How to tackle the mask of masculinity

We know dads are increasingly facing up to the pressures of work and home. Expert Mike Miller looks at the masks men wear and the impact on our mental health.


There’s a growing body of research, including the results of our annual survey, showing men struggling to juggle the pressures of work and home life. For many, what it means to be a man goes to the heart of that pressure.

Mike Miller is Programme Director at specialist men’s programme Reach at The Cabin Group, Chiang Mai. He writes exclusively for us about the mask of masculinity.

Society places many pressures and points of stress on the male gender with men experiencing immense pressure to “live up” to what society expects or thinks they should act, feel, or do.

From boyhood men are told to be brave and ambitious, as they grow older they strive to become good fathers, partners and providers.

Many working dads are juggling competing responsibilities and feeling conflicted about this. As humans we all have different personas we show to the world but for some men the “man of the house” mask can potentially be very damaging to their mental health.

The modern image of what it means to be “a man” often means that men fall short of attaining the mainstream ideal and can slip into feelings of anxiety and depression which can cause addiction issues.

Many fathers struggle to cope with the pressures and expectations of their personal and professional lives, which prevents them from developing bonds of intimacy and puts a strain on their own wellbeing.

It is this nature of unhealthy expectation that can affect men’s mental health.

Typical pressures faced by working dads

  • Financial Burdens – men who act as the primary breadwinners in their household are more likely to face psychological and health hurdles as they feel the financial burden and responsibility within their relationship
  • Being a Good Father – demand to be a strong family man who can not only play with his children but help care for them too can be demanding
  • The Perfect Partner – pressure to be a partner, lover and friend, can create overwhelming feelings of frustration within the relationship and inability to express this


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Healthy/Unhealthy Personas

Almost everybody has a persona to some degree, for example many professional people will adopt the persona of their profession when they’re going about their daily business.

Adopting a persona is not necessarily unhealthy; a healthy persona can be used to keep a boundary between your public and private self. But, problems arise when we use personas as masks to hide part of ourselves that we deem to be unattractive or vulnerable.

In this sense, our persona becomes a psychological defence mechanism and is – to some extent – fake and ineffective in establishing positive emotional contact or intimacy with others. This is when serious problems can start to arise, and it may be time to seek outside help.

Many of our clients who have been in active addiction or are suffering from mental health problems wear a mask that’s not a true portrayal of who they really are.

Underneath this mask lie unprocessed feelings as well as the true self, which has been lost or stunted through this man of the house role. Part of recovery is to allow our core traits or integral personality to surface, develop and thrive. We can’t do this while we’re wearing a partly fake representation of ourselves for others to see.

Issues of work-life balance exist for many fathers and often less support and understanding is given to fathers trying to share these responsibilities. It’s important for men to focus on healthy masculinity -aligning with what it means to be a man whilst treating the root of any mental health issues.

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