Why Do Men Feel Shame About Their Infertility? Men live their lives under the influence of a relentless fear of showing weakness. Our culture expects us to be strong. Showing anything other strength leaves us open to feeling ashamed.
There are not many experiences in life that cause us to feel more shame than infertility. I wrote this post to let you know that is okay to feel ashamed. Facing up to shame takes great bravery and will help you to grow as a man.
Advice On Shame From Randy Flood, MA, LLP
Randy Flood is the author of Mascupathy: Understanding and Healing the Malaise of American Manhood and the Director of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan. Randy says:
“Males were taught to hide feelings, perceive and experience them as weakness, while females were taught to talk have them, express them without shame, and share them with others to build relationships, intimacy.
Along with fear, the feeling of shame is one of the most difficult emotions for men to feel and talk about. In fact, men often have a fear of shame. If I have it or feel it is tantamount to admitting weakness. This fuels men’s self-aggrandizement, posturing and bragging as it is often compensation for hidden insecurities, shameful human flaws and struggles. Although males often project the great powerful Oz—I got this, I’m invulnerable, I’m tough—while hiding behind the curtain is the lonely, anxious, fearful and shameful human behind the hyper-masculine projection.
Shame is like a moss or fungi. It thrives in the dark and dies in the light.
Talking about feelings isn’t soft, it’s smart. We either talk it out or act it out. Males are often prone to act out feelings they aren’t able to admit to, or talk through with others.
Defects and flaws in our humanity is part of being human. To admit them, face them and demonstrate willingness to adapt, change or accept limitations shows strength and resiliency, not weakness. Contrarily, hiding our human struggles is succumbing to our fears of rejection and shows weakness and insecurity.
Real and fit men for the 21stcentury have not only physical courage—face fears and possible physical injury by running into a burning building to save a child—they have moral and emotional courage. They can show moral courage by speaking the truth or doing the right thing when they may face loss, rejection or marginalization from others.
They can show emotional courage by sharing feelings, talking about human struggles, fears and insecurities while facing the possibility of ridicule, rejection and misunderstanding from others. Ironically, a strong and courageous man is one who has the courage to admit he’s human, not invulnerable.”
Shame & Male Infertility
I have just finished Brene Browns eye opening book, Daring Greatly and it helped me to understand shame. I saw her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability when I was going through infertility and it helped me to open up about my struggles. Her fascinating book delves deep into how men and women feel shame for different reasons.
In her book she goes into great detail about how men and women feel shame. For women, shame comes in the form of not feeling pretty enough, struggling to balance work, life, family, social commitments, and the impossible task of being a perfect mother. Men on the other hand feel shame for completely different reasons.
Men Feel Shame When They:
- are wrong
- sense they are defective
- are perceived as soft
- reveal weakness
- show fear
- are criticised or humiliated
How Infertility Led Me To Feel The Full Spectrum Of Male Shame
When I opened up about my infertility, I felt the full spectrum of male shame. While it was difficult to do, it taught me valuable lessons in self discovery and bravery.
Writing this blog has helped me to become more shame resilient in many areas of my life. Every time I talk about infertility, or tell somebody about it for the first time, my heart races and my hands get sweaty. Even though I have written about infertility for over a year, I still feel that showing my greatest weakness leaves me emotional exposed.
Men Feel Shame When They Are Wrong
When I started writing about infertility, I asked myself am I wrong to talk so openly about such a personal subject. What will people think of me writing and talking about such a private matter.
I do not know this blog is right or wrong. Some days, I feel that it I am doing the right thing and on other days I feel a lot of self doubt. I put myself in the public and it left me open to criticism. It felt wrong to leave myself open to criticism.
Lessons Learned From Feeling Wrong
As I write this post, I have butterflies in my stomach. In the face of anxiety, writing about infertility has taught me to be a lot braver. Despite sometimes feeling what I am doing is wrong, the positive letters, emails and messages that I receive make it worthwhile.
It surprised to learn how many people are struggling infertility. Just because I have a family does not mean that I am not infertile. Yes, it is easier for me to talk about as I have come through a difficult battle with two beautiful twins.
There was a time, when I believed that I would never have a family. One of the reasons that I write this blog is to inspire people and give them hope. Despite your infertility you could still have a family of your own. Be brave and work hard and you will increase your chances of beating infertility.
Being brave and writing about my experience taught me not to care if people think I’m wrong.
Men Feel Shame When They Feel Like They Are Defective
In my opinion, being infertile is being defective. My reproductive system does not work and admitting it is still painful. Of all of the types of shame that I have encountered this may the most difficult to cope with. There is something so final about being infertile.
It’s frustrating that the cause of infertility is usually unknown. If you are lucky you can increase your chances of having a family by changing your diet, getting and operations for conditions like variceole, or taking supplements.
Being defective and feeling broken is bitter pill to swallow. Talking about being defective openly still makes me feel nervous but bringing awareness to the subject, is the right thing to do.
Lessons Learned From Being Defective
Although it was hard to see at the time, I learned the most about myself when I found out I was infertile. Instead of dwelling on my situation I decided to take massive action. Complete dedication to having a family was my way of coping.
If you are going through infertility currently then you need to take a step back and look at the potential causes and solutions. For me being defective was embarrassing and I change my lifestyle to have a family. You can read about the changes that I made before final round of IVF here.
Life is a crazy journey and the low points give you opportunities to change and develop strength. You can either let the hard times beat you or you can use them to grow. Infertility thought me mindfulness, to eat better and how to look after my physical and mental well being.
The changes that I made have now become habits that have made me a happier and more well rounded person. I am one of the lucky ones that went through IVF and came out with a family. It is easy for me to sit on my perch and preach about what you should do. My aim is not to sound high and mighty but to help you to find lessons and strength in your infertility.
Men Feel Shame When They Are Perceived as Soft
Sharing my vulnerability is one of the hardest things that I have ever done. Most men can relate to this. Men need to be perceived as tough. Talking about my feelings could be perceived as being “soft”.
We all suffer at different stages of our life. It is part of the human experience. You would be surprised how endearing it is to show softness and admit to your friends and family that you are suffering.
There is nothing more emotionally draining than carrying baggage and keeping your problems to yourself. Internalising pain and not sharing feelings is worse for your mental health than being perceived as soft.
Lessons Learned From Being Perceived as Soft
I don’t care if I am perceived as soft. I’m human and naturally I want to feel a sense of belonging but I don’t want to belong to group of peers that I cannot be open with. If you judge me for being soft then so be it. I don’t want to belong to your tribe and I can find solus elsewhere.
When you open up and are “soft” you will be find out who your friends are. Many people will warm to you for being honest. Most people feel sympathy for men when they open up about their problems, especially women.
Infertility taught me resilience. Talking about my greatest weakness has actually given me confidence. My infertility is label that I have but it does not define me. What defines me is my perseverance through very dark times. I feel that if I can get through infertility, I can get through anything.
Men Feel Shame When They Show Weakness
Our culture does not encourage us to show weakness. I grew up playing rugby and this engrained in me an innate fortitude for showing strength and making pain. In rugby, no matter how hard I was tackled, I was taught to continue through the pain.
As a child I was encouraged to suffer silently through physical pain. These lessons did me no favours when it came to infertility. Instead of showing my weakness, I mostly kept it bottled up. Physical and emotional pain actually trigger the same part of the brain – the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.
My natural reaction to emotional pain is the same as physical pain – hide it. This was more of a hinderance and than a help.
Lessons Learned From Showing Weakness
You can find strength in your weakness. I have used my weakness to create a platform to help others. Infertility also gave me a massive wake up call to look after myself better. I used to binge drink every weekend, eat terrible food and work in a stressful job.
After I was diagnosed as infertile I turned my life around. Of all of the lesson that I learned from my weakness, learning to meditate has improved my life the most. Taking time with my thoughts each day has helped me to understand myself a lot better.
The habit of reading about my mind, my body and overall wellbeing is a result of learning about my weaknesses. Infertility, serious illness or a mid life crisis are all opportunities to discover who you really are and what you want. You cannot chose what happens to you in life but you can chose how you react. If you are going through infertility then I recommend looking into cognitive behavioural therapy to help you to cope.
Men Feel Shame When They Show Fear
Going through infertility was one the scariest things that I have ever done. Although, I had a few people I could talk to I did what most men do, I bottled up my fear and didn’t talk about it much.
The only other thing that was as scary as going through IVF treatment was clicking send on my first post about infertility. I was so anxious and fearful about how people would react to me talking about such an embarrassing problem.
Being perceived as weak is as scary as not having a family. This is proof of how important it is for men to be perceived as strong and fearless. Society’s conditioning and our brains wiring lead us to avoid fear at all costs.
Lessons Learned From Showing Fear
There are endless amounts of books, quotes and talks about fear and how to overcome it. For me me, facing my fears head on has been liberating. Facing fears goes against our genetic make up. The human body is built for survival and reproduction.
I cannot reproduce naturally so my body is in survival mode. Our survival is dictated by one of the oldest parts of our brain, the amygdala. It is the part of the brain that causes you to feel fear and it is responsible for keeping you alive.
The fight or flight response has developed over millions of years to ensure our surrvival. It is one of the reasons that homo sapiens have thrived as a species. 50,000 years ago it would have protected our ancestors in the face of danger from rival clans or predatory animals.
In Modern society, we live with very little threat to our lives. Today, our amygdala is consumed with fear of public speaking, doing interviews or flying. For some people facing these fears trigger the part of the brain that used to keep us alive. You know the feeling when your heart starts racing, your hands get sweaty and adrenaline rushes through your veins.
Infertility helped me face my fears and forced me to learn about what scares me. Learning about what scares you and reading into how your body reacts is enlightening. One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from my infertility is understanding my emotions. Infertility led me to read about psychology and neuroscience and it helped me to become more emotionally intelligent.
I encourage any man that is struggling with any physical or mental issues to read about what ails you. Understanding your body and mind will help you to understand what is going on inside your body and mind. Understanding ones self is a great coping mechanism for any challenge that scares you.
Men Feel Shame When Criticised or Humiliated
Telling the World about my infertility opened me up for humiliation and criticism. Initially, I received some very critical messages online. A press agency in the UK interviewed me. The daily mail picked up the story. They completely sensationalised the story and focused on our “shotgun wedding”. The angle they took was frustrating. The Daily Mail is, in my opinion, the worst newspaper in the World. The vitriol and venom that littered the comments section of my interview was shocking.
As I said earlier one of the core human need is a feeling of belonging. Men want to be liked. When I started writing about infertility, my goal was to help people. I never would have thought that an interview would be attacked so aggressively. I would be lying if I said that it did not affect me. It hurt.
Lessons Learned From Being Criticised.
The harsh criticism and negative comments caused me to think that what I was doing was wrong. Who was I to write about this taboo subject. Maybe they were right. I spent a couple of days questioning writing about infertility. Looking back, I was happy to receive such harsh treatment. It forced me to think deeply about what I was doing.
I learned that putting myself in the public eye by writing a blog, doing TV interviews and podcasts left me open to criticism. If you create anything publicly you have understand that there will be a percentage of haters.
Think of the most successful bands or musicians in the World- U2, Ed Sheeran or Kayne West. Millions of fans love these critically acclaimed musicians. On the flip side, they are hated by many people too. I’m not comparing myself to any of them but the principle is the same. If you create something that gets attention there will be people that hate what you say or do.
This taught me to think of the people that I am writing for as opposed to the people that I am not writing for. Thankfully, the positive comments far outweigh by the negative comments that I have received.
Final Thoughts on Shame And Male Infertility
Even though I now have a family, I still find it hard to admit my infertility. For those of you that are currently dealing with I feel your pain. Infertility is possibly the biggest weakness that a man can admit to. It take tremendous bravery to open up to even one person about your struggles to have a family
Internalising your problems is the wrong thing to do. There are many coping mechanisms and ways to deal with the stress of infertility. Read blogs, books and articles about your mental health. You don’t want to be fighting a battle on two fronts – the physical issue of male infertility, and the mental health issues that stem from bottling it up.
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