When we think of men we think strong, muscular, and tough, among other “masculine” adjectives that the patriarchy has crafted. This idea of a man isn’t any different for men in recovery. However, trying to treat an addiction problem is problematic with this preconceived notion of what a man should be. And, to be honest, it’s not just a notion. We actually live these beliefs. It’s a cultural script that men aren’t even aware they’re participating in because we’re taught that this is what a man is.
Because of this cultural script of masculinity, men sometimes find it difficult to deal with other men in recovery, especially during residential treatment.
Testosterone and Aggression
The theory that men are more aggressive than women is not just a stereotype of the cultural script. Men have higher testosterone levels than women. And testosterone has been linked to aggressive and competitive behavior. In many species, males have evolved to foster competitive behavioral traits in order to gain resources like mates and security. For human males, that translates to social status and sexual partners. Men naturally assert this competitive behavior over other men. So, living with multiple other men in a residential treatment center can lead to problems that arise from such competitive behavior.
What to Do:
Your recovery is unique to you. It may seem natural to compare yourself to the other men around you, but it’s futile. Try to remember that you’re all getting help for a serious problem. That’s what matters, not where you came from or what you’ve done. Step outside and get some space if the aggression gets to be too much. Open air prompts an open mind. The space also makes it harder for your body to sense the physiological signals that other men release. You can also try harmless games like cards or basketball. A little friendly competition can help release aggressive energy in a positive way.
Testosterone and Criminal Behavior
The idea that men have evolved to develop competitive traits to gain resources is actually called the Evolutionary Neuroandrogenic Theory*. The evolutionary component of this theory explains that humans perform exchanges to acquire resources along a continuum. At one end are non-threatening exchanges, like buying groceries. At the other end are victimized exchanges, like assault and robbery. Criminal behavior comes into play at the latter end.
Addicts have a tendency to stay on the victimized end of the scale because, in their minds, survival revolves around their drug of choice. Addicts seeking treatment will bring this mindset with them into recovery, essentially bringing “the street.” One of the goals of addiction treatment is to amend this mindset and the habits that go along with it.
* Read an expanded explanation of the Evolutionary Neuroandrogenic Theory here.
What to Do:
It may seem unnatural and even “unmanly” to participate in some recovery practices, such as sharing feelings. But the activity will help to break up the manifestation of testosterone-driven harmful behaviors. Keep an open mind and participate honestly. The process will help both you and the other men around you.