Why Men Act Out: Cause and Effect

In my many years of treating men, the question that often arises is “why do men act out the way they do?” There are many reasons of course, but conventional male socialization seems to be common to many types of men from many circumstances.

Virtually to a man, they have endured the rigorous and often punishing process that teaches them they are supposed to be tough and invulnerable. They’ve learned that showing weakness invites ridicule, that expressing closeness to other men brings accusations of homosexuality.

Overall, American men hide fears, avoid personal closeness, and respond to conflictual situations by acting with bravura and belligerence. Beyond that, their fathers and forefathers have modeled a lifestyle that has persuaded them that if they use manipulation and intimidation, they’ll get what they want—whether it’s women, man-toys, job promotions, or status.

Male Privilege

Most men have also come to believe in male privilege: that if they take charge, others, especially women, will follow; that sex should be available when they want it; that good jobs and incomes have been reserved for them. They are convinced, like the men of centuries past, that the world was made especially for them.

This socialized belief in the primacy of men creates a distortion of masculinity that’s pathological. This pathology, which my colleague, Randy Flood, and I refer to as “mascupathy” is an imbalance in men’s psyches that exaggerates masculine characteristics and marginalizes the feminine, often leading to self-destructive behavior.

Male Instability

The dynamics of personal relationships and work have changed markedly in the last half-century, and, today, men’s rights are no longer taken for granted. Most women now want an equal voice in the home and someone to share household tasks; they want a partner rather than a husband. The economy is no longer grounded in manufacturing which demands muscle and brawn; today’s jobs often require relational and technical skills which exclude traditional males.

As men no longer receive the deference they’ve thought was their birthright, many have turned resentful. In contrast to recorded history, when women, minorities, and other ethnic groups were disenfranchised, men feel themselves marginalized, and they develop deep grievances against society and the way things are. They harbor what Michael Kimmel, New York State University professor and author of Angry White Men, insightfully calls “aggrieved entitlement.”

The problem is not only that these angry men waste their lives in beery sessions at the local bar but that they express their grievances in destructive ways: abuse, violence, and excessive use of substances.

New Ways of Being Male

Over the past twenty-five years, we have worked with many of these men, and have found that, in a safe counseling environment, most begin to understand that they can let go of cherished ancient male roles. Their new path isn’t easy because it demands that they learn new ways of being male. It’s our belief that as the traditional man-pack taught them toughness and invincibility, this new, enlightened pack will help them to create a new vision of masculinity.

Our book, Mascupathy: Understanding and Healing the Malaise of American Manhood and the Institute for the Prevention and Treatment of Mascupathy seek to further explore and illuminate the plight of the men who occupy this new and alien world; not to excuse their behavior but to help them – and the rest of us – move forward.

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