Confidence and Failure –Why Abused Men Can Have Such a Bleak Outlook


2016-04-25 by Object of Contempt

Recently a short conversation took place in the comments. I mentioned that my negative self-talk is usually centered around failure, and that it is hard to beat because I have evidence that backs me up. I also mentioned that I think damaged self-confidence is probably more of a problem for male victims. (Yes, I know that is sheer speculation on my part.)

Now, the response was very kind, but it revealed a misunderstanding. The commenter said she had always thought that the women were far mor susceptible to having their self-esteem destroyed.

Perhaps you noticed the fact that I mentioned confidence, but the commenter was talking about self-esteem. After several days of thinking about it, I replied in order to make the distinction between the two, and describe a man’s perspective on failure and confidence. I realized after the fact that it deserved it’s own blog post, so I have decided to post that comment here with a some edits for clarity and accuracy.

I have been thinking about your last comment ever since it was posted. I’ve read that emotional and mental abuse cause damage to self-esteem nearly universally. It seems to me that men’s descriptions more consistently contain complaints of severely damaged confidence. I can’t imagine confidence and self-esteem aren’t related issues, but I think they are different.

When a man talks about confidence, he is mostly concerned about his ability to perform. Can he convince anyone to hire him? Can he do an excellent job? Can he be sure that his work will garner respect? Can he please his wife?

A man’s confidence is tied very tightly to his role. If a man endures a public failure in a matter that is known to be outside his role and skillset, he could very well take it as an average embarassment, and that’s all. If the failure isn’t a moral one, and if it doesn’t show an inability to do what a good man oes, a man’s confidence can still be okay.

In a case when a man does well at something meaningful, but his performance is ridiculed, his self-esteem will take a hit because he realizes he isn’t valued regardless of his performance. His confidence, however, could still possibly be okay because he can look at his work, and know that he did, and still can, perform and be a valuable man that can succeed. There’s a lot of room for worldly vanity, but I think confidence and satisfaction of success is something likely put there by God. Adam was given charge of the garden and the animals. I think Adam had a need to do what was excellent. No, I can’t really prove that.

On the other hand, when esteem is hammered from the beginning when he was a boy… when motivation is shot to hell and energy is something that comes from an oil field… when your only way to cope is to self-sabotage so you don’t spend yourself persuing excellence only to then have punishment piled on top anyway… There are a lot of ways for a boy to have all his perception of his masculinity and capability turned into a big pile of manure that he hates more than anyone else possibly could. And when he wants to recover, can he look back and see success and ability and regain confidence? If the trauma began as a boy, there will be enormous obstacles.

As a kid, people expect some failure and offer encouragement and correction. As a man with a family, they don’t understand and rarely have any intention of allowing for the growth that is needed, even if they are kind. I really can’t blame people for not taking a chance on me. I might fizzle out and fail with no good reason. That has happened to me once in particular when panic attacks and anxiety flattened me in a way I thought couldn’t happen to me. The result is that I gained the disrespect of someone who was trying to give me a fighting chance.

It causes some pretty deep shame. I’ve read some things about shame, but never saw anything about how to overcome this as of yet — especially from a christian perspective.


10 thoughts on “Confidence and Failure –Why Abused Men Can Have Such a Bleak Outlook

  1. SITR Admin says:

    It is very interesting to read a man’s perspective on this issue. It’s also understandable that a woman would confuse confidence with self-esteem, but you’ve clarified that keenly. As for recovering from shame and this is from a practical approach, the only thing I’ve known for it is time – and not dwelling in it.

    You seem almost too analytical in over thinking your place in manhood and the mistakes you make in tying to attain some manly perfection. Your level of aspired to perfection seems unrealistic in that no one is ever that perfect. I do think too often men are put under undue pressures of performance in having to be responsible for perfecting themselves as well as a perfect life for those around them. If I had to guess and of course I am only guessing, it seems you had such a high admiration for someone influential in your life that you’re spinning your wheels trying to be that good of an imperial man-vision, too?

    There are a lot of things we wish we’d done differently and some we feel openly shamed by. The only recourse is to take the lessons those incidents teach us into the next situation and improve how we react to it. When we do that, the shame lifts. As someone who also seems to find writing a therapeutic tool, dig into yourself and write about everything associated with an incident of shame: what was it’s source; what did you do you shouldn’t have done or didn’t do that you should’ve; how would you view someone else making that same mistake, with leniency or harsh criticism; was it an innocent mistake of judgment or a deliberately mean or calculated one?

    Through this you’ll come to realize whether you should feel shame. Example: I’d had a sequence of bad relationships and harshly blamed myself, knowing that surely something must be wrong with me because I was the common denominator. When I dug into my soul (literally) and worked through them honestly, I realized, yes, it was me. But my consistent failure was placing trust in people who shouldn’t be trusted. This was actually an admirable personality trait with valuable insights. It didn’t matter anymore if anyone understood, I did.

    God bless you in your journey. Look more closely at those who are the subject of your self-imposed shame. You can only be responsible for your behaviors, not anyone else’s. That’s just a fact.


    • Thank you for your comment!

      It will take some time to digest what you’ve written. Not because it’s difficult to understand… I just want to consider it carefully.

      One thing you got right is my habit of analyzing everything — often too much. The masculinity aspect is the focus for two reasons. First, it has been difficult to find resources that serve men well. The second is that I was emasculated from the time I was a boy. It is something I want to understand well, and not just follow shallow stereotypes. I may be over-analyzing, but I’d rather be moving on this and adjust along the way than stand still, which is a temptation.

      Regarding the “imperial man” and matching the perfection of a model from my past, I don’t think that is it. I was criticized relentlessly as a boy, and even as a husband, the things that are broken in my marriage prompted my habit of trying to talk, reconcile, explain… It never worked, but I’ve spent a lot of time trying to explain the basic, obvious things about love and life to someone who didn’t care to admit that she didn’t care.

      I want to be a good man. I want to live in a way that pleases God. Other people who say they love God have undermined me and my marriage. I keep trying to explain to them too, but they aren’t interested in truly understanding the situation. They are happy to use stereotypes.

      Well, I’m rambling now. Anyway, thank you again for your comment, especially regarding shame.

      Liked by 1 person

      • SITR Admin says:

        Thanks for correcting my wrong assumptions. I am very sorry for what you suffered but you’re right, climbing out of that is the objective now. You seem to understand you didn’t deserve it (?) and if so that’s a great foundation for moving forward.

        Simply by wanting to be a good man and striving for Godliness speaks to the fact that you are a good man. The desire is more than many men have the courage to admit or seek, so give yourself credit for that.

        Ehhhh, the wonderful Christians that so disappoint us, sometimes so self-righteously it’s hard to fathom. That should point to how unrealistic some of what you expect of yourself might be. I love God and there are truly good, Godly people … but when I come across those who betray His values, I steer clear of them even when it hurts; even when it seems they should have some rightful place in my life.

        I don’t know how old you are but I’m guessing relatively young. Maybe it’s a result of youth or perhaps it’s simply your personality, but someone who constantly rolls-over in a relationship, because they need to be accepted more than they need to be respected, can be seen as overly dependent, unattractive, unmanly, if not tiringly burdensome. That’s a trait most young women are not attracted to or they’re attracted to it for all the wrong reasons, regardless of the good man beneath. (Most young woman are their own worst enemies.) Your world will open to better people & possibilities as you learn to respect yourself; as you learn to set your own boundaries of acceptable. Being too dependent on or tolerant of others’ dling that for you leaves a wide-open vulnerability that makes it almost animalistic for others to instinctively take advantage of. Your struggle to overcome that is certainly a worthy one.

        I found it refreshing that a man would/could be so open about his feelings. I wish more were. But there are times & places to do that – and there are time & places not to. Disciplining oneself to know the difference is a key component to fitting into the good man-skin you so seek (operative word being ‘man’). Thanks for taking my replies to heart. I hope they somehow help.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have loved two men in my life who were abused, as you describe, as children. They each tried to overcome it in their own way, neither was successful. They are both in their 60’s, and still struggle.

    I discovered Brene Brown. Her TED talk on vulnerabiility described to me exactly what happened to both of them. I figured out how to help my own son heal from his father’s abuse, but I could help neither man I loved to recover from theirs. I wished I could have.

    I know that the light that shines in all of us, shines in them too. I can see it. They cannot. Nor do they even believe it is there. This isn’t a Christian perspective, I think it’s a universal perspective.

    I wish you healing, love and light. The road is hard, and who knows what anyone’s soul’s journey is. I thank you for your perspective, which gives me more understanding of the affect of abuse on the men I loved, and love.


  3. MJ says:

    For good reading on shame, I would suggest Brene Brown. She has the unusual niche of being a ‘shame researcher’. There isn’t one bad thing that she’s written, and you’ll find her online giving at least on Ted talk. Also, for a Christian perspective, I would suggest Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. Shame features heavily in his work. It’s tough to find good material from the Christian perspective on shame because shame features so strongly within Christian theology. It doesn’t have to, but it does. So, people are left not knowing what to do with it. From a Jewish perspective, it needn’t exist at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen one or two of Brene Brown’s Ted talks… Brennan Manning, however, I’ve never heard of. I’ll have to look him up.

      I do believe in Jesus, and scripture is very important to me, but I tend to have a view that is enigmatic to most Christians. The more I read the Bible, the more I am convinced that God doesn’t change. Most Christians have heard that Jesus was the Messiah, but they have very little depth of knowledge about what that means. That isn’t an insult, it just isn’t their focus.

      Anyway, back on topic, Adam and Eve hid from God because of their shame. I think it’s there in both O.T. and N.T., but the way it is handled in Christian circles generally has more to do with their cultural understanding than scripture.

      What the Bible teaches about healing *toxic* shame is still unclear to me. I’m sure it is connected to His mercy and lovingkindness. I’m also certain that sometimes He doesn’t tell us everything, like how to cure cancer or colds. Either way, the answer is out there to be found. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to seek it out. (Rough quote) I’m no king, but I’m still hunting.

      Thank you for your comment and the resource pointers!


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