Embracing Masculine Vulnerability: A Q&A with Lewis Howes

Savvy Psychologist and author Lewis Howes discuss masculine vulnerability: why it can be both terrifying but necessary.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
12-minute read
Episode #180

masculine vulnerability

Today we're talking to podcaster, author, athlete, and entrepreneur Lewis Howes about an unlikely, but very timely, topic: masculine vulnerability. Lewis Howes is the New York Times bestselling author of the The School of Greatness and hosts the Top 100 iTunes ranked podcast of the same name. Lewis was recognized by the White House and President Obama as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30, and Details magazine called him one of “five internet gurus that can make you rich.” His newest book, which we’ll talk about today, is The Mask of Masculinity.

In the interview below, Lewis discusses:

  • Why "masks of masculinity" help men all over the world survive, but also keep them in an emotional prison
  • How opening up about a childhood trauma was one of the hardest, but also one of the most valuable, things Lewis has ever done
  • How men are starving for support and community
  • What words can help set up a vulnerable disclosure to your family and friends
  • How leading with vulnerability is terrifying but ultimately rewarding
  • How practicing vulnerability gets easier with time and practice
  • How he motivates on the days he doesn't feel like being disciplined

Lewis Howes on the Masks of Masculinity

EH: Lewis, welcome to the show and thank you so much for being here.

LH: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

EH: Absolutely! So, your newest book is titled The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships and Live Their Fullest Lives. This was a surprising topic to many people, especially coming from a former professional football player! So why start a conversation about masculine vulnerability?

LH: Because it's the most important thing in our world right now. Not many white jock men are talking about these topics openly, expressing their opinions, and talking about being raped as a kid by a man they didn't know. Not many men are talking about the insecurities, pressures, fears, and vulnerabilities that most men think they're not allowed to talk about.

It's been conditioned that it's not okay to show emotion. It's not okay to reveal the things that have happened to you in the past because that makes you a weak human being. It makes you less than a man. It makes you any type of name that kids are called all the time in school for doing anything that is compassionate, giving, caring, or empathetic. That type of conditioning is hard to break in men, especially if it's something that they've faced for decades.

For me, at thirty, I finally opened up about being sexually abused for the first time. Every single day, it was on my mind. A lot of my decisions up to that point were reactions based on feeling taken advantage of, feeling abused, feeling made fun of constantly. So I built my persona up to fit in, be accepted, be loved and liked by people, as opposed to feeling a sense of abandonment or abuse or being taken advantage of.

When I started to talk about this four years ago, I talked about it with my family one by one, and then friends. Both were terrifying in their own way, because, I thought, “What if they don't accept me anymore?” But then I was heavily encouraged to talk about it openly and publicly on my podcast and I was terrified to do that, because, I thought, “What if my audience didn't accept me anymore?”

mask of masculinity book by lewis howes

But when I did, I found it was the most popular episode I'd ever done. And more than just popularity, it was the most impactful thing I'd ever done. Hundreds of men emailed me and said, "Thank you for giving me permission to tell my wife. I've been married for 20 years; she doesn't know what happened to me. My kids don't know, my family doesn't know, my friends don't know. I've been terrified. I feel like I've been living in a prison in my heart my entire life because of these things that I'm not able to share."

So then I started to dive into the research. I started with my uneducated theory from my own personal experience and started doing a lot more research.

Psychologists have been studying this for decades, about development of boys in school, to teen boys, to adult men, to men who are in prison. These are outlets. When our energy is manifested, internalized, and we're not able to express ourselves in healthier forms—because that is deemed less of a man for whatever reason—then it manifests in other ways, and these masks, what I like to call these "masks of masculinity," help us fit into society, to be accepted, to be loved, and to belong.

The challenge is, when we are constantly putting on a mask, we're never our truest selves, and therefore we resent ourselves even more and we resent the people around us because they're not accepting us for who we are and we're not even showing who we are to them. It's really challenging, because we want to belong, as you know, as a psychologist. We want to belong, we want to fit in, we want to be accepted.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.