Most of us women can never understand- that our men are hiding a deep inner uncertainty. A man’s inner vulnerability about his conviction that at all times he is being watched and judged. In a survey, no matter how secure the men looked on the outside, 67% men admitted feeling insecure and are concerned about other’s opinion of them. This secret male vulnerability involves no just a concern about what others think of them, but also the internal realisation that since they don’t always know what they are doing, they are just one mess-up away from being found out.
In fact, when doing something new or unfamiliar- a common situation- more than four out of five men are insecure, but don’t want it to show. Only 16% expressed confidence in their ability to handle the task. Obviously, in reality most bosses or colleagues are relatively tolerant of mistakes and would probably even expect them if someone was doing something new- but logic appears to have very little to do with how men feel about this.
One thing is certain: The idea of someone thinking he can’t cut is humiliating- a felling every man wants to avoid at all costs. So, he puts up a good front so others will think he is highly competent. One man puts it this way: “We think about what others think about us all the time”.
A male friend illustrates the “imposter complex” with a story.
A young friend of mine had just gotten a job as a college professor. He had never done these particular lesson plans, so he was running to stay one step ahead of his students. Often, he would literally be one day ahead of them in the textbook. One evening, one of his students ran into him on campus. She said, “I wish I knew as much as you do about this stuff”. He smiled and nodded, but inside he was thinking, “tomorrow, you will!”
That is a perfect description of how many men feel as they go through life, especially, whenever they do something unfamiliar- which most of the men have to do all the time. A client may be asking him to do something new, and he may be smiling and nodding, but in the back of his mind he is thinking, “I have no earthly idea how to do this, and I hope I can learn it before they find out.”
“But I want to do this!” The inner insecurity described above has an interesting partner- the feeling of wanting a challenge, wanting to take on something new and exciting. These two feelings may seem contradictory, but they are all part of the male package. Men want to conquer Everest, but they also know they will have to risk taking a humiliating tumble on the way. One man puts it this way: When a guy does something that he has never done before and he is being paid for it, he thinks, I can do this, but what if they find out this is my first time? Sooner or later, every man has to face it. Because if you want to move up, that will surely mean doing something new.
The imposter at home
The male sense of performance anxiety does not just end when they walk through the front door. Most men feel just as inadequate at home.
The majority of men do want to be good husbands. But in the same way they worry that they may not know everything about being a good employee, they secretly worry that they don’t know how to succeed at being a good husband, father and provider. Not surprisingly, men said they judge themselves- and feel that others judge them- based on the happiness and respect of their wives.
One man says, “I don’t know one man who has all the answers when it comes to being a good father or husband. If we have had good fathers, then we try and remember what our father would do in the situation. If we did not have good fathers, we feel like we are making it up as we go. If my wife often challenges my decisions or appears displeased with me as a husband- it is an imposter all over again”. It may even cause a man to withdraw from taking an active role in the lives of his wife and kids if he does not think he can do it well or e affirmed in it. That is not a rational or Christ-like approach by the man, for sure, but that is how some guys feel.
What should we do?
So, what on earth should we do about this? It is not your man’s responsibility to figure all this out on his own. Once we understand what our husbands secretly feel and think, our words and actions can make a huge difference.
“Affirmation is everything” As one marriage counselor says, affirmation is everything. When a man is affirmed, he can conquer the world. When he is not, he is sapped of his confidence, and even his feeling of manhood. And believe me, he will consciously or unconsciously, seek out places where he receives affirmation.
Home is the most important place for a man to be affirmed. If a man knows that his wife believed in him, he is empowered to do better in every area of his life. A man tends to think of life as a competition and a battle, and he can energetically go and win it out, if he can come home to someone who supports him unconditionally, who will wipe his brow and tell him he can do it. As one man puts it, “it is all about whether my wife thinks I can do it. A husband can slay dragons, climb mountains, and win great victories if he believes his wife believes that he can”. In a survey, only 25% felt actively appreciated by his family. 44% men actually felt unappreciated at home. Men in their prime years of responsibility for home, children and work- men between 36 and 55- felt even less appreciated. Many of the wives or girlfriends of these men would be surprised to learn that they did not feel appreciated. My guess is that most of them do appreciate their men but do not show it enough.
He will seek affirmation somewhere
If a man is not convinced that his woman thinks he is the greatest, he will tend to seek affirmation elsewhere. He may spend more hours at work, where he feels alive and on top of his game, or he may spend too much time talking to the admiring female associate. He may immerse himself in watching or playing sports, feeling the thrill of the competitive rush. Or he may retreat to his workshop or his home office, feeling like he can control things there even if he feels inadequate and clumsy elsewhere.
Create a safety zone
Obviously, if many of our men spend their workdays feeling like they are always being watched and judged, it is no wonder that they want to come home to a totally accepting environment, where they can safely let their guard down. Men need a place where they can make their mistakes in peace and not constantly worry that they are one misstep away from being exposed.
If we don’t realize this and are perhaps too attentive to their mistakes at home, we risk creating a situation that is the opposite of what we want. Most of us want our men to be able to relax and truly open up to the wives to create the intimate, safe environment that makes that possible. Most men crave a retreat from the daily pressure of always having to perform.
One husband says, “Sex plays a huge role in a man’s self- confidence. A man can be having a horrible time at work, rejection in his industry and every other area can be going rotten- but if his wife wants him physically and affirms him in bed, he can handle the rest of the world, no problem. Conversely, if he gets the same impostor message at home (“you don’t measure up. Don’t touch me”), it will devastate him far worse than any career blow.
Another man said, “the role of sex cannot be overstated. A great sex life will overshadow and overcome a multitude of impostor messages from the world”. One man pleaded, “I want my wife to know and understand my weaknesses, failings and shortcomings and still want me. I need her to be my number one source of encouragement to become the man God created me to be “. A wife can give her husband confidence. Send the man you love into the world every day, alive with the belief that he can slay dragons.
…with Rose Hansey