Knowing what influences the male ego can help you understand how to deal with it.
We all have egos.
Literally meaning “I” in Latin, your ego is the internal sense of self-esteem and pride that helps you feel good about who you are. Its presence and strength are determined by a combination of:
- internal factors: thoughts, emotions, needs
- external factors: environment, the reaction of others to you, social influences
And our egos can get wounded.
Many in society have characterized the male ego in one way — large and fragile — no matter the man they’re referring to. But this isn’t true.
While some men do have fragile egos or low self-efficacy, others can have strong egos or moderate or high self-efficacy.
But the construct and durability of male egos are different for each male, meaning that what affects them and how they’re affected differs from person to person.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms assigned at birth. But gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.
The term “male ego” connotes a judgmental type of superiority with a need to show off, constantly striving to impress (women) and outdo others (especially other men).
We’re told that men with big egos are easily wounded and that the more powerful the man, the larger and more fragile his ego.
But is this true?
It’s a complicated question, but for the most part — not necessarily.
The male ego can in some cases be tied to how and where a man sees his place in the world and whether he’s living up to expectations — his and those of society.
Cultural stereotypes for men can be intricately tied to both the inflation and deflation of the male ego. Some men measure themselves by the answers to the following questions:
- Am I strong enough?
- Am I wealthy enough?
- Do I meet the traditional definition of masculinity?
- Do I attract women?
- Do I control things or people?
- Do people recognize me for these things and am I respected and revered for them?
Some men may use these questions to determine whether they feel good (healthy ego) or poorly about themselves (wounded ego), which may result in a need to exaggerate their self-efficacy and the development of their ego.
So, how did some men come to have egos so precariously balanced on the status and opinions of others?
The nature of the male ego has social, psychological, and biological roots.
One of the largest influences on the male ego is traditional gender roles. While these roles are becoming antiquated and fading away to new ideals, they’re still powerful factors.
These roles initially grew from the need to leverage the biological differences between men and women in the most productive way to ensure survival.
While the roles themselves aren’t an issue, the power differences set around them by society have been difficult to change.
So, the notion that men are to behave a certain way or have specific characteristics still persists and strongly influences the male ego.
For example, men are supposed to be
- in charge
- take care of the family
- bear the responsibility for the livelihood of the family
But it’s not the only thing.
Additionally, many men have trouble showing certain emotions — including anxiety and sadness. For instance, it’s long been said that “men don’t cry.”
They do and they’re no less masculine for it either.
Learning how to deal with the male ego can be crucial to having and maintaining a healthy relationship. This means understanding how it evolved for the man or men in your life and how to help them reframe how they measure their own value.
Consider these tips when dealing with a male ego:
- Look at the larger picture: Is the problem with this particular man or what’s influenced him to this point?
- Help him see his behavior through your eyes: If he acts superior, disrespectful, or sexist, consider having a conversation about the impact his actions and remarks can have on those around him.
- Let him know what you value in him: Try to focus on the internal, not external things such as money, appearance, job, etc. Helping him see his worth is measured by more than those things can be crucial.
- Be an active listener: If he’s stressed about something or feeling sad, try to listen actively and with empathy.
A man with an oversized ego can be difficult to take. But before you write him off, let’s debunk a few common misconceptions.
- The male ego bruises easily. Not always true, but can be in some cases. According to a 2013 study, some men subconsciously feel “worse about themselves” when their female partner succeeds in a situation where they may not have. In one experiment, men who believed their partner scored higher on a test had lower self-esteem than those who believed their partner scored lower. But more research is needed.
- A man with a big ego thinks he’s more intelligent than a woman: True, but not necessarily in connection with a man’s ego. A
2021 studyfound that males report higher intelligence and self-esteem — general and academic — than females. But they also found that females tend to underestimate in these areas, compared to men.
- Men don’t cry or get emotional: Not true. Some men may not know how to express their emotions, which can be painfully frustrating. A
2016 studydiscussed how women cry 2 to 4 times more often than men. But researchers note that several factors — such as personality, attachment style, culture, and mental health — may play a role in when and how frequently men cry.
- Big male ego = sexual prowess, bravery, strength: True, but this is partially a product of toxic masculinity rather than male ego. A
2020 studysuggests that toxic masculinity can create the belief that men should behave in a certain way, such as showing toughness — mentally and physically.
Knowing what’s behind these myths can help when you’re trying to navigate the male ego.
Everyone has an ego. Whether it’s a healthy one or not should be the focus. The ego can be influenced by several factors, such as age, gender, and culture.
The male ego can be heavily influenced by society’s norms in some cases.
Connecting self-worth to emotions and meaningful attributes is what makes an ego healthy.
You can help by being understanding, empathetic, and helping to reframe a man’s ability to self-evaluate in a healthy manner.
Ego is something we all have and need. Monitoring and managing it is important. With the right understanding and perspective, the male ego can stay healthy and in balance.