Last week, a girl named Katie Meyer, filled with hopes, dreams and love, ended it all through suicide. By all measures, she was the epitome of success--highly successful and award-winning collegiate athlete, an exemplary student, well liked and highly privileged--yet it wasn't enough.
When we subscribe to the toxic culture of achieving, of striving, of dominance and physical idealism, we are subscribing to a culture of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is less about being a man, but embodying the 3 traditional notions of:
Power: showing strength, avoiding showing weakness
Anti-femininity: limited range of emotion, avoiding emotional experience outside of anger/rage or excitement, over reliance on independence and personal impact and under-reliance on collaboration, creativity and grace
Toughness: dismissing physical, emotional, spiritual, relational needs in effort to preserve focus on performance
Toxic Masculinity in Healthcare and Ministry
Toxic masculinity shows up in overwork and overperformance. Whether you are a therapist, physician, person in ministry or caregiving professional, you know what it is to put aside your needs to focus on others. Is it because of an ingrained pressure on performance and dismissal of your own needs? Are you focusing on what your body or mind can do and forget your soul--your creativity, what's aligned with your true hopes amd dreams, minus expectation and pressure?
Women who excel in ministry, medicine, and other traditionally male-domimated arenas can find themselves embodying these core components in order to achieve. Women strive in these arenas to be the best, drive oneself to betterment in their work, to achieve goals but also to demand respect.
When women have been subservient to men for the vast history of being on the planet, we are often are used to putting aside personal needs for access to other gains, whether they be personal, professional, or relational. We know what it is to be looked down upon, so we try even harder not to be, when we get a chance. When we are subscribing to the ideals of being tough and putting aside the full capacity of our humanness, we are choosing toxic masculinity.
Many of us who take on huge undertakings--such as helpers, healers, folk in ministry, business owners--we often have a feeling that "If I don't do it, who will?" We forget we are just a cog in a wheel, not the wheel itself--or the whole car! We can't do it all, nor should we want to. We highly value hard work and focus on giving back, often to the detriment of our mental health.
Narcissism is a component of toxic masculinity because it adheres to the belief that we are bigger and more important than we are. It is about control, and can make us come across as domineering or intimidating. Our complexes are often our shadows, and obvious to everyone but ourselves. We all are selfish to some degree, but many of us have been conditioned by our families or communities that we can't rely on others, or are the one who is going to fix it all, or be effective, or be helpful, etc etc. We carry a load often from childhood, a load that said, "I should do this cause no one else will."
Well, Who Says?
Cultural pressure and toxic messages about overwork, overperformimg cause us to leave behind our core selves and instead become shells of what we could be. We unconsciously decide to live into a persona, or projection of what we want to show the world, yet underneath we know we're truly abandoning ourselves.
The three components of toxic masculinity are about the glorification of striving and achieving goals. It is seductive--we get praise, affirmation, and often financial or other personal gain from living this way.
Yet what do we lose?
Toxic masculinity is genderless, and it kills. Whether it be substance abuse, risk taking behaviors, anxiety or anger issues contributing to heart attacks, obesity, eating disorders and other physical disorders, as well as relationship problems, violence, domestic and sexual abuse, on and on--the consequences of this way of thinking and behaving has long-term and tragic consequences.
Holding ourselves to a standard that is inhuman--and choosing to run from our human needs of rest, recovery, renewal, connection, community, relationship--we indeed set ourselves apart as islands. We feel alone, lonely, helpless. Like nothing is enough, because it is never enough.
It is never enough.
If you are a high achiever, perhaps you know this eerie feeling, that you know that you have succeeded, but it doesn't feel like you have. The finish line is always moving away, at a faster and faster clip.
How do we deal?
Three Tips to Get Off the Toxic Cycle
High acheivers take heart--you can have high standards for yourself, you can be a hard worker and expect others around you to do the same, and still be healthy, happy and relsilient.
-Set boundaries. What limits are calling to you to be set? What are the consequences on your health, wellness, your relationships, your spirit? Why are you striving in this way? Financial, personal, professional gain? What would it be like if you stepped away, even in a little way, or for a break?
-Surround yourself with loving truth tellers who have no skin in the game. These are usually friends who love you no matter what, and can tell you if you're pushing yourself too hard. They encourage you to take breaks, and give you affirmation and support when you do.
-Recognize your humanity and reward yourself. Folks who push themselves too hard burn out. When you stop and assess your situation, acknowledge the good that you do. What rewards can you give yourself--that are healthy ones? Time alone, time to recover, time to soothe, time to know that your work, your productivity or commitment to a cause is not the be-all-end-all. You matter.
Recovery from this toxic way of living takes intention, support, and time. When we choose to steer away from our human needs of rest and recovery--our mind and spirit, let alone our bodies, suffer. Yet when we choose to stop, recover, and reassess our goals, not in light of other folks' perspective or the pressure we get from our communities, parents, partners, or friends, we have a moment to choose ourselves.
When we choose ourselves, we deny toxic masculinity its grip on our souls. We step away from what we're taught, the cultural norms and expectations and inner voices--and decide a new path, one that is lit up from within.
In solidarity, lightness, and abundant, generous rest,
PS. If you or someone you know is suffering with suicidal thoughts, contact your local crisis center, txt HOME to 741741, or call 911.