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  • Power and Identity: Male Psychology During the Pandemic

    In the 2020s, male psychology was already facing many challenges. Then along came the pandemic, and brought home a lot of issues even more forcefully.

    Photo: some rights reserved by Nicolás Boullosa on 
    (Creative Commons Licence)

    For quite a long time now, men have been dealing with the realities of a changing world. There was a time in our society when “the man’s role” was clearly defined by social consensus, and everyone understood what that role was. In more recent times, things have been less clear, and it has been harder for men to feel good about their identity as men.

    A lot of men have a very strong investment in their role as providers, and a lot of men also place a very high premium on independence. This valuing of independence is no accident. Men in our culture are taught from a very early age that they’re supposed to be independent, and they’re supposed to solve their own problems. In addition, there’s evidence that men are taught to expect judgment and even hostility from other men if they indicate any inability to cope, or any need for support

    Clearly, a lot of men are doing fine in our world. However, as Prof. Matt Englar-Carlson, Director for the Center for Boys and Men at Cal State, Fullerton puts it, summarizing his research, “There’s a lot of men out there who suffer, who go through a lot of difficulty and aren’t getting the support they need.”

    The Pandemic and Male Psychology

    The reality that “there are a lot of men out there” who need more support than they’re getting is brought home even more strongly by the pandemic, and all that it has meant for many men’s lives. The “traditional rules” for men in our culture include physical and emotional strength and toughness, not displaying emotions and taking care of things by yourself. When men are also confronted by the realities of the pandemic and the related issues we’re all facing, it creates a situation for many men that is extremely demanding.

    Strength and independence are great things. There are situations in everyone’s life where the ability to to step up, take hold of an issue and deal with it on your own in a self-sufficient way is an extremely useful skill to have. However, there are also situations in which being unable to show your feelings, or to reach out for help can be very damaging. Quite a number of these situations, where there would be a great benefit in men being able to reach out for help, are occurring during this pandemic.

    One of the big areas where we see is situations of job loss, or where individual’s jobs have gone from full to part-time, and other related changes. For many men at different life stages, this can be a great ordeal. Where an individual has seen himself as economically independent, and/or as someone who played a major role in meeting the economic needs of his family, such a sudden career change can have an enormous effect on a man.

    Something else that can be extremely difficult is being more or less confined to home. Even if he is working full-time, it can be very trying for a man to see himself confined to a space in his home, quite possibly sharing it with others, and communicating with the external world via Zoom or email. If a man has valued the part of his life that enabled him to leave home, engage with the world, and then return, confinement can feel like he’s lost his place in the world, and even his male identity.

    A man may also find himself dealing with anxiety or depression—not an uncommon experience in the middle of this pandemic. If a man has learnt that being independent—“being a man”—means that he can’t ask for help for his depression, then this can lead to very severe consequences.

    Male Psychology: Towards a New Understanding

    The pandemic may be creating many difficulties. However, one opportunity that may be indirectly emerging from it for many men is the opportunity to change their understanding of what it is to be male.

    It may well no longer be possible for a man to respond to the present situation, and the personal difficulties that it is creating by doubling down on the “old school” approach to masculine identity. It may also not be possible for a man to remain emotionally contained, and self-sufficient, or even withdrawn as he confronts the challenges of the present. He may not be able to sustain living in denial about feelings of sorrow, grief, fear and other complex emotions. He may engage in a great deal of self-reproach and self-attack, because he cannot be the totally independent, self-sufficient, emotionally unaffected “lone ranger” figure of his ideal. He may well start to realize that such approach could have grave, even tragic consequences.

    A Different Approach to Masculinity

    If those things are true for a man, what’s the alternative? It may well be facing the feelings that have been pushed down into the unconscious, and possibly even experienced as illness or bodily pain. It may be recognizing deep needs for connection and support from others—both men and women—as he confronts the unique challenges of this time, and the major life transition that is embodied in them. It may be the time in a man’s journey toward wholeness when he confronts the shadow aspects of the Self—those parts of himself that he doesn’t wish to acknowledge. In doing so, he may come to a greater level of compassion and acceptance for himself, and a greater capacity for connection and intimacy with others.

    Jungian /a-midlife-transition can be an excellent way for a man to support his journey of self-exploration and self acceptance. A Jungian approach fosters the acceptance of all that we are, conscious and unconscious, and enables a man to find his own particular wisdom, and his own way of accepting and cultivating all that he is.

    With best wishes for your personal journey,


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