First, check out the introduction post here before you get started. Also, if you haven’t read the summary for Chapter 2 on Respect you may want to do that as well. This post will assume you’ve read it.
Disclaimer: this is a summary of Chapter 3 in the book For Women Only not my own thoughts, feelings or research.
Let’s get started.
The fearful question that a woman quietly asks herself is “Am I loveable”. We have a deep and innate desire to be loved and cared for. In the last chapter we discussed our men’s correspondingly deep desire for respect. The question for men is not then “am I lovable” it is instead “Do I measure up?” And a man will look to those who know him best to answer that question.
We think of our men as strong and confident with no self doubt. But in truth men have an inner vulnerability that stems from two competing drives. Men wants to tackle great challenges, try difficult things and conquer the world. Competing with this is the very real possibility of failure which is excruciating for men to consider and cope with. As we learned from Chapter 2, one of men’s greatest emotional needs is to feel competent at what they do. The problem is that men overwhelmingly feel that what they do is constantly being watched and judged. Though they have the drive to succeed they feel that they are one mess up from being found out as impostors.
The author’s studies found that about three quarters of men feel insecure and doubt their ability to ‘hack it’. This comes up in nearly all areas of their lives. This means work, home and play. The word she, and the men in her surveys, use to describe these feelings is “impostor”.
The men in our lives are hiding a deep sense of self doubt. The inner uncertainty leaves even the most confident man dreading that he will be exposed for the imposter he feels himself to be. Even the most confident and in control men will often feel like like sometimes they are faking it and fear that their inadequacies will be discovered.
Every man wants to do well and appear competent at whatever it is he sets out to do but 76% claimed that they are “not always as confident as I look.” A man worries that if anyone, like his boss or his loving wife, knew him for who he really is, they would realize the truth. This truth, of course, is that at least some of the time he’s not who he appears to be. He’s not the confident, self assured, competent man who he projects to the world. And the idea that someone knows he can’t cut it is humiliating.
What is he thinking?
It probably doesn’t cross your mind that your man is lacking in confidence. After all, you chose him and you have the utmost confidence in him. And when expressed properly, our confidence in him can translate into confidence in himself. But many men express these fears of inadequacy or being found out.
The surveys show that men think:
“I’m always being judged - Men are hard enough on themselves without any external pressure. But there is external pressure. And whether it is true or not, they feel that the eyes of the world are trained on them. Though it is us women who receive the blame for caving to social pressures; men also think about how others perceive them. They are being judged and so are their abilities. Jokes about men’s inadequacies hurt most because they confirm men’s fear that they are being judged and are falling short.
“I have no earthly idea how to do this” - Men can feel like they are impostors at what they do and often feel that they are running to stay one step ahead of others. This especially occurs when they have to do something new and unfamiliar. One man told the author that when given a new task or challenge he thinks, “I have no idea how to do this and I hope I learn it before someone finds out”. She originally thought that this was an attitude that affects only the young and inexperienced but through her research she heard the same sentiment from highly accomplished men as well.
“But I want to do this” In the face of self doubt, men still want to try something new and possibly fantastic. There is a fear that if they try they will be publicly outed as an ‘impostor’ but the only way for a man to move forward in the world is to try new things. The times when men are attempting something new are the times when they will feel the shakiest and need the most encouragement
They can feel like impostors at work
There has always been uncertainty for a man regarding his adequacy at his job. This has only gotten worse for our men as companies act with less loyalty and fewer people stay in one firm for their entire careers. Men can feel incredible anxiety and uncertainty about how they are performing at work. There is usually an underlying fear of being found out and of course the subsequent consequences of being deemed an impostor by your boss.
If you aren’t sure whether your man falls into this category, well, he probably does. But think about his behavior with work. Does he he works long hours to prove that he can provide for you? Does he come home drained because of the constant need to appear competent and on the ball?
Professional sports and corporate America share the same “What have you done for me lately” attitude. Everyone is on the replacement list and you have to stay off the top. Insecurity seems logical when you look at it that way! This is often why men work such long hours. It is insurance in his mind that he won’t fall behind.
And the fear of failure isn’t entirely negative. It can drive him to get out of bed in the morning, to get to the gym, to accomplish his goals.
They can feel like impostors at home
A man’s performance anxiety doesn’t end at the front door. Many men reported feeling as concerned about inadequacy at home as in the office. Men want to be good husbands and fathers but they worry that they may not know how to succeed at everything required of them. And unlike the office, where success can be attached to numbers and performance reviews, the measure of success is much harder to pin down at home.
Many men judge their success as husbands based on the happiness and respect of their wives. If a man is trying to bluff his way through being a husband, he will feel relieved when his wife feels loved and happy or publically honors how well he does at husbanding. If he gets the cold shoulder, a wife who challenges him or expresses displeasure or lack of respect it’s a sign to him that he’s an imposter and not doing well at his “good husband” goal.
No man thinks he has all the answers. He’ll often look to his father as a role model. If he has a good father, he will mine those experiences for guidance. If, however, he had a bad father he’ll feel like he’s making it up as he goes along.
Sometimes, if a man has the sense that he’s an impostor as a husband and father he will withdraw from taking an active role with his wife and kids. He pulls away to protect himself if he doesn’t think he can do it well or be affirmed in what he’s doing.
Fair, probably not, but emotions aren’t fair.
What should we do for our men?
It is often said that you cannot change a man. This is particularly the case when we are talking about the way he is wired. We can, however, impact how he feels about his ability to make his way in the world.
Because men have these private doubts about how they measure up, our respect can be immeasurably important. Once we understand that these fears underly how he moves through the world we can see that our words and actions can make a huge impact.
The key is to soothing a man’s worries is affirmations and a bit of plain old flattery. If the person who knows him best believes in him, he is empowered to do well in every area of his life. If he isn’t receiving affirmation from us, he’ll seek out places that he can receive affirmation.
Never tear your man down. If a wife reinforces her husband’s fears of inadequacy it can become a self fulfilling prophecy. In the survey’s the author found that only 1 man in 4 felt appreciated by their families. She suggests that it is unlikely that 3 out of 4 families did not appreciate their men but perhaps were not expressing their appreciation enough.
So even if we do truly appreciate our men, and of course we do!, are we showing it enough?
Your husband has to be convinced that his wife thinks he’s the greatest. If he doesn’t feel this way, he’ll seek out validation elsewhere. There are many place men will seek solace from an unappreciative family:
Maybe he’ll spend more time at work where he feels alive and on top of his game,
He might spend too much time watching sports for the competitive thrill
Some men will retreat to a workshop or office where they are in control of their environment or tasks
Another will seek out the intern who admires him.
Some participate in sports where there is built in admiration and accomplishment
None of these (well maybe the intern) are negative indulgences for your man. If he finds something that makes him feel alive and encouraged, great! However, other pursuits should not be a retreat for an unsatisfying home life.
Our goal is to make him feel alive and encouraged at home first and to act as a cheerleader for his other endeavors. This means admiring him for his accomplishments, bragging about him to friends, expressing what a wonderful father and husband he is. And of course sex.
Sex is affirmation!!!! It plays a huge role in a man’s self confidence. A man can be having a horrible time in every other area of his life but if his woman wants him physically he’ll feel capable of handling it all. On the other hand, if he gets the don’t touch me message at home then it will be more devastating than failures in the other areas and he’ll feel an impostor in every area.
Home should be a comfortable safe zone for a man. If work is a place of judgement, then home should be a place where he can relax and open up. It should not be a place where a man feels one misstep away from being exposed.
And this can be hard. If we don’t pay attention, it’s easy to only notice our men’s mistakes. If we find ourselves in a pattern of noticing mistakes too often (and not praising accomplishments large and small) we create a situation where our men cannot relax and open up at home. It is up to us to create the intimate and safe environment to make it possible for him to let down his guard.
Home should be a retreat from the pressure of having to perform.
The gift of confidence.
Men put a lot of pressure on themselves. One man told the author, “I want my wife to understand my weakness and shortcomings and still want me. I want her encouragement to become the man I can be.” And ladies, I’m sure you already feel confident that he can be everything he believes he can be. The only additional step is to express those feelings!
By staunchly supporting them and their goals, by constantly showing and telling them that we believe in them, and by providing a safe environment for them to come home to, we can give our men the confidence to dive into the work fray.
Jack Welsh explains (emphasis mine):
Perhaps the greatest single gift she gave me was self confidence. It is what I looked for and tried to build in every executive who has ever worked with me. Confidence gives you courage and extends your reach. It lets you take greater risks and achieve far more than you ever thought possible. Building self confidence in others is a huge part of leadership. It comes from providing opportunities and challenges for people to do things they never imagined they could do; rewarding them after they reach success in every way possible.
A wife can give her husband that confidence. You must realize that in spite of the veneer of confidence our men still crave our affirmation that they’ve done good. Tell him, often, that you are proud of him and believe in him, brag about him and his accomplishments loudly to the world and show him how much you desire him as a man.
Life is a battle and if he can return home to someone who supports him unconditionally, he can slay dragons.