What Men Are Lying About (And Why It Causes Road Rage)

Men lie. All the time. I suppose that sounds harsh, but I’m not blaming men—we’ve been trained to lie…

masculinity

Photo Credit: craigCloutier via Compfight cc

I’m at a four-way stop sign, and it’s my turn to go. I begin to move into the intersection, when the car to my left goes out of turn, passing in front of me and then driving away. I’m a relaxed driver and I’m generally pretty slow to anger, but something inside of me snaps, and suddenly the shrink is the one needing a couch.

Why am I so angry? He missed me by a mile—it wasn’t even close. I’ve heard people suggest road rage is due to how much is at stake while driving: life or death. But the truth is, I know what I’m really angry about:

He didn’t even look at me.

If you ask ten men, “Which is worse, someone who totals your car and is profusely apologetic to you, or someone who causes a near miss but drives away as if you didn’t even exist?” nine out of ten will tell you the latter angers them more.

The other one is probably lying.

When it comes to the human need for attention and connection, there’s no difference between men and women. None. The only real difference is women are encouraged to embrace these needs, and men are humiliated for having them. So we stay quiet.

Until we don’t.

The Safety of Masculinity

The dictionary defines masculinity as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, such as strength and boldness.” We raise our boys to be masculine—to be strong and bold—and it leaves little room for them to be human. When a boy is learning to be masculine, he is learning to suppress his weakness, his vulnerability, his desire for connection and belonging. He is learning to suppress who he really is.

Is it any wonder then that when the sexes gather, women face each other, while men face away from one another? Women go out for coffee. They sit across from each other at tables and look each other in the eye. When men get together, they watch a ball game or play golf—they’ll look at anything except each other. Women sit in circles. Men sit at bars.

So when the need for attention or belonging finally wells up within a man, he feels ashamed for having it. He feels weak and soft. He feels “emasculated.” So he buries it and tries to earn attention without asking for it, through competition and achievement. And that does work.

For a while.

Then, around mid-life, we finally burn out or blow up. Because we’re tired of our kids getting all the attention. Or we’re jealous of our wife’s friend who always get the best of the woman we love. Or we get depressed, because secretly feeling invisible for decades will takes its toll.

Thus the anger. It’s the invulnerable way to demand attention. It’s the safe way to beg for connection. It’s the only “masculine” way to ask for what we need.

The Definition of a Man

In his book, Father Fiction, Donald Miller describes a talk he gave to a group of high school guys about manhood:

“The group looked at me anxiously, some of them knowing, intrinsically, that whatever I said, they would be up for the job, and some of them, quite honestly, looked at me knowing whatever I said would exclude them.

‘God’s definition of a real man…’ I said, motioning for them to write it down.

‘…is…’ I continued.

‘…a person…’ and I paused dramatically, waiting for everybody to catch up.

‘…with…’ I said, pausing again, preparing the room for the last line, the ultimate qualifier of a man…

‘…a person with…’ I repeated, waiting again until every eye was looking at me, and then I let the cat out of the bag.

‘…a penis!’”

As it turns out, manhood has nothing to do with masculinity—nothing to do with strength and boldness—and everything to do with biology. And once we’ve cleared that up, we are free to embrace and reveal the whole truth of who we are as men.

The Freedom of Emasculation

Here’s the big secret about a man’s heart: it isn’t a masculine heart; it’s a human heart.

It’s a human heart in a body that happens to have a penis on it, so it works the same as any human heart: it needs attention and connection, it’s weak and vulnerable, it feels pain and it suffers. Most of what we call masculinity is really just a facade we’ve created to keep our vulnerable hearts hidden away.

Which means for men to become fully human again, we have to be emasculated. Emasculation is defined in this way: “to deprive of strength, to weaken, to soften.” Emasculation doesn’t destroy our manhood; it restores our humanity.

It softens us up.

It gives us permission to have needs and weakness.

It frees us up to shed our armor—to move throughout the world unburdened by our layers of protection.

It frees us up to ask for attention in vulnerable ways, without sabotaging the very connection we so deeply desire.

It frees us up to look at each other. Face to face. Eye contact. Seeing and being seen.

And it frees us up to drive. So when someone nearly misses us on the road, instead of lashing out, we are free to reach out. Free to call up someone we love and to say, “I’m feeling unseen. Want to get a cup of coffee? At a table? Facing each other?”

Questions: How would you define masculinity? Is it a necessary construct? Or do we need to do away with it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: A Letter to My Son About the Only Real Reason to Get Married

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Belinda

    I think this is great and men need support and connections. I can relate life can be tough and I am a woman and have had to do a lot on my own and manage a medical condition and the medical condition has left me feeling isolated and no one to really talk to about it (only medical professionals and nurses) and my family have unintentionally put a lot of pressure on me, like society on men, and if that is what men a feeling, that is sad. I think this movement or awareness is a great step forward for men to feel alone and get more connected and be real with each other and women and society as well and express their emotions and opinions 🙂 Perhaps that support will help men with other problems they need to work through to reach out and get the support they need to improve themselves (substance abuse; health problems) men generally don’t go to the doctors as they are too masculine, and then suffer as a consequence and/or leave it too late. It would be great to see more healthy happy confident men 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Belinda, you are absolutely right: the imperative to be invulnerable can even affect physical health when it leads to resistance to seeking medical and professional help.

  • Esther Litchfield-Fink

    Wow. I never thought of masculinity that way. I have a 6 year old son and want to teach him that its ok to feel his feelings and be vulnerable as well as knock em dead with a soccer ball. He can do both. Great, honest, real, raw article.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Right on, Esther. Vulnerability and athletics don’t need to be mutually exclusive!

  • Sherri

    This article explains why I got divorced and why there are ao many scars left behind! So sad that destruction becomes the outlet instead of love and appreciation.

  • Darin

    I think you are conflating masculinity with machoism. Masculine and feminine are character traits independent of male and female gender. Their polarity is what makes the magic of attraction. Emasculation of the attractive trait of masculinity (in a relationship) is not necessary for one to be fully human – just as eliminating femininity is also not necessary. David Deida describes this idea pretty well in his books, fyi. Otherwise, your article is spot on again, imho.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Darin, Thanks for this addition. I’m not familiar with that literature but will certainly be looking into it. Thanks again!

  • Saifuddin Rekoj

    I define masculinity as a state of mind, all it deals with is emotion and control. A man is a man, who shows unpredictable loses of temper every now and then, but controls it only in the very time of tempest. When every others get out of their minds, he keeps standing. But never, and never, he is allowed to show his mental injuries later on to the world (except for the special one), even when everything gets calm in the eastern front.

  • Carrie

    We all pay the price when men are unable to connect to their emotional side.

  • Kari Swenson

    The definition of a man, and your comment how it leaves little room for them to be human I think can be very true. For most all of my childhood was my dad wasn’t present as a caregiver. Some of this was what being a “man” meant from his very absent father. Both my father and fiance struggle with anger issues, and being able to apologize. And when the time comes for children, if we have a boy, this will be an interesting challenge. Combating comments like ‘Be a man’, ‘Grow a pair’, and others equally harsh.

  • Ranger Bagel

    This is fantastic. However, I think you should note that not all men have penises and not all people with penises are men.

    • RS

      I was going to say something like this but you’ve said it all.

  • Natalie

    This hits on some highly relevant and problematic ways boys are being socialised and raised as it sets them up for enormous difficulties in intimate relationships later in life. My biggest challenge with my husband is I see his frustration and occasional anger as an expression of need but he is unable to himself accept his own needy and dependent side. I have a son who is almost two and I have been extremely mindful of accepting his more vulnerable and needy side as it is and tending to it. Strength is in knowing your vulnerability, your softness and having the courage to express it authentically. And I know once he goes to preschool and school, mainstream culture will try and shame him for being this way. My hope is that the experiences he has had with me and his father having his entire self accepted will help to modulate damaging stereotypical messages that boys (and girls) are exposed to.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, Natalie, we can’t protect them from that kind of socialization altogether, without limiting their lives in a harmful way, but as you say, we can lay a solid foundation for embracing who they are. It sounds like you and your husband are doing that. He’s a lucky little boy!

  • Aida Alberro

    My definition of a masculine male has always ideally consisted of an emotionally well rounded individual with protective qualities. By this I don’t mean he has to be a hero or “superman” but just as women have intrinsic maternal instinc of protecting children, I have always felt that a male would have an intrinsic instinct of protecting his loved ones, but expressed in a distinct way. I guess this has been my idea because men and women process thoughts an emotions differently. According to my knowledge, these are processes that are not solely due to socialization, but also to biology, like the act of multi-tasking.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for your comment, Aida! It’s a nuanced perspective, very thoughtful, I’m grateful you shared it!

  • Braveheart

    This hit home in a lot of ways as I keep butting up against ‘men’ who say they have no ‘needs’ and are afraid of just being…get this….HUMAN! I feel like passing this on to every man I love and care about! I would hope after reading this, in their solitude, they would just….exhale. To be vulnerable…is in its essence to be brave.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I like that: “just…exhale.” It captures the relief that comes when we are finally given permission to be human and vulnerable.

  • Kathryn Patterson

    I CANNOT LIE! I AM A WOMAN!!
    LOL! I am 68 and I see the
    emptiness, devastation and desperation of men who have spent a lifetime either chasing
    masculinity or afraid of being too feminine. Also, many older men have not matured because they
    have not ventured beyond this “mask of masculinity”, consequently missing opportunities to grow emotionally
    and spiritually by developing character, conducting self-examination, being vulnerable, and embracing
    change and paradigm shifts.
    It sorrows me to see these men reach their elder years when the body
    fails, and they are left empty-handed. They have
    missed experiencing the full, rich and exciting life of self-discovery and
    fulfillment humans are capable of. Life
    is a joy, enormously wonderful and exciting, but it takes maturity, self-discipline
    and vulnerability to “cash in” on the beauty of this life, which passes all too
    quickly!!! I thoroughly enjoy your
    weekly blogs! And I do hope that many
    men will begin to find their humanity, live into their vulnerability and
    experience the fun of “extreme” living!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m with you, Kathryn. We have to get to our men as early as possible, so they don’t later regret living such restricted lives.

    • BellaTerra66

      This has already happened to my ex-BF. He’s now 77 (and I’m 65). He was always a skirt chaser, and he’s still a skirt chaser, and he’s always trying to prove that he’s strong, young and handsome. I tried so hard to let him know that he was more than that — but after 5 years, I realized it was just too late — his walls are way too thick — or perhaps I was just the wrong person for him.

  • John Lundgren

    You have many excellent points. The False Masculine is so harmful and a barrier to intimacy with God, our spouses and other men. The language of emasculation connotes removing masculinity altogether or becoming a eunuch. To be vulnerable and open and “walk in the Light” or to “be Known” as Curt Thompson says, is a Bibilical expectation of all men who name the name of Jesus, but that does not require an orchiectomy as your words imply. Our personhood IS more fundamental than our sexuality. But we ARE gendered human beings and that also matters. Our redeemed masculinity is good— John Lundgren

  • Marsha Craig

    This was brilliant and a great way to rethink emasculation! I emasculate men all the time by creating a safe, affirming and accepting environment while inviting them to reveal a little bit more of themselves. Thank you for being a stand for men everywhere who are seeking to break out of their prison and be the beautiful, sexy, powerful, vulnerable and authentic human beings they already are!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ha! I love that: “I emasculate men all the time.” Thanks for softening us up a little, Marsha!

  • Rachieboo

    I love this article you wrote. I am currently dating a guy who is amazing, He is soft-spoken and kind to me etc And I on the other hand, am a pretty friendly fairly domineering kind of a girlfriend, not that I will treat him badly but I love teasing him. One day, he started tearing up whilst we were having dinner and I asked him what was wrong, he initially refused to tell me but after much probing he told me that he felt that “he was not man enough for me”. I felt so horrible and guilty after he said that because I felt that I had a part to do with it for making him feel this way. I told him “you don’t have to be like a hunky muscle man who acts tough to be manly. You are manly enough for me because you respect me as a woman and that’s is man enough for me”. I think alot of guys do hide their insecurities because it’s not “normal” for them to pour their feelings out like how we women do but I actually think it makes my relationship with my boyfriend stronger and we grow iwhloser when he tells me things which bothers him.

    • Jay Stang

      Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You sound like you’ve got a good one; be good to him!

  • RS

    This is amazing; however, not all men have biological penises. I couldn’t understand why the society is encouraging boys to be tough and strong and not to show/have any emotions. Some men are not like that and it would be more challenging for them. The definition of masculinity is completely wrong. If we change the definition, things for us men would be much better.

  • Sherry R. Setera

    Well, I just apparently had my whole, long comment wiped out in order to sign in. Not writing it again, though i put a lot of thought into it!

  • Cindy

    This is a thing I have puzzled over for years. I find myself growing resentful of the way gender has been used to rationalize negative behavior. As Dr. House said “Everybody lies.”

  • Annwfyn

    ” … Emasculation doesn’t destroy our manhood; it restores our humanity …”

    That’s such a profound statement and a great article … feeling and self-honesty doesn’t strip men of our masculinity it redefines its parameters – it actually reaffirms it.

  • Pam

    My husband is so disgusting that he puts me in danger every time we go somewhere in the car.
    No excuses; after nearly 50 years of his anger and attitude to get even on the road, I am exhausted and scared. There is never an excuse for putting someone else in danger. It is selfish and is a sickness. Yes………a really bad sickness and an innocent person suffers.

  • John

    Hmmmm i had never thought of this reason when i become angry while driving! Many things here are true, but I kind of disagree about the masculinity stuff. Masculinity is something really really delicate, fragile and in need of constant feedback as described by Guy Corneau in “Absent Fathers Lost sons”. True that men need to reconnect to their emotions, but i think its more complicated than the actual emasculation thing. Weird!

  • BestAnswerOfAll

    Most women that drive today are very Dangerous since they speed and tailgate so much which they’re the cause of road rage, then again they do have a lot of mental problems.

  • GoodTrueAnswer

    Most women do cause road rage today since they like to speed and tailgate and many of them need to have their license taken away from them which they have very serious problems to begin with, and they need to take their problems somewhere else.

  • RealTruth

    Women with a SUV are very dangerous.