I was driving down the street to my office the other day and came to a stop at a red light behind a pickup truck. Pickup trucks are everywhere in Colorado, but this particular truck caught my attention because of its decoration. The driver, I noticed, had both a personalized “Purple Heart” license plate and one of those ribbon magnets indicating that he was a Purple Heart recipient.
I had several reactions. Initially I felt ashamed for not knowing exactly what it meant to get a Purple Heart, though a later Googling proved my guess correct (it denotes being wounded in battle). But a few minutes later, as I continued toward the office, it struck me how proud this individual must be that he or she earned such an award to display it so prominently. I say “he or she” now in retrospect, but to be honest I jumped to the conclusion that it was a man driving the truck. Not necessarily true, but that assumption drives the rest of this post and thus must be admitted.
I got to thinking about men and their acknowledgment or denial of pride. It feels like men struggle with feeling proud in an appropriate way; most either ignore or awkwardly receive praise, or flaunt achievements in an off-putting show of bravado. I’ve met few men, myself included, that feel comfortable in their own pride. I think this may be reflective of the growing-up situation that many men experience, which is often characterized by parents who either withhold praise, become critical or ignore when a boy voices his need for praise, or both. Men grow up unsure of how to ask for or receive praise.
In my therapy practice in Fort Collins, I often work with guys on how to feel proud in a healthy way, not rejecting or flaunting it but embracing it without shame. I also see it come up time and again in my men’s therapy group. Many times this work entails processing some unmet needs in the father-son relationship. It can also involve challenging beliefs that men hold about what it means to show pride. Whatever the path, learning to feel pride in a healthy way is important for all of us in helping build and maintain self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth.