Is he a jerk or is he just anxious?

(Fotolia)

(Fotolia)

Simone Paget, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:35 PM ET

He’s emotionally distant. He’s selfish. He’s completely oblivious to your feelings.

We’ve all met that guy or in some cases, have been that guy. Everything about him says “jerk” with capital J, but is it possible that he’s just angst-ridden?

Earlier this year, Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, released My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, a book that chronicles his lifelong struggle with anxiety. My Age of Anxiety is part of a growing trend of male anxiety memoirs - which include Daniel Smith’s recent bestseller Monkey Mind: a Memoir of Anxiety - that are changing the way we think about men, mental health and romantic relationships.

As it turns out, men are just as anxious as women - they just haven’t had the opportunity to talk about it - until now. Throughout history, men have been expected to play the role of breadwinners and protectors. As Stossel describes, many men grow up associating feelings of anxiety with weakness.

Therefore, men who suffer from anxiety are burdened with a double stigma: Not only do they have a mental illness, it’s one that’s long been deemed “unmanly.” Add in an uncertain economic climate, shifting gender roles and the fact that men aren’t encouraged to talk about mental health issues, and you have a lot of guys who are nervous wrecks (and rightfully so).

As Mark Epstein, M.D., a therapist and author of The Trauma of Everyday Life notes, it’s not uncommon for men to attempt to blot out their anxiety with alcohol or other destructive habits which wreak havoc on sleep and relationships, inevitably leading to more anxiety, boorishness and a fuelling of a toxic cycle. Does any of this sound familiar?

As Smith writes, “In love, an anxious person becomes a persecutor as well as a masochist.” They don’t intend to hurt their beloved, but “In love, anxiety takes victims.” As someone who also suffers from anxiety, I can relate. When you’re chronically anxious, the urge to push people away while simultaneously pull them down with you (“how else will they know how I’m feeling!”) is strong. Even if you have a really patient partner, this can challenge your relationship.

Reading about Stossel and Smith’s romantic failures - like the time Smith blurted out to the love of his life, “I don’t think I…. love you anymore,” was equal parts like looking in the mirror and taking a trip down memory lane, recalling every emotionally distant guy I dated in my 20’s.

At the time I thought they were selfish. However under that facade maybe they were hurting too.

This isn’t to say that mental health should be used as a scapegoat for treating people poorly; we all need to take responsibility for our actions. Make fewer excuses and create more dialogue. After all, we’re in this together.


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