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How Toxic Masculinity Affected My Career

Written by: Alec Jiggins, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


I grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s. Toxic masculinity ruled. Male role models such as actors and sports personalities didn’t show emotions (remember, it’s Britain – all stiff upper lip and no high fives). Popular television shows such as The Benny Hill Show had middle-aged men chasing younger women around, slapping their behinds, peering down their cleavage; the best-selling daily tabloid newspapers featured topless women on page 3! I should know – my father brought it home with him every night, as did over 5 million other people. It was inescapable, it permeated every aspect of my childhood.

portrait unhappy furious businessman open mouth and shouting

Growing up surrounded by emotionally insecure and immature men, including my father, reinforced toxic masculinity with phrases such as “man up” when I cried. I remember being physically bullied at school by three older boys, and when I reported it to the deputy headteacher in charge of discipline, he told me to go back and hit them. Such role models had a significant impact on my relationships with male figures in positions of authority, such as my teachers at school. A blend of respect and fear kept my behaviour in check. I didn’t spot this pattern in my professional life until it led to conflict with my male bosses, time and time again.

So, what was it? Growing up in this environment, where I couldn’t express my emotions to any male role model, constantly being told to “man up”, affected my ability to trust and communicate effectively with male supervisors. I started working in London as a journalist when I was 18 – talk about a target-rich environment for toxic masculinity stereotypes. It was either play along or get left behind. I tried to become someone I am not, to fit in, but it ground me down. Aged 21, I started counselling. My counsellor, Mike, was the first man that I could speak to about my feelings – and he had to wait several months listening to banal banter before I could even do that. I am so grateful for his patience.

My father, while not neglectful or abusive, who loves me dearly (and I him), struggled with expressing his emotions and being responsive to my attempts to communicate mine. This created an environment in which I often felt unsupported and unsure of how to navigate conflicts or problems. As a result, I developed a tendency to avoid confrontation and struggle to assert myself in situations where I felt unsupported. Combine that with the respect/fear of authority figures, and I became emotionally isolated.

These patterns carried over into my professional life, where I found myself struggling to form healthy relationships with male bosses. My first editor reminded me of my dad, as did the second, the third… I would look for similarities they shared, and that was it. Looking back, it is surprising that my career flourished. I got promoted, one boss even nominated me for an award. But, despite their evident support and belief in my abilities (and that includes my dad), I would slowly sabotage the relationship and my career. After a whirlwind of 6 years as a journalist, I was the features editor on my favourite magazine (one I still buy today). But the clock on my emotional time bomb was fast approaching 0 and, predictably, I went “boom”. I quit. I felt driven to change careers. I chose to become a teacher, so that I could become a role model and inspiration for others.

In my new career, I rose rapidly. Promoted in my first year to middle leadership, in my fifth year to senior level, and after 10 years to the executive level. But, all the way, my relationships with male bosses were difficult. I would find myself holding back from sharing my thoughts and ideas, and I was quick to second-guess myself in situations where I feel unsupported.

My childhood experiences of toxic masculinity made it difficult for me to trust male authority figures. I was wary of their intentions and struggled to believe that they had my best interests at heart. This made it difficult to build strong working relationships. One boss, who is still a mentor to this day, recommended I hire a coach. The first month of working together with Mario was transformational, like having a blindfold removed and seeing myself clearly for the first time.

The effects of growing up and feeling that you cannot express your feelings can become deep-rooted and wired into your behaviours, making them challenging to overcome. It is important to recognize the impact they have on our relationships and to actively work on building trust and effective communication. Aside from coaching, there are several strategies that can help.

  • Self-reflection: Reflecting on your childhood experiences and how they may be impacting your current relationships can be an important step in understanding and overcoming the problems associated with growing up with an emotionally immature father. Journaling or talking with a trusted friend or family member can be helpful in this process.

  • Developing trust: Building trust in male authority figures can be difficult if you grew up with an emotionally immature father, but it is important for career progression. Actively seek out positive role models, build relationships with co-workers, and learn to communicate effectively with supervisors.

  • Assertiveness training: Assertiveness training can help you learn how to communicate effectively, set boundaries, and advocate for yourself in the workplace. This can be done through workshops, classes, or individual coaching. I help my clients with this.

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, yoga, or journaling can help you develop emotional regulation, focus and perspective. My practice was transformed after a 10-day silent meditation retreat – it was harder than I expected, but totally worth it.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the impact of your childhood experiences on your adult relationships and to actively work on building trust and effective communication. Call me if you’d like help with that.

Connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and visit my website.


Alec Jiggins, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alec Jiggins is an award-winning executive and leadership coach, a global associate with Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centred Coaching and the Global Coach Group. Alec's mission is to change the world, one leader at a time. His motto is "Love, Live, Lead" and he works with executives on leading authentically, confidently, from the heart. Alec has lived and worked in 7 countries and three continents in a range of industries and roles, taking one startup to $6 million in turnover and breakeven within 18 months.



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