Welcome to another installment in the Relationship Help for Men series. In today’s post we will delve a little deeper into the male psyche and examine an emotional experience that men often struggle with at an emotional cost to themselves and their spouses/partners.
Have you ever felt uncertain or ambivalent about something in your life?
The subjective experience of uncertainty can arise for a myriad of reasons (for instance, because of a lack of information when faced with a decision, out of fear of the unknown, or because of contradictory desires/goals, to name a few); and while uncertainty is an inherent part of the human condition, it’s not an experience that’s easily tolerated for extended periods of time.
Uncertainty is the emotional place that can make you feel trapped in a quicksand of inertia.
The dilemma of male uncertainty
While there are exceptions to every rule, men seem to have a particularly difficult time with feelings of uncertainty—there is an inherent vulnerability to the experience of uncertainty, of not knowing. Yet men do feel unsure about many things. At times we feel uncertain about the direction of our lives, the decisions we’ve made and the decisions we will make. We are often unsure about the feelings we feel, the values we value…and at some point in our lives, we may struggle with the most difficult of all uncertainties: Questioning the life we’ve lived and the impact we’ve had on others.
Clearly, uncertainty exists for men, both on a small and a grand scale.
But rather than experience uncertainty as an emotional weigh-station that offers opportunity for deeper self-reflection, discernment and greater self- and other-understanding, male uncertainty is all too often perceived as ineptitude, weakness and passivity. Because of this, men often deny their ambivalence, and to compensate, flee into the arms of a pseudo-confidence, a black-and-white sense of assuredness that magically erases the shades of gray, and the potentially-rich complexities and ambiguities of life.
Why does uncertainty or ambivalence lead to this kind of male self-flagellation?
Violation of a Masculine Code
There are certain masculine codes and ideals that men have internalized that lead to the denial of uncertainty—and high on this list is the masculine ideal of decisiveness.
While there clearly is a time and a place in our lives for the direction and movement inherent to decisiveness, decisiveness can also be a premature counter-reaction, a defensive maneuver to pull you out of the discomfort of uncertainty.
Unexamined decisiveness comes at a great cost.
In these instances, the decisive male becomes closed off to the possibilities that exist in the uncertain, never realizing the gifts waiting in the unknown—sadly, he becomes closed off to his inner world and to the world of others. His masculine sensibilities scream at him to find a solution, to find and grab hold of any modicum of clarity, to be a man and “Decide, already!”
The antidote to premature decisiveness is the willingness to develop a relationship with uncertainty; to stay with the unease of not knowing, of remaining open to contradictory feelings and information and perspectives. To say: I’m not sure, let me think about it (or, let’s think about this together). Life is often complex and contradictory, and when you admit that and realize that uncertainty will be inevitable from time to time, you’ll be in a position to engage with life in a more meaningful way.
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Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro