Exploring The Impact Of Masking Emotions On Men’s Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated June 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Instilled in many boys from an early age is the idea of traditional masculinity, the socially acceptable ways to act, think, and behave. One of the most prominent tenets of this ideology is the idea that “men should not have emotional problems.” Very early on, many boys learn to mask — that is, to camouflage their natural behaviors to conform to societal expectations. This article will explore why some men tend to mask their emotions, how it can be detrimental to their mental health, and how men can challenge traditional standards by seeking support.


How Traditional Masculinity Differs From Toxic Masculinity

Though very similar to traditional masculinity, toxic masculinity is a more recent term that refers to the more exaggerated and aggressive behaviors that might stem from traditional masculinity. Toxic masculinity perpetuates qualities like domination, abuse of power, homophobia, and aggression as “manliness.”

Toxic masculinity is still present in our society, and it can be important to be aware of it. As a man, it might be empowering to learn that masculinity does not need to be defined by these few traits. It might also be informative to recognize and release toxic patterns you may have adopted due to social pressures associated with being a man.

Masking emotions on the autism spectrum

Toxic masculinity isn’t the only thing that might cause a man to mask emotions. Masking emotions is also a common behavior seen in autistic people and those on the autism spectrum that involves suppressing or altering facial expressions, which can exacerbate mental health issues by hindering authentic emotional expression and social interaction. 

Understanding the impact of masking on both mental health issues and social dynamics is crucial for creating supportive environments that accommodate diverse emotional expressions.

Common Effects Of Traditional Masculinity And Toxic Masculinity

Research examining the impact of traditional masculinity suggests that men typically adhere to the ideas that the ideology perpetuates. Pressure to follow these norms greatly impacts most men and boys at some point in their lives.

The harmful aspects of traditional masculinity ideology can include the following:

  • Limited psychological development.

  • Constrained behavior.

  • Gender role strain and conflict.

  • Attachment insecurities.

  • Violence toward gender- and sexually-diverse people.

  • Strained intimacy in relationships.

  • Risky sexual behaviors.

  • Lack of intimacy.

  • Emotional repression.

Traditional masculinity often equates “manliness,” a relative term, with narrow stereotypes that leave little room for personal expression. Having internalized what is considered “not manly enough,” men are often driven to participate in whatever is deemed “manly” in an effort to avoid social rejection or isolation. This voluntary conformity to prescriptive social norms is an example of masking.

Contrary to societal beliefs, emotions are healthy — for men, too. When a man realizes this, he can begin to embrace his emotions and even learn to find them empowering.

The Impact Of Masking Emotions On Mental Health

Complex emotionality makes humans unique and enables us to interact and connect with others. Emotions can be incredibly important when it comes to understanding ourselves and others on a deeper level, making decisions that align with our values, and connecting to our needs to avoid burnout. Releasing negative emotions in a productive way allows us to free ourselves from them. 

When men suppress their emotions, they might experience several consequences, including the development of mental health disorders. A 2010 study performed on men suggests that when they are under high levels of stress, the regions of their brain associated with emotionality become less effective typically because they have not often engaged healthier coping mechanisms.

Masking may cause suppressed emotions to intensify over time, which tends to make them harder to control. Continuing this habit can result in a breakdown in which everything spills out at once. Suppressing emotions can lead to depression and anxiety, but for men especially, it can increase the risk of suicide.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for 24/7 support.

How Men Might Express Mental Health Concerns Differently


There are many personal and societal barriers that may hinder men from expressing themselves. Rather than being openly vulnerable, men might prefer to reveal mental health concerns in other ways. It is possible for these to include:

  • Aggression and violence

  • High-risk activities

  • Substance misuse

Additionally, when facing mental health concerns, men may experience the following side effects of emotional suppression:

  • Physical issues, such as chronic headaches or stomachaches

  • Feelings of restlessness and difficulty focusing

  • Appetite and weight changes

  • Obsessive thinking

If you or a loved one is exhibiting or experiencing any of the symptoms noted above, seeking help from a licensed therapist can help you minimize those symptoms and figure out a treatment plan that is right for you.

Why Men May Avoid Help-Seeking

Even though asking for help can be a sign of strength, men might sense a stereotype-driven pressure to fix their problems on their own. Men may be reluctant or uncomfortable asking for help because they:

  • Consider themselves a burden. Because men are often conditioned to appear emotionally impenetrable, they may not want to risk being seen as needy or burdensome to their friends and family. Therefore, they might avoid confiding their issues to someone else and decide to solve their problems in secret. 

  • Prefer to avoid confrontation. Men may prefer not to confront their emotions because acknowledging them makes them real. Because many men have learned that they are not “supposed” to feel sadness or fear, they may avoid their problems altogether to prevent feelings of inadequacy. 

  • Think they will appear weak. Traditional masculinity holds that men “should” show consistent strength and power through any situation. Breaking that ideology by showing vulnerability could cause a man to worry about appearing weak and being deemed “less of a man” by peers. 

  • Fear vulnerability. Historically, men have frequently been told to “suck it up” or “get over it” when facing issues, which often leads them to dismiss their emotional problems as insignificant. This hinders many men from seeking the support they need.

  • Are unaware of how they are affected. Through common society influences, familial expectations, and peer dynamics, traditional masculinity is drilled into many men’s psyche from a very young age — from before the time their brains are fully developed. This level of conditioning can make it challenging to detect that this process can even cause mental health issues. Sometimes men simply do not recognize that they could benefit from external help.

Asking For Help As A Man

Asking for help can take some courage, and it is crucial for men to be encouraged to do so. Here are some tips that can support you in asking for help as a man:

  • Know that you are not alone. Many men refuse to acknowledge their problems or seek help because they believe their struggles are uncommon. The truth is that around 18% of men in the U.S. experience difficulties with their mental health — that is nearly one in five adult men. Of those with mental illnesses, 40% received mental health services in 2021.

  • Resist stigmatizing yourself. Be mindful of the socially invented stigma surrounding men and mental health. It is important to recognize that experiencing mental health issues does not make you less of a man; it makes you human.

  • Reach out when you are comfortable. Seeking help for the first time, especially as a man, can be intimidating. Practice patience with yourself and reach out to a trusted friend, family relatives, or professional when you are comfortable doing so. Remember that there is no rush or pressure — it is important for you to heal according to your own timeline. 

Online Therapy As A Resource For Men


Therapy can be a useful resource for processing emotions and solving problems, but you may be hesitant to step foot into a therapist’s office. If that sounds like you, you might consider connecting with a provider online.

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp allow you to carry out a treatment plan in secret according to your availability. Because you can meet with your therapist from anywhere you have internet, including your own home, you may find that online therapy provides you with a safe space to examine your thoughts, emotions, and feelings freely. Not having to mask your emotions with your therapist may contribute to more positive outcomes during sessions and trickle out into your everyday life.

Online therapy has been found to be effective in addressing various mental health concerns faced by men. For example, studies show that web-based therapy intervention is an effective treatment for adult depression. Men report . This is potentially attributable to the invisibility offered by online therapy, which might reduce the impact of the stigma surrounding therapy-seeking behaviors in men.

Further, in a study assessing a web-based intervention aimed specifically at men, researchers found “a statistically significant positive association” between participation in the program and professional help-seeking. The men who participated in the online intervention were more likely to seek professional help, including those who were likely to avoid help-seeking at all. 


Men and boys may mask their emotions due to society’s stigmas surrounding masculinity and mental health. They may have been conditioned to view help-seeking as a form of weakness and instead choose to work through problems on their own. Everyone needs support from time to time, and those who believe they cannot reach out for help may be more susceptible to poor mental health and other issues. Seeking professional support — whether it is for you or a loved one — can be instrumental in the healing process. Online therapy platforms cater to individuals from all backgrounds and can provide a safe, nonjudgmental environment for anyone going through a difficult period in life.
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