Men who are tough on the surface but insecure underneath usually display these 10 behaviors

There’s often more to people than meets the eye. This is especially true for men who project toughness, but underneath, they’re wrestling with insecurities.

This dichotomy isn’t always easy to spot, as these men expertly mask their vulnerabilities with an armor of strength and bravado.

In this article, we’ll peel back the layers to reveal the behaviors often displayed by these men – the ones who appear tough on the surface but are insecure underneath.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 telltale signs that may just change the way you perceive the ‘tough guys’ around you. So, let’s dive in.

1) Overcompensating toughness

We’ve all encountered them – men who seem to go overboard with their show of strength and toughness.

Interestingly, this excessive display is often a red flag for underlying insecurities. It’s their way of proving to the world (and themselves) that they’re strong and unfazed.

But, what they’re really doing is using this facade as a shield to hide their vulnerabilities.

The irony is, true strength lies in embracing one’s insecurities and working on them, not hiding them. Overcompensating toughness often indicates a struggle with self-esteem and an inability to come to terms with one’s imperfections.

2) An inability to accept criticism

Let me tell you about my old roommate, Matt. At first glance, he seemed like the epitome of toughness—an avid gym-goer, adrenaline junkie, and straight shooter.

But here’s the twist: whenever faced with criticism, no matter how constructive, Matt’s immediate reaction was defensiveness. He’d often deflect blame or lash out.

I soon realized this was his way of shielding himself from perceived threats. It dawned on me that beneath his tough exterior lurked a pool of insecurities.

Obviously, his inability to handle criticism wasn’t a testament to his toughness; it was a reflection of his deep-seated fear—fear of not measuring up, fear of failure.

This behavior isn’t uncommon among men who exude strength but battle insecurities internally. Criticism feels like an assault rather than an opportunity for growth, prompting them to protect their vulnerabilities at any cost.

3) Constant need for validation

In the era of social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeking approval and validation from others. But for men who appear tough while dealing with underlying insecurities, this need for external validation often becomes a constant.

This behavior isn’t just a product of the digital age, it has deep psychological roots. According to psychologists, when someone has low self-esteem or harbors self-doubt, they often seek validation from others as a way to reassure themselves and boost their ego.

For our ‘tough guys’, this can manifest in various ways—from constantly seeking compliments for their physical strength to needing reassurances about their capabilities at work.

Don’t be surprised if the seemingly confident man in your life frequently seeks validation. It may not be a sign of his ego, but an indicator of the insecurities he is battling underneath.

4) Difficulty expressing emotions

Another behavior often displayed by men who appear tough on the outside but are insecure underneath is a difficulty in expressing emotions.

They might keep their feelings bottled up, preferring to project an image of stoicism rather than opening up about what they’re going through. This might seem like strength to some, but in reality, it’s a defense mechanism.

By suppressing their emotions, they’re trying to maintain control and avoid appearing vulnerable. The fear of being judged or seen as ‘weak’ can be overwhelming.

However, it’s important to understand that expressing emotions isn’t a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it requires courage and self-awareness. Those who can acknowledge and express their feelings are often stronger than those who hide behind a mask of toughness.

5) Competitive to a fault

Healthy competition can be a great motivator, pushing us to strive for improvement. However, for men who are tough on the surface yet insecure underneath, this competitive spirit can become excessive.

These men often feel the need to be the best in every situation – from sports and work performance to trivial everyday tasks. This constant race is not so much about winning as it is about proving their worth.

Their insecurities fuel this need to outdo others, as they equate their self-worth with being superior. But rather than demonstrating strength, this over-competitiveness often reveals a deep-seated fear of not being ‘good enough’.

6) Avoidance of intimate relationships

signs your partner has emotionally checked out of the relationship according to psychology Men who are tough on the surface but insecure underneath usually display these 10 behaviors

We all yearn for connection and intimacy. It’s a fundamental part of being human. But for men who are tough on the outside and insecure on the inside, forming deep, meaningful connections can be a challenge.

These men might shy away from intimacy or keep their partners at arm’s length. They might fear that getting too close will reveal their vulnerabilities, shattering the tough image they’ve carefully curated.

This avoidance is a protective mechanism fueled by their insecurities. The fear of being seen – truly seen – with all their imperfections can be daunting.

7) Overemphasis on physical appearance

There was a time when I found myself spending countless hours at the gym, obsessing over my diet, and constantly checking my appearance in the mirror. On the surface, it seemed like I was just passionate about fitness and health.

But truthfully, I was using my physical appearance as a shield to hide my insecurities. I thought that if I looked strong and fit, people would perceive me as confident and secure.

I’ve since learned that this is a common behavior among men who appear tough but are insecure underneath. They often place an excessive emphasis on their physical appearance, believing it to be directly linked to their worth.

But true worth isn’t determined by how we look or how much we can lift at the gym. It comes from within – our character, our values, and our actions. Recognizing this is crucial in overcoming insecurities and building genuine self-esteem.

8) Display of aggression

It’s a common misconception to equate aggression with strength. After all, isn’t the tough guy supposed to be the one picking fights and never backing down?

But here’s the truth: aggression often masks insecurity. Men who project toughness while battling internal doubts may resort to aggression to assert dominance and control.

They might believe that by displaying aggression, they’re showing their strength. But in reality, it’s an attempt to hide their insecurities and fears.

9) Always on guard

Men who are tough on the surface but insecure underneath often have their guards up. They’re hesitant to let people in, fearing that their insecurities might be exposed.

This constant state of vigilance can make them appear detached or aloof. Inside, they’re always on the lookout for potential threats or judgments.

While it’s natural to have some walls up, being constantly on guard can hinder genuine connections and personal growth. It’s often a sign that they’re battling with their own insecurities, trying to protect themselves from perceived threats.

Real strength lies in letting your guard down, trusting others, and allowing yourself to be seen – insecurities and all. Only then can you truly grow and build meaningful relationships.

10) Self-deprecating humor

One of the most subtle yet revealing signs of a man who’s tough on the outside but insecure on the inside is the use of self-deprecating humor.

These men often make themselves the butt of jokes, seemingly in good spirit. But behind this humor often lies a form of self-criticism and an attempt to control how others perceive them.

It’s their way of saying, “I’m aware of my flaws, so your judgments can’t hurt me.”

Here’s a gentle reminder: true strength comes from self-acceptance. It’s about embracing your imperfections, not ridiculing them. And it’s about knowing that you are enough – just the way you are.

Embracing vulnerability

When we peel back the layers of bravado, what we often find beneath the surface of these ‘tough guys’ are individuals yearning for acceptance and understanding.

For men who appear tough on the outside but carry insecurities within, it’s important to recognize that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to let your guard down, to express emotions, to ask for help, to accept criticism. These aren’t signs of weakness, but gateways to growth and self-acceptance.

As we navigate our relationships with these seemingly tough individuals, let’s extend empathy and understanding. For they too, like all of us, are on a journey towards self-discovery and acceptance. And a little compassion can go a long way in helping them embrace their vulnerabilities and find their true strength.

Picture of Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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