As follower of Lewis Howes and The School of Greatness podcast, I initially came across his latest book ‘The Mask of Masculinity‘ thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m female!”.  Following his interview on The One You Feed, I realised the book wasn’t just relevant to men. The 9 masks explored affect both men and women alike and that we wear these masks at different points of our lives. With implications on our most intimate relationships, the masks also inhibit us from obtaining our full potential.

What are Masks?

Howes defines the masks of masculinity as a cover or partial cover men use as a disguise. Conditioned to push and numb feelings, the book is framed with a key male pain point: success doesn’t necessarily bring fulfilment and happiness. Nor does success solve problems or cure inner loneliness and confusion.

People, in particularly men feel trapped. They stuff emotions into a box, becoming masks over time that work until they don’t. The belief is that men know what they need to do, they just don’t know how to.

Masks serve as a way to hide; an armour to shield away from hurt, pain and humiliation of not being enough. Unlocking these masks requires an incredible unlearning; of what it means to be a man and a woman, unashamed and raw with each other and the world.

🎭 1. The Stoic Mask

Every man must be invulnerable and tough, emotions must be suppressed. No crying, no fuming… A wall is put up to protect him from the world. Weakness is an invitation for scrutiny, judgement and rejection.

Synonymous with being a hero, leader and warrior, the stoic mask is about being strong. The need for toughness eventually suffocates all other emotions.  Males carry this tendency from a young age, preventing open conversations. Subsequently, this creates a negative feedback loop, thickening up the walls around them and keeping them isolated.

Blocking others out shuts off true authenticity and vulnerability, removing the ability to love or be loved. The stoic front doesn’t disallows positive relationships with other males, and men in relationships tend to rely on females in their life. Men therefore experience more happiness in relationships but also suffer the consequences of them failing more acutely. The same support networks don’t exist.

Unlocking the Stoic Mask:

  • Expose what pain you’re trying to cover up. Journal the 5 biggest pains of your life
  • Read these out loud
  • Share them with others – this is where healing occurs
  • Seek a professional to help deal with these emotions

🎭 2. The Athlete Mask

Is how a man distinguishes himself on the field or court. He is a modern day gladiator whose weapon isn’t death but domination.

A false belief that masculinity is tied to physical performance, the athlete mask is a projected persona tied to a male’s identity.  Athleticism and physicality are used to derive self worth, a prowess that comes crashing down if they aren’t able to perform. Men learn to normalise pain “like a man” and suffer through because obtaining validation contributes to a healthy self image.

Men who aren’t able to compete, bond vicariously with other men through an obsession of sports. However this becomes an issue when the bondage turns into competitiveness in other facets of life. Significant others are seen as competition not a team, where winning becomes more important than being kind.

Freeing the Athlete Mask:

  • Figure out what’s out of balance and focus on all levels of health: mental, physical and emotional
  • Place emphasis on relationships: family, friends, intimate
  • Maintain a healthy balance of wealth: finance, career, education and business
  • Ensure you are contributing and making an impact
  • Seek to challenge your comfort zone, place yourself in different situations to learn and grow

🎭 3. The Material Mask

Worth comes from money in the bank account. A man’s net worth becomes his self worth.

Historically, a man’s worth was derived from his ability to provide. Men with the most resources were the most attractive, and not having resources was shameful. Framing the material mask is what compels men to believe in “things” not truly beneficial to their real, lasting self confidence. Driven by insecure scarcity, a continual chase for more is never enough.

Releasing the Material Mask:

  • Build room for gratitude: journal, share and ask what you’re grateful for each day
  • Know that you don’t need “everything” to be enough
  • Acknowledge daily, what you’re grateful for in others
  • Be a winner not by your physical accomplishments, but what value you provide for others.
  • Frame yourself as “how do I want to show up in the world?

🎭 4. The Sexual Mask

A man is defined by his number of sexual conquests. It validates him. Relationships are for quitters and settlers.

Men’s need for women derives from a sense of helplessness; used to gratify physical needs or validate insecurities of feeling desired. A never ending trophy hunt, winning is perceived as adding another person to a ‘tally’. The numbers are not about intimacy, but arithmetic, used to feed his ego.  Shier males or males who struggled in adolescence sometimes feel the need to play catch-up.

The problem occurs later in life when this becomes a vicious cycle, forging a constant state of emptiness. Strongly correlated to the desire of forbidden fruit, men feel trapped not because of endless choice; but because they can’t choose either way. To be in or out completely. Driven for more and better, fear sprouts from feeling controlled, stagnant or smothered.

Shedding the Sexual Mask:

  • Understand that freedom exists in commitment – making a choice; sexual masks are scripts of life, not truths
  • Learning that opening up, being expressive and caring allows for even better intimacy; emotional and sexual
  • Working together with intimate partners. Avoidance makes things deeper and more problematic
  • What are you avoiding? What past pains are you still holding onto?

🎭 5. The Aggressive Mask

It’s in men’s nature to be violent, tough and never back down. When they see something they want, they take it. They are hunters not gatherers.

The aggressive mask is about dishing out pain to others; distracting from a deeper pain within. Male aggression becomes an outlet, a character defining release for pain, sadness, anger and anxiety. Unaddressed pain is masked in aggression, closely tied to the athlete mask. Aggression is seen as nurture backwards. Taught from a young age, males learn that aggression is the only effective way to deal with things.

like a man

Surrendering the Aggressive Mask:

  • Explore different experiences to comprehend that being competitive is not the same as being
  • Challenge yourself to learn about anger and drop it where necessary
  • Being compassionate with yourself first allows compassion for others
  • Cultivate characteristics that allow positive outlets for anger – I.e exercise, passion projects
  • Have ‘safe’ aggression objects (I.e screaming room, or punching pillow)
  • Incorporate peaceful affirmations
  • Uncover the source of repressed anger

🎭 6. The Joker Mask

Men require humour and wit. Cynicism and sarcasm are intellectual weapons to defend against attempts to soften him, or connect with him.

Deflecting on a man’s inner pain, the joker mask focuses light on others. Masked as a defence mechanism of humour and sarcasm, a sense of worthlessness is highlighted. Conversations only touch surface level, as saying something honest or authentic would be seen as too vulnerable.

Jokes are used to relieve awkward tension but also reduce perceived risk of getting hurt because relationships are always at arm’s length. Building a cocoon that devalues emotional or relational desires, the joker mask leaves men unequipped to deal with deeper issues.

Losing the Joker Mask:

  • Before the temptation to make a joke, connect with presence in the relationships and environment you’re in
  • Be emotionally conscious of others that use this mask as well. What are they protecting?

🎭 7. The Invincible Mask

Men do not feel fear. They takes risks and live on the edge. They are too busy out doing, not thinking of consequences.

Created by competitiveness, the invincible mask thrives off challenge, the need to win and live life on the edge. However seeking external power frequently through accomplishment leads to bad decisions and neglect. The belief of invincibility turns men into machines who don’t consider consequences or costs. Feeling unstoppable covers up pain of insecurity and the fear of failure.

In modern culture, invincibility isn’t just about extreme sports. It stems to daily life; taking risky professional gambles, overworking, pushing yourself for more and a never ending quench for success.

iron man

Letting Go of the Invincible Mask:

  • Do not ignore underlying warning signs: exhaustion, instinct, what others say. Are you burning yourself out?
  • Take time to unveil what is special about you. Where do you get your sense of belonging?
  • What other ways can you create adrenaline without detrimental affects?

🎭 8. The Know It All Mask

Men must intellectually dominate. They know all the answers.

Believing “If I’m smart, they’ll like me”, the know it all mask validates a male’s intelligence. Know it alls live conversations with a prepared script, often forgetting the most important element; the other person. The need to be intelligent overcompensates for the fact that we all don’t know everything in life and are trying to figure it out. Signs of ignorance are treated as weakness.

Giving Up the Know It All Mask:

  • Admit you don’t know what you’re doing; it’s more impressive than man who think he’s got all the answers
  • Admitting you don’t know gives you strength to grow and learn
  • Having humility to grow, means people will be willing to listen
  • Be flexible to new opinions, ideas and strategies – acknowledge change is constant

🎭 9. The Alpha Mask

There are only 2 types of men: alphas and betas. Winners and losers. Men must dominate and win everything. They don’t defer, but always remain in control.

Rooted within a male’s ego, the alpha mask is used to exert their strength and presence. Alpha-ness is caused by insecurity, with vulnerability overshadowed by outward pride. The alpha mask believes that anything that doesn’t demonstrate a level of strength and dominance is weakness and will result in intolerable exclusion. The soul source for the alpha mask is validation; in himself, his abilities and what he has achieved.

Dissolving the Alpha Mask:

  • Differentiating between the different types of alpha: are you leading in a positive way; to create change or impact others, or is your need to be in control and over others about ego?
  • Understand whose opinions really matter to you
  • True worth is becoming well-rounded in all facets of life. The more well rounded you become the more attractive you will be. True worth isn’t just about exceeding in 1 aspect of life

The Power of Melting Masks

Howes notes that there is no be-all resolution to these masks, but that it is a constant work in progress. Males, and can wear multiple masks and different periods of life, with masks overlapping and reinforcing each other.

Removing the false masks of masculinity is discovering yourself and owning up to what you find. Howes defines masculinity as freedom: the ability to serve and contribute to others, adding value, inspiring and building positive relationships with constant-win win. Freedom within masculinity fosters happiness and fulfilment.

♀ What It Means For Women

So far the 9 masks covered have been mostly applicable to men, however what is the benefit for females? Women too can wear these masks and better understanding the men in our lives;  colleagues, mentors, partners enables the possibility of creating and maintaining great relationships. When facing a man wearing one or multiple masks women are encouraged to:

  • Lead by example: demonstrate how openness, vulnerability, and sharing emotions is not a bad thing. When the males in your life do so, respond well to it
  •  Acknowledge non material and non-physical traits you appreciate in that man, be grateful for how they support you, not just what they provide
  • Support a man’s vision – what drives him, what gets him up in the morning. Understanding his mission will allow better a understanding of him
  • Acknowledge how jokes or deflection makes him lose credibility and trustworthiness
  • Be firm with your own points of view, and communicate that it’s not always about knowing everything or being right

Final Thoughts

Released yesterday, I polished The Mask of Masculinity in just over 4 hours. Though a comprehensive book on the many problems males face, Howes explains that the book doesn’t capture masks from all aspects; such as biological implications. With statistics, studies and many other facts from his multiple podcast interviews, I recommend you pick up the book am am sure you’ll find it useful and relatable as I did.

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