Society’s definition of what it means to be a man is changing.
I’m not that old, but when I was young, the ideal of manhood was still very much a stoic and self-reliant individual who carved his own path through life.
For many people, that’s still an ideal, but the definition of manhood has broadened to include greater emotional openness.
That’s a good thing.
On the other hand, it’s hard to know what society wants from men these days.
We’re still expected to play the role of protectors and providers, but also need to be emotionally intelligent, willing to defer to others, and conscious of not centering ourselves all the time.
No wonder some experts suggest that we are experiencing a masculinity crisis.
And no wonder many men lack confidence.
This can lead them to seek validation from their partners, their friends, their work, or even more unhealthy sources. Because sometimes, men who lack confidence end up in online communities awash with hatred and misogyny.
Thankfully, that’s rare. What’s much more common is that men seek validation from their partners and other people in their lives in a way that can be counterproductive.
If you know a man who is always looking for validation, or you are one yourself, here are some of the confidence issues that may be causing it.
1) Romantic setbacks
Historically, one of the biggest ways men got their sense of self-worth was from their ability to attract women.
Is that a healthy thing to base your self-esteem on? Not really. But that doesn’t stop millions of men from doing it every day.
The thing is, relationships are tough. They always have been. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s harder than ever to find a partner and build a lasting relationship.
According to marriage therapist Theodora Blanchfield, close to half of Americans think that dating is harder now than it used to be.
- Technology such as online dating apps has created a distorted level of choice in potential partners. This has caused people to become more superficial in their choices and more willing to reject other people without getting to know them.
- Societal expectations. These days, women are less likely to be told that they need a man and a family to be happy than they were in the past. That’s undoubtedly a good thing, but when men don’t get the same messaging, it leads to an imbalance in relationships.
- Safety. Now that everyone carries a high-resolution camera in their pocket at all times, people – especially women – have to be more careful about who they date, since it’s easy for intimate photos and videos to end up online. Women are also increasingly conscious of their physical safety, which can make them reluctant to date men one-on-one versus chatting to them online.
- Unrealistic expectations. Think about how easy it is to access pornography and pseudo-intimate relationships online compared to how it used to be even 10 or especially 20 years ago. This has created unrealistic expectations of sex and of relationships that makes dating harder than ever.
Add all this together, and you have a toxic combination of factors that could almost have been designed to make relationships more difficult than they need to be.
When men have a series of failed relationships behind them, it can shake their confidence.
And even if they do find a new partner, they often have fears and doubts of being abandoned or cheated on because of things that have happened to them in the past.
This kind of baggage can cause a man to constantly seek validation from his current partner in an attempt to make up for what previous partners did to him.
2) Sexual inadequacy
It’s funny how, as a society, we have become increasingly permissive when it comes to women’s sexuality, and yet men’s sexual issues are often still treated as a joke.
While almost no one except the most disgusting misogynist would equate a woman’s worth to her performance in the bedroom, many men still feel that pressure to perform.
But men’s sexual issues are a real thing. Erectile dysfunction, for example, affects around 30 million men in the United States, and although it is more common in older men, it can strike at any age.
Add to that the endless library of online pornography I mentioned earlier, and it’s no wonder men are feeling less confident about their sexuality than ever before.
In fact, a UK study found that one in four men experience feelings of sexual inadequacy and worry they are not creative enough in the bedroom or don’t have the stamina to please their partners.
These feelings of inadequacy can be hugely damaging to a man’s self-esteem. That, in turn, can lead to him seeking validation from other sources.
3) Lack of career success
But it’s not just sex and romance that can make a man feel unworthy.
The workplace, too, can be a major source of male inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Much more than women, many men define themselves by their career. But just like relationships, careers aren’t what they used to be.
The days of taking a job and working at the same company for 40 years are gone. Now, careers are much more flexible and much less secure, and many people find themselves having to change careers several times over the course of their lives.
“If you tie [your self-worth] to your career, the successes and failures you experience will directly affect your self-worth,” says psychology professor Anne Wilson.
Often, this causes men who don’t have the career they want to seek validation elsewhere.
Sometimes, I think that height is for men what weight is to women.
Although there are many exceptions, it seems most women are attracted to men who are taller than them, just as most men are attracted to women shorter than them.
And in the superficial world of online dating, this is especially prevalent, with some apps allowing women to automatically reject any matches below a certain height.
In other words, life can be tough for short guys, and they often suffer low self-esteem because of it.
5) Body issues
Height isn’t the only body issue men can suffer from. Men may also be insecure about their weight, their fitness level, the attractiveness of their face, or any other body issue you can imagine.
It’s not just women who are told that they need to have the perfect body to be considered worthy. The messaging telling men they need to look like a fitness model is not as prevalent as the nonstop unrealistic beauty ideals women are bombarded with, but it still exists.
And unlike with women, there isn’t much of a male body positivity movement to fight back against the standards.
Jealousy can be a very ugly emotion. But it’s also a very powerful one.
As psychology professor Gwendolyn Seidman writes, feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem often lead to people being jealous of their partners. And that jealousy can often make their confidence even worse.
This can cause a man who feels jealousy to constantly ask his partner where they are going and who they are spending time with, seeking validation that they still love him and not somebody else.
7) Past trauma
We all have baggage to some extent. But for men who have been through traumatic experiences in the past, it can be almost impossible to shake the feelings of inadequacy they caused.
Some people grow up with abusive parents. Others are abused by friends, neighbors, and people in positions of power over them. Some people experience trauma as an adult, such as PTSD.
All of these traumas can make it extremely hard, if not impossible, to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. That can often cause victims of trauma to seek validation from other sources in an attempt to overcome their feelings of shame, rejection, and inadequacy.
The complex psychology of confidence
Confidence is one of the most powerful ways to make your life better. But often, a lack of confidence comes from our experiences in life.
And when a man lacks confidence, he may seek validation from his partner, his friends, his work, or anywhere else to try and overcome those painful feelings of low self-esteem.
The next time you encounter a man who seems to need constant validation, ask yourself if one or more of these confidence issues might be at play.
A little understanding can go a long way to helping people regain their self-esteem.