Many men measure their self-esteem in terms of their ability to find solutions to fix problems.
The role carries a double edged sword.
It places men in a vulnerable position when it’s just not possible to complete the task adequately because some things in life can’t be fixed.
Failure is normal and necessary. It allows us to develop resilience and learn from our mistakes. This rational response to failure is not always matched by the emotional experience.
For some guys a foreboding sense of inadequacy emerges as they get more and more confused about how to take care of their imperfections.
For many blokes the thought of inadequacy can be simply unbearable.
The language of inadequacy
My thesaurus describes inadequacy in a number of ways as follows:
“Insufficiency. Failure. Meagreness. Scantiness. Lack. Shortage. Shortfall”
The term ‘inadequate’ can develop into a poisonous chalice which fuels a more sinister language in men.
The sound of inadequacy held within the minds of men contains language like:
“Idiot. Stupid. Dumb. D..head. Useless. Good for nothing. Hatred. Anger. Fool. Weak. Wuss”
Men can be notoriously harsh about feelings of inadequacy.
The origins of inadequacy
The harsh and critical responses toward feelings of inadequacy are the experience of both men and women.
There are many influences that contribute to feelings of inadequacy. These include:
- Having overly critical parents
- Having emotionally dismiisive parents
- Being on the receiving end of cruel or bullying peers at school or at work
- Living with abusive care givers including parents, siblings and grandparents
- A neglectful childhood
- Relating with shaming authority figures including parents, sibling, teachers, coaches, community leaders and bosses
Engaging in positive, challenging experiences with trustworthy and supportive adults help children gain feelings of competence and adequacy.
If you missed out on this as a child, it’s likely you may struggle to accept failure as an adult today.
Viewing failure within the restrictive judgemental feelings of inadequacy have a huge impact in shaping low self-worth, incompetence and powerlessness.
These feelings interfere with relationships, work, social life, study and the pursuit of happiness in general.
A man’s struggle
Some commonplace areas of life that trigger a man’s sense of inadequacy include:
- The inability to satisfy their partner sexually
- Confusion in how to be emotionally expressive
- Struggle to understand how to respond to a partners’ emotional needs
- Experiencing financial loss and hardship
- Not feeling like a good enough dad
- Not feeling like a good enough partner
- Difficulty in accepting limitations to fixing problems
- A need to seek help
- Deterirotating physical health or illness
- Making mistakes
For most men, it’s the overwhelming feeling of shame and rejection that seems to cling to feelings of inadequacy.
Men tend to cope with these feelings in a variety of ways.
- Self hate – the negative, harsh and critical view of themselves.
- Projection – They assume others view them just as harshly.
- They can expect and demand that their partners will fill their gap in self-esteem.
- Become isolated socially.
- Close off from people they love.
- Overspend to compensate for their feelings.
- Control others or their environment.
- Blame others.
- Have a heightened sensitivity to criticism.
- Unable to accept praise
Responding to failure and inadequacy requires patience and a whole new approach to reduce unrealistically high expectations of what it means to be ‘successful’.
6 ways to fail in a manly kind of way
1. Step away.
Step back from your reactions. Put some distance between the problem and your view of it. Come back to it later when you have gained some perspective. Talk to someone and let them know what your are grappling with.
2. Gain perspective.
Failing is rarely a matter of life or death. Determine how much it matters in the big scheme of things and let go of perfection. If you don’t achieve your goal straight away take a break and try again later.
If you recognise you have a block to achieving your goals or expectations, seek out a way of getting support in order to learn something new about yourself.
3. Take a moment.
In any given moment in time you shape your future. As profound (or crazy) as it sounds, living in the moment defuses the worries of the past which can create such overwhelming feelings.
This includes the previous one minute, one hour, one day or one year ago. You cannot get those moments back.
See the next minute, hour, day or year ahead as an opportunity to do something different from before.
4. Stay flexible.
Resist the need to fight your own or others pressure. Roll with it for a while. Stay flexible with your thoughts.
Let the storm blow itself out. Your reaction will change and won’t last forever. Defuse the strength of your feelings and check in with someone you trust
6. Stop the punishment.
Failure cannot transform with abuse it will only grow more sinister and destructive. Your view of failure will change with motivation to learn and improve your behaviours, actions, skills and attitudes.
The most important aspect of taking care of inadequacy is how we connect with our imperfections using a language of acceptance and compassion.
The irony is that men’s natural role of protector needs to focus on their own harsh judgements that create way too much suffering.