeah, yes. I just thought I'd add that in.

George S:

Yeah, no, I think that must be an important dimension. Because it's that can be even more confusing is not being able to wholly accept or reject the norms. You know, if you want to reject the norms that say, you can't be compassionate or open or vulnerable, but they're not on our agenda, normalcy. You know, these norms are in some ways, it is kind of superficial or like incidental. They happen to be masculine once like, why you know why? Why would men only like sport? Why would men only want to do DIY white men only want to play music in a band? Like, none of that needs to be gendered in that way. But when it is, it then becomes very difficult because you can't, you can't fully reject it or fully accept it. I think in my case, I mean, I was into sport, and I did, funnily enough I was into basketball was a child, or was it like being the always the smallest? Not even the smallest boy, not often the smallest person sometimes in

Dan:

sorry for laughing? I didn't realise you're a basketball player.

George S:

It's, I mean, those days were behind me. Although even despite the fact I've actually gotten taller, which is disappointing. No, they're getting taller. It's not disappointing thing, but it's getting taller didn't coincide with getting more into basketball. Anyway. But yeah, I was never liked football. I can remember as a kid, really, throughout primary and secondary school, I just would always dread the day that it was like football day when everyone played football. So I just wouldn't play and just, I just be on my own for like the school break, because they would like that's literally what all the boys are doing. Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, I think that does that does have an effect on you. And I think in my case, it was can create a kind of shrinking away from anything like that. I think a fear, I still have a fear like whenever I'm whenever I'm walking around, especially parks or open spaces where people are playing football, I have this kind of paralysing fear that at some point that football is going to like wind up by my foot, and I'm gonna have to like, because I can't

Dan:

I can't kick a football. And it's, it's a common thing I've heard other people say.

George S:

But yeah, I was talking to a female friend who is saying that she feels under pressure whenever she is an environment where there's an expectation of playing football, or even just that thing of having to kick football back to someone, because she feels like she's representing all women. And obviously, there's this stereotype that women about football, I was saying, well, I feel this like pressure from the opposite direction, because of the stereotype that all boys, all men like, great football, and they love it. And I'm not great at football, and I don't like it. Again, it kind of shows up in a lot of these these small ways. And it goes back to what you said about self esteem, where I can feel incredibly competent in my seminars, or playing guitar or doing the things I know I'm good at. And in those situations, I can feel a lot of self confidence. But then put me in those other situations where in the grand scheme of things, is pretty trivial, if someone barber shop or in a park is looking down on your property isn't even noticing you or not. Not even registering differences about you. Or if you kind of embarrassingly fail to kick a football at someone like it doesn't really make any difference. But it's it's everything that gets tied up and like what that says about you and how it connects to this overarching issue of masculinity. Yeah, that's

Dan:

um, that must be really tricky to not have those. And to not want to have to but again, it's that is that implicit thing, isn't it that you're, you're suddenly made an outlier. Because you're running a different game to everybody else about what it is to be a man. And for what it's worth, I really admire your version, because especially like the way the clothes you wear and the way you present yourself appears to be very confident and very authentic. And I think as we get older, that's, that's a great source source of strength. And especially if we find ourselves in the environments which are conducive to being the sort of man that we want to be, then it's much easier for those I mean, to some extent to avoid those masculine dynamics. And obviously we want to talk about them in and inform people and educate people and show that it's possible to be a man without being a traditionally heavily masculine man. But to some extent, you have to cut yourself some slack and go Hold on. I don't resonate with this dynamic Therefore, I'm going to not be around it. And because I want to be able to be myself in an authentic way, you know that selfhood element is really important that security, like it must feel very, you must feel very insecure in those contexts where it feels like suddenly you're going to become invalid any moment when you can't kick a ball.

George S:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And, and it also relates to other other aspects of life, like I've had insecurity about my interest in philosophy in some way. You know, philosophy is a very male dominated discipline, it's worth saying that, so it's not that I feel out of place kind of in the philosophy domain. But especially earlier in life, my intro, you know, I've been interested in those sort of things since I was a teenager, like a young teenager. And I think that can feel our masculine because I think Robert Webb says, you know, that's the worst thing you can call a man, it's pretentious. And I think there's a big concern about if you seem too intellectual, or to even just liking books, like liking books is seen as a can be seen as a, not a masculine thing. And there can be this sense in the masculine environment, that things are just uncomplicated, and you shouldn't be trying to complicate them. And so if you are trying to analyse things, especially, especially like social dynamics, or psychology or your own, you know, trying to get yourself awareness, or I mean, it's not just in that sense to philosophy, but also psychology and things like

Dan:

meditation, yeah, those sort of pursuits tend to come together,

George S:

maybe part of it, as well as like being reflective and trying to be introspective, those are the opposite of being pragmatic and being focused on action. And that thing, when you imagine a really alpha male leader, it's all about like, act now. Think about the consequences later, and being more reflective and thinking well, like, actually, is there a different way of doing this, and that stuff, I think, can be looked down on and, and some of that's not just masculinity, I think there's also people can be threatened by

Dan:

I was gonna say, I think rather than look down, I think they look down on is the is the consequence of the feeling of threat. Because if you found a space in which you can achieve all the elements of self esteem that you need to achieve as a masculine man, and then some upstart comes along and starts bringing up psychology and philosophy and asking you questions about how you're feeling, extremely threatening, and also in, I think another element of it is that intelligence can also be another form of social dominance. And this is, when I met my wife, I was friends with a lot of people who had been philosophy students, which can appear to be and can be quite a clicky environment in terms of having a sort o.f shared language, having a shared focus on certain elements of our environment and our world and our thoughts. And, obviously, to be able to understand philosophy and reead it and talk about it. You have to have a certain level of articulacy in these ways. And that can feel very diminishing to those people who don't have that shared lansguage. Who don't, who aren't as used to talking in those sorts of ways about things. And I actually, I reflected an awful lot on how I used language, how I presented my intelligenuce, and I don't for a minute think I'm the most intelligent person in the world, but it's it's certainly a part of myself. Something which I know is a strength, especially language use. Yeah, for some people, that's that's the football in the park, is someone saying, understand, and my wife certainly has found that very unpleasant at times when I've used words that she especially philosophical ones that she didn't understand, but I've sort of forgotten that she doesn't understand, you know, most people don't understand why they're not that philosophy degree. You take an example that can feel like I'm dominating the social dynamic. I'm putting the rules of the game out there very openly, in the same way that some men do with banter. And going here, play my game with all these big long words. And these squirrelled away intellectual thoughts, that obscure ideas. What do you think? And for some people, that's incredibly threatening?

George S:

Yeah,

Dan:

I've learned to tone it down a lot. I don't know when I've turned it down in this podcast, maybe you haven't

George S:

fought as well. I feel like you have a very creative way of using language that I really appreciate. And I

Dan:

think also in that regard, not to single her out anyway, I think a lot of people that's where that idea of pretentiousness comes from is is the sense of insensitivity to the way you're talking about intellectual topics or specific topics, that to some degree, I think I probably was, I did seem pretentious. It wasn't coming out of inauthenticity, but it was coming out of a obliviousness to other people's social needs in the environment and the fact that that was a strength of mine, but not necessarily of theirs. Yeah, I

George S:

think there's There's a couple of things I was going to say is there can be a gender dynamic as well, what if what if I know many women get used to being talked down to by men or they tolerate it? Because in a lot of situations they have to. So I feel like that can if it feels like that's what's happening, even if that's not what you're intending to do, you're just sort of talking about the things in a way it seems natural to you, I can see why that would also cause problems. And then, as well, I think you're right, I think there's sort of two separate things. Because there's the issue of when you communicate, you really do want to communicate in a way that's accessible to people. And if people feel alienated by what you're saying. That's a failure of communication in some ways, and it's important to be aware of that. But then there's this other thing going on as well. Because competence is such a big part of that of being a man and masculinity. It's threatening if you can show competence in an area where another man can't. I think that's like, I often don't think of myself as threatening, I don't think of my education that's been threatening, but someone who doesn't have that background, it really can be, I see myself as like, I've pursued philosophy because it's a real interest in me, and I just love it. But someone else who's either not had the opportunity to pursue or couldn't ever, you know, maybe they weren't academic at school, or like all these other insecurities and come into it, they can feel threatened. They're not doing anything wrong, anything pregnant or normal, doing anything wrong by just kind of having an interest I have. One thing I would say is, it's meant that when people ask me about what I'm doing, you know, I'm I say what I'm doing is PhD, there can be this sense of like, I almost don't want to bring it up, because I've had these experiences of people feeling threatened by it, and almost wanting to protect that person from their own insecurities and stuff.

Dan:

And it's a difficult game to play, isn't it? Because I suppose you need to validate yourself at some level. But I mean, it seems to me within imbalance entirely a good thing to be maintained. I mean, maintaining social harmony can be a really bad thing if you're too giving. But I think it's also, you know, the thing that holds us together. And if you're with someone who you're not entirely compatible in every way with then you want to leave that situation feeling good. And maybe that's just not the time to be your philosophical self. And,

George S:

yeah, this has been great, Dan, as I'm really kind of gratified by how quickly we got into such deep territory.

Dan:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It's been. I mean, we haven't caught up for a while. So it's been nice to chat. Yeah, get straight into the stuff that matters.

George S:

Yeah, this has been great. Thank you so much for coming on.

Dan:

It's been absolute pleasure.

George S:

So I really enjoyed that chat with Dan. As I said in the intro if you feel impacted by any of the issues that were discussed, there's a range of support services available, all of which are linked to in the description. If you're considering whether you might need support, I'd strongly suggest having a look to see what's out there, you might not be aware of available. Thank you for listening, and I hope you got something out of the episode too.