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Seven ways to combat male feelings of inadequacy

Olly Mann has absolutely no sense of direction. His wife’s much better at assembling flat pack furniture than he is. And no one wants to hear about his many complicated feelings. As a man, he feels inadequate. And he’s not alone. As traditional gender roles alter and the old school idea of masculinity changes radically, many men have trouble trying to fit in to the world. But as Olly and The Male Room guests discussed, there are some strategies that can help.

1. Be prepared to change

Growing up with emotionally distant dads or families where talking about feelings was considered weird conditions us to adopt a similar muted emotional stance in later life. Likewise, living or working in a toxic male atmosphere makes it more likely to imitate those behaviours. Jules Evans talks about working with the Saracens rugby club, which used to have a highly combative, unsupportive ‘banterish’ mindset – without success on the field. But once Jules helped them to become more open and supportive and discuss their feelings with each other, they bonded and started to win more games.

2. Reach out

A lot of people have problems and the group has given me a chance to be myself

Olly and his Male Room contributors Ogaga Emuyevan and Mark Hayhurst all belong to men’s groups. Mark set up the Talking Stick men's group in Surbiton, while Olly and Ogaga have joined more informal Whatsapp groups where friends discuss their problems (plus beer, Jay-Z and sport). As Ogaga says, “It feels OK to express my deep emotions to them. A lot of people have problems and the group has given me a chance to be myself.”

3. Exercise your vulnerability muscle

Johnny Green, the former road manager of The Clash, talked about Joe Strummer, who never appeared to be a man in touch with his vulnerable side. In fact, Johnny recounts the time that Strummer opened up to him about the suicide of his brother and the huge emotional burden that placed upon him. He was encouraged to discuss these feelings with the rest of the band. Rather than shying away they were all responsive and shared their own feelings of vulnerability. It helped to bring the group closer together.

4. Don’t do what’s expected of you

Comedian Kate Smurthwaite discussed a friend who was dragged out on a stag do they really didn’t want to attend and had to indulge in the traditional stag activities of hardcore drinking, strippers and general debauchery that friends felt obliged to provide. The entire event was not enjoyed by anyone and solely fuelled by the idea that this is what men are supposed to do. But if you can ignore or throw off the pressure of these established gender definitions, and do things you actually like, it helps to improve your self-worth.

5. Rename the terms

In working with the Saracens, Jules recognised that the team (and men in general) were resistant to the idea of therapy. In fact, women are twice as likely to engage with therapy as men. However, once he started to talk about the idea of philosophy rather than therapy and discuss emotional openness in conjunction with history and the actions of people such as the Stoics in Ancient Greece, the men in the group were far more responsive.

6. Subvert the norms

I don’t need a knight in shining armour

“What am I doing? What’s my life about?” Mark Hayhurst felt lost as he approached his fiftieth birthday and saw his children leave the nest, completely altering his role at home. As his wife told him “I don’t need a knight in shining armour.” He felt trapped by the notion of roles that men are supposed to do. By refusing to accept this supposition and ignoring the idea of behaving in a 'traditional' male way, he soon felt more connected to his feelings and able to express himself more successfully.

7. Remember, no one knows what they’re doing

There’s a great deal of pressure to act in a particularly manly way or adopt traditional masculine norms, whether it comes to breadwinning or leadership. It feels as if there must be a blueprint to follow in order to become a legitimate man - but in fact there’s no right way or wrong way to become a ‘real’ man. As the journalist Oliver Burkeman points out: “There's a big difference between those who realise they're winging it, and those who don’t.” Once you realise no one knows what they’re actually doing, life seems a lot easier.