As I was writing my last article I found myself thinking about some of the self-limiting beliefs I come across regularly that keep men in miserable jobs and toxic relationships. One of the things that hits me again and again is that when you boil off the specifics and turn the stories men tell into generalities, you see the same ideas presented over and over.
Almost to the one these are lies that men pick up when they are young.They are pervasive lies in our culture, you can see them put forward in media, pop-culture, and education alike in different disguises. I won’t argue that young men are “programmed” with these ideas – we can choose to believe them or we can choose to reject them. And we can choose to release those ideas when they no longer serve us.
However, when a message is really pervasive in our culture and presented repeatedly as Truth, young people often don’t have the resources to look at it critically. Often, young men do not have the pre-existing self-respect to reject an insulting and toxic narrative about themselves. Nor do many young men have the critical thinking skills in their early teen years to pick apart an idea and see how flawed it is.
The ideal protection from these kind of lies is a good male role-model. When someone teaches you something about yourself,your gender, or you culture that is self-destructive, having a good role-model who lives as evidence the the contrary is possibly the best tool a young man has to see through these sorts of narratives.
With many young men living in a void when it comes to good – and active – male role models, and definitely not raised in environments that encourage healthy respect for the self. It takes a particularly fortunate young man not to absorb these to some degree or another.
Lie #1: “Nobody Cares About What I Have to Offer”
It is easy to believe that nobody wants to give you a chance or cares what you are capable of; indifference is everywhere. Most people are interested in what they can get out of you right now, but don’t seem to care that you have something more to offer.
This lie keeps a lot of men from starting businesses, volunteering, pitching projects, trying their hand at the arts, or pursuing promotions. It is a lie that makes men hesitate to lead when they are sick of following. It also leads a lot of men to retreat from the dating scene.
The Truth is that you have to give people a reason to care, first. The indifference you see in the vast majority of people is a result of sensory overload: They don’t have the time or energy to look into what you have to offer and what kind of person you are. They are trying to cope with a world where they see hundreds of new people each day, but only have the brain capacity to get to handle 170 relationships.
To get their attention, they need to see something extraordinary first. That gives them a reason to shut off their filtering and actually assess you as a single human being with motives and potential.
Once those filters are off, people are very receptive. A state of filtered inattention is boring and lonely. We all secretly wish that we could reach out and find a friend or a partner. Any time someone breaks us out of that, whether it is by offering us something new, performing, creating amazing art, or presenting a clever solution to a problem, it activates us. We suddenly want to make a new connection. We want to like and understand the person in front of us.
The same is true of someone who breaks the usual programs. The person who says “No” to an idea when everyone else is happy to say “Yes”; The person who is willing to approach people with an original icebreaker rather than everyday pleasantries; The person who is willing to ask a challenging question all make us want to understand what they have to offer.
You won’t know how many people want what you are offering until you have something to put in front of them and get their attention.
Lie #2: “I Can’t Do Any Better”
When you believe that you are unlikable, unlovable, unwanted, a burden, or incompetent, it is hard to think that anything you might get in the future will be better than what you have now. In fact, even if the relationships, group, or job you have now is draining the life out of you, you would probably consider yourself lucky to have the friends, girl, club, or job you’ve got.
This is the lie that keeps people in dead-end jobs, toxic relationships, debt, and associated with groups that no longer serve them. It is not so much a belief that we can’t do better, so much as a belief that we are so rotten that we don’t deserve to do better.
The Truth is that when we hold ourselves in high esteem, draw strong boundaries, and expect a good showing out of people, they calibrate to us. Or they decide that they are not mature and capable enough to act with respect and put their best selves forward – and prove that they are not worth our time.
The belief that we deserve poor treatment is self-perpetuating. As long as we believe it we can’t do what is necessary to get better treatment. But the moment we start deciding how we are treated by the people around us, and what is acceptable in our lives, the quality of the relationships that we have.
Once we start believing that we are worthwhile as human beings enough to get better, then we start create a better, more respectful, more rewarding environment for ourselves. And along the way we will tend to lose people and jobs that don’t serve us or are invested in keeping us miserable.
I have found that this is a belief that you don’t shed just once. It is something that we sink into from time to time when things get difficult. It gives us an opportunity to grow and improve in phases.
Lie #3: “This is My Last and Only Chance”
In many ways, this is a variation on the previous lie. It arises from a belief that we don’t deserve better than we already have, and so it is better to tolerate a situation, no matter how miserable it makes us, than to step away from the situation or demand its dynamics change.
This lie also includes deeply entrenched scarcity thinking. It is a belief that not only do we not deserve better, but that better is not possible, because what we don’t believe that it is possible to find a job, social group, or a person that you can shape into something we like better. Accordingly, you are held back by fear of being jobless, poor, or alone.
It is likely that this lie is also fed by the first one. If we believe that there is nothing out there for us, it is probably because we also believe that no one else would want us.
The Truth is that we have a lot of power over where we work, who we socialize with, and who we love. We can always find groups of people who want to be around us, people who want to love us, and clients or employers who want to pay for our skills… but finding them is extremely hard work.
Firstly, we have to be willing to risk the rejection of asking other people for what we want. That can be terrifying for good reason. We experience rejection as real pain; our brains are still running on an operating system that sees being rejected or outcast as an existential threat. To ask for what we want requires courage. That courage is pretty near impossible to find if we don’t have some faith in our abilities and confidence that we have something to offer the world.
Secondly, we have to be willing to change ourselves. If we want to have god friendships we have to learn the art of making friends, including how to be vulnerable and open to others. If we want a good job, we have to learn how to value our skills and develop the art of constant learning and upgrading. If we want to have a good sexual relationship, we need to put our most energetic, assertive, and self-assured self forward. And all of these can mean taking the time to learn a lot of new things, getting fitter, dressing better, breaking self-sabotaging habits, cultivating new interests, and tossing out old ideas that don’t suit us.
The average, mostly healthy human being have a lot to offer the world. In the right company, and with the right goals, most human beings have the power to thrive and to excel. It is actually pretty easy to see that in other people. It is much harder to see it in ourselves. Accepting our own potential can itself be scary. After all, when we accept that we have incredible potential, then we have to face the possibility that up to this point we have not lived up to it. Believing toxic, limited, ideas about who we are and what we are capable of is, strangely, much easier and more comfortable. These lies are also, in many ways, convenient excuses,
It’s only when we take the basic leap to realize that a life in mild unhappiness or comfortable numbness is not worth living that these lies really become recognizable for what they are, and we have the motivation to challenge them and think differently.