Tough Guy Clichés That Mask Men’s Vulnerabilities

Tom Matlack gives insight into the tough guy clichés.

masculine man facing the camera next to a rugby player  miodrag ignjatovic from Getty Images Signature, A's Images via Canva

Most guys wear emotional body armor.  

They talk a big game, especially with each other — but the tougher they seem, the more adamant they are about their toughness, the weaker they usually are.  

Paradoxically, what traditional masculinity says is weak — showing your emotions and being willing to ask for help and support — is actually what makes us strong. The emotionally strong man is the one who shares his vulnerabilities freely.


As a man who has done a lot of work on myself (and still doing it!), I want to share a few "tells" that show a guy is trying to cover up and deny his vulnerability — clichéd"manly" behaviors that actually keep some men trapped in an emotional prison. 

RELATED: 7 Examples Of Healthy Masculinity In Relationships


6 signs a man is overcompensating to prove his "toughness" (and is likely feeling weak inside)

1. Bragging about money or professional success 

Listen to a cocktail party and you will often hear men explicitly talking, or implying, how much money they have.  This is no more than a bunch of insecure guys trying to establish dominance so no one finds out how insecure they are.  The strong man never talks about money. 

2. Misplaced anger

If a guy is raging at a person, idea, or even telling a story it’s a sure sign they are afraid.  The biggest problem in our country for men is isolation and depression.  Lonely, isolated men get angry.  Strong men show love and compassion, even for their enemies. 

3. In-your-face physical prowess

 When you see a guy all jacked up or running his mouth about his latest Iron Man it’s a sure sign that he is compensating.  What drives so many middle-aged low-level male athletes to take steroids?  Fear.  A Strong man enjoyed moving his body for fun and health not to show off. 

4. Bragging coarsely about his intimate or romantic interactions

It still shocks me how many men feel the need to kiss and tell, even when cheating on their wives.  One man I know recently made an obscene comment about a woman to me as we left lunch. It made my stomach turn.  


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But I'm not just angry at him. I also feel sorry for him. An emotionally strong man enjoys the intimacy of his marriage and relationships and knows that it’s all about making your partner happy — not proving your manhood or having something to boast about.

5. Anything that whiffs of living forever or staying young

The idea that we are or can be immortal is a sure sign of overwrought ego and weakness.  I knew a guy who started a company that claimed to have isolated a natural element that extended life and vitality. He had all the wealthiest guys asking for the supplement and popping it like candy.

Yes, everyone wants to stay healthy and that is a good thing, but the emotionally strong man accepts and relishes the aging process, embracing the benefits of growing older and the natural process of life and death. 


6. He acts like he thinks he is God

He believes he is above the law, above respecting others, and above responsibility for his choices. This man knows deep down that he is not God, that he is not the end-all-be-all, but on the surface, he is great at tricking himself into believing he's above everything else. Even his emotions. 

Trouble often ensues with men like these.

Strength is the humility to know no human being is God. Manhood and the human will cannot roll rocks uphill. The beauty in life is to weep at the process, feeling it fully and hiding nothing. Plenty of men want other men to feel healthy and whole, to experience real strength.


Beware of the guy who acts like this type of healing isn't the true show of emotional strength

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Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children.