top of page

The Quiet Killer...Hypoxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity's corrosive impact on society is well covered in all corners of contemporary media. Toxic masculinity shuts down discussion, kills curiosity, chokes intimacy and rules by fear. Toxic masculinity is not relational. It is a red-faced shout in the face with spit, and it is wrong. I believe, however, that a more prevalent problem in long-term human relationships is something I'll call "Hypoxic Masculinity," and it will slowly deny the relationship the elements necessary for intimacy. Hypoxia is a biological term, defined as "deficiency of oxygen in biotic environments." In relational terms, hypoxia is deficiency in emotional energy in a relational environment. The emotionally hypoxic man is common.

The feelings in our bodies we equate with fear are a powerful pieces of data, which inform us about safe ways of being. Our neurological system sets itself to "high" (hyperarousal) or "low" (hypoarousal) in childhood, whichever is the most survivable setting (Siegel). Some men who experienced difficult or traumatic childhoods may have discovered that, to survive, it is best to freeze or fawn, rather than engage, fight or defend. (It is the fighting and defending that may be more representative of toxic masculinity.) What is adaptive in childhood becomes maladaptive in adulthood. Hypoxic men repeat past emotional scripts and feel they must avoid, stonewall or remain silent as a way to quell the foundational feelings which accompany conflict. Conflict is frequently felt as negative/bad/fearful. These bad feelings and their adjacent behaviors, comes the experience of never managing a conflict, which accumulates as a plaque in the relationship's relational pathways, resulting in hurts, resentments and emotional distance. The truth is, the relationship repaired after conflict becomes stronger and more resilient. Repair rarely happens in the relationships of hypoxic men.

Identification, acknowledgement, curiosity and behavioral change through practice will help the hypoxic man learn new ways to turn toward their partner and manage conflicts that naturally arise in every relationship. Success in managing open emotional pathways encourages more engaged behaviors. Ownership without shame of one's default setting of hypoarousal will help to make it an option one doesn't want to take.

As I frequently say to couple clients in my office, the dynamic of a relationship is the crossing of the streams of both partners' energies. Changes one partner makes will create a new dynamic for both partners to figure out. Exciting? Yes! Scary? Yes! But aren't so many scary things also exciting? The unknown is often both.

2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

"You Don't Tell Me How You Feel"

In a recent couples session, one client said to their male partner, "You are always telling me what you think, but never tell me how you feel." It was a significant moment that gave him pause...and i

Do Hard Shit On Purpose Every Day

We are emerging from the safest places we could find to exist during the COVID-19 pandemic. A year and a half ago we learned our worlds would need to change drastically. Working in person from the j

So, You're a Narcissist

You only think about yourself. You only talk about yourself. When you have a chance to listen to your partner talk about their day, you think, "Blah, blah blah...when will I get to talk?" You have


bottom of page