What are the most common male insecurities

Depth psychic dimensions of male socialization


In male socialization, there is a deep psychological mechanism of idolizing the male-strong and devaluing the female-weak, which is inherent in all boys and men in our culture and which has to be mastered depending on one's biographical ability and social environment. Despite the changed role models of masculinity and femininity, this mechanism is still effective, even if it is often hidden today. The following attempts to describe this deep psychological process along biographical stages - early childhood, puberty, adolescence and integration into adulthood. It becomes clear that it is mainly male group dynamics that repeatedly set this mechanism free.


In male socialization, a deep-psychological mechanism of the idolization of the masculine-strong and the devaluing of the feminine-weak, which is present in all boys and men in our culture and has to be mastered depending on biographical capability and social environment. Despite changing role models of masculinity and femininity, this mechanism continues to be effective, though often obscured today. In the following, an attempt is made to describe this depth-psychological process along biographical stages - early childhood, puberty, adolescence and integration into adulthood. It becomes clear that it is mainly male group dynamics that release this mechanism again and again.

In male socialization, there is a deep psychological mechanism of idolizing the male-strong and devaluing the female-weak, which is inherent in all boys and men in our culture and which has to be mastered depending on one's biographical ability and social environment. Despite the changed role models of masculinity and femininity, this mechanism is still effective, even if it is often hidden today. Under the current socio-political conditions, masculinity has become more flexible:

However, it seems questionable whether this change will also initiate fundamental changes in the gender relationship in family and couple relationships. (Koppetsch and Speck 2015, p. 235)

But: The two representative replication studies, the German (Volz and Zulehner 2009) and the Austrian from 2012 (BMASK 2014) show that the attitudes of men in the majority range have remained relatively resistant over the past 25 years. The majority type, from the pragmatic to the searching man, clearly predominates. The modern man is the modularized man who behaves socially and in terms of gender relations in different areas of life, or adaptively or strategically, but also continues to assure himself of his male identity and tries again and again to 'recharge' it in self-sought zones and niches. The recent trend towards remasculinization reinforces this development.

The boy sees the first picture of himself in his mother's eyes. In them he is reflected in the first two years after the birth, with her he connects security but also emotional power. But then comes the time when he has to detach himself from his mother in order to feel and present himself as an independent being. The girls also have to take this development step. With boys, however, there is also something crucial: They need a new reference figure in order to find their gender, which they now perceive in themselves, in their environment: the father or another male reference person. However, many fathers are not as present and accessible as would be necessary for intensive identification. The father research speaks of the "absent present" father. His relationship with the child is more external than the maternal one, even if he is attracted to the boy. In our society, mothers do the daily relationship work. This is shown by the statistics on parental leave and parental leave.

In our culture, boys - unlike girls - have to break away from the symbiotic security of their mother, from being one with her, at an early age in order to find orientation towards a male gender identity (cf. Benjamin 1990), and they are then also in puberty is confronted with a correspondingly different physical and mental dramaturgy of detachment:

The formulation of having to 'give up' the phantasm of being one with the mother must not be misunderstood. First of all, of course, it never disappears, but remains virulent as desire [...], and secondly, the prerequisite for successfully coping with this topic is the certainty that there is some kind of bond even in separation so that the child does not get out of the phantasm falls out into the abyss. (Rendtorff 2006, p. 95)

The search for male gender identity in early childhood is therefore first determined by the bond / detachment relationship with the mother and then by the desire for the “male” father (or a comparable male reference person) - competing with him and seeking him at the same time Preoedipal boys "urges the demarcation from the femininity of the mother and the related dependency relationship:

The son ultimately identifies with the father's masculinity, but also with his way of relating to femininity and the mother. (Dammasch 2011, p. 78)

For many boys, however, it is difficult to get through their father - or a similarly close male caregiver - the everyday identification they need in order to be able to grow into a holistic manhood that embodies both strengths and weaknesses. The fathers are not only spatially absent (for example through their professional role), but often also mentally when they are at home, but do not care much about domestic relationship work. This is mostly the responsibility of the mother, who shows the boy's strengths and Shows weaknesses. The weaknesses of the father and his daily needs of being a man - z. B. the exposure and the injuries at work - are seldom visible to the boy. This gives him a one-sided image of a father, which is reinforced by the 'strong' images of men that the boy perceives through the media with increasing age. This inevitably leads to Idolization of being a man and for devaluation of the emotional, weak, 'feminine', since he is less and less able to live out his own feminine emotional components, which he has had in him since the early childhood merging with his mother:

A boy who […] has lost access to his inner space becomes addicted to conquering outer spaces. (Benjamin 1990, p. 158)

Detour identification

The mother's daily intensity of attachment and the father's lack of everyday presence (cf. Huber 2018) make male gender identification more difficult for the little boy, which is not least due to the early physical discovery of his gender difference. Since the processes of identity development depend on the possibilities of Everyday identification are dependent, the mother, as an object of identification that is present in everyday life, inevitably moves into the focus of the child's search for male gender identity. The mother is mostly ambivalent here: on the one hand, she wants to see the son develop 'as a man', but on the other hand - beyond the mother-child relationship - she cannot allow a male gender relationship to the boy in her. The little boy feels that his mother encourages him to become a man and rejects him at the same time. In this ambivalent relationship constellation, the boy is dependent on a “detour identification” (Hagemann-White 1984, p. 90 ff.): Because the mother is the object of identification available on a daily basis:

Being a man is measured by what you see in yourself and the men around you - especially the penis in yourself, the masculine-dominant demeanor in the 'tall' men - and compared with what your mother has or not has. In this way the mother is recognized as a 'non-man'. The most succinct perception is that the woman does not have a penis. (ibid., p. 82)

Later, the boy's gaze is focused on the female habitus and role behavior of the mother and other women in the vicinity. Since the father is only partially present in his demonstrated strengths (exceptional behavior) and the mother often also acts on behalf of him, but in his name, the father appears overpowering. The everyday compulsion for detour identification and the idolization of the masculine merge into one another in boys. Nancy Chodorow (1985) tried to break down the logic behind this detour definition and came up with an expanded, cumulative model of 'man = not-not-man'. Then the male gender identification runs through the mother as a non-man, i.e. H. About the distancing from and devaluation of the visible female and thus non-male sexual characteristics and forms of expression:

The unconscious wish that must be warded off is the regression of the symbiosis with the mother. (Gilmore 1991, p. 105)

This opens up a male perspective for the boy, as the non-non-male perspective enables a positive turn towards “male identification with the female” (ibid.).

Precisely from this structural compulsion to Detour identification or “counter-identification” (cf. Mertens 2016, p. 173) result in the impulses to idolize the masculine and devalue the feminine, which can then be strengthened or reduced in later years by the social and media environment. Countermeasures are particularly promising if the father takes on his integral part in the relationship with the boy early and every day, and the mother can face the son as an independent and egalitarian body. That is why it is above all socially disadvantaged young people from families with rigid gender roles in whom the idolization of the masculine and the devaluation of the feminine are particularly prominent.

However, this deeply effective structural model of detour identification cannot be completely dissolved as long as it is tied to the early mother-child symbiosis. This can also be confirmed by fathers who have made full use of the option of parental leave. But that does not mean that boys and men are exposed to this deeply structurally effective constellation of becoming a man. Because this is not a deterministic issue, but a tension that can be managed productively biographically, even if every boy and man in the course of his life catches himself again and again that such feelings of idolization and devaluation germinate in him and him to touch, even if he otherwise claims to have overcome it. The idolization of the masculine and the devaluation of the feminine is also brought about by what is still in effect Homosexuality taboo strangely reinforced. Just because boyfriends become more important from the age of eight or nine, when boys no longer freely accept girls as play partners, the taboo held latent by the social environment but already felt by the boys unfolds counterproductive socializational effects. The homoerotic - in the sense of gender-empathic - parts are suppressed. This has consequences for dealing with one another and thus also for later collective male behavior.

Nevertheless: In all this chaos, adolescent psychology has identified the “second chance” in the development of children and adolescents. It only appears to be a - sporadic - 'relapse' into early childhood, sometimes with correspondingly primitive forms of body expression and language. The “childish” that can now be seen in adolescents, the “regression”, has, above all, a productive meaning. Everything can be rebuilt in the boy and in the girl. This psychosexual maturation process no longer takes place in the family's corset of relationships, as it did in early childhood, but in the confrontation with the social environment. The inner detachment from the parents is pending:

The instinctual breakthrough of puberty loosens the psychological structures previously formed in the family and thus creates the conditions for a restructuring of the personality that is no longer related to the family framework. (This is how Mario Erdheim describes the youth's “second chance” in 1988.)

The young people step out of the family, as it were, into social culture. This creates a tension that he also describes as the “dilemma” of puberty, because family and social culture are different, even contradictory. Family life is characterized by intimacy, unquestioned emotional ties in for one another. Social culture, on the other hand, develops through work and the public, as a formal organization and regulated body. In their young people, parents experience this back and forth between intimacy and distance, love-hate relationship and rigid formal rejection, childlike insecurity and demanding behavior.


Puberty is very noticeable in boys between the ages of eleven and thirteen. The hair grows on the face, on the chest, on the arms and legs and around the penis, the larynx bulges out and with the broken voice comes the "male" voice. Ejaculations accumulate. Suddenly the boys look older. The psyche cannot keep pace with this physical development. The boys are out of balance. Sexual tension, violent mood swings and outbursts of stimuli are the order of the day. The hormonal changes are noticeable in bursts. The nerves are on edge. This is to be taken literally, because from brain research we know that the nerve tracts, which are important for controlling emotions and aggression, only receive their protective cover in adolescence, which protects them from excessive stimuli. This internal turmoil must be carried outwards, and it is inevitable that young people everywhere offend. Donald Winnicott (1988), the English child and youth psychiatrist, has brought the mysterious nature of this emotional alternation that young people go through to this very term: young people in puberty behave as if they were the chaos, the unreality that is within them is wanted to make it a social reality. At the same time, the hectic pace of puberty is fueled by the unconscious fear of being thrown out of the security of childhood. The child's regressions are therefore also interpreted as defensive attitudes with which the perceived but not yet controllable developmental pressure is to be slowed down. In this respect, the childization in puberty is not a relapse, but a threshold that supports development rather than impairs it.

Puberty as a tense psychological and social development and transition situation demands a lot of energy from boys. They have no experiences to build on, they experience everything anew and inevitably cling to themselves. Here too, as with child regression, a pedagogical misunderstanding usually arises. The pronounced narcissism of the young people, their apparent selfishness is often still interpreted as a disturbance. The young people have no choice but to let the world go around them. You still have no existentially secure landmarks in this pubertal confusion. They fluctuate between feelings of omnipotence, powerlessness, fears and lustful self-portrayals. In between, fear of failure, fear of not being a real man, anxiety about the helplessness that one feels exposed to. Adolescent boys are under stress. It is a condition in which one feels at the mercy of oneself and cannot be mastered. Hence the search for wellbeing at any price. Fun is the order of the day. If fun is paired with fear, then it is often at the expense of others. The body is scary, so I have to push this threatening physicality away from me, take it out on others. Threatening gestures are part of the adolescent language, they cover up their helplessness and at the same time try to stage themselves.

Puberty is the time of idols. They symbolize wishes, dreams and longings. The attainability of these dreams does not matter in the unreality of puberty. Actors, pop stars and footballers usually become idols. You don't emulate idols, you project your dreams and wishes onto them. They cannot replace concrete male role models. But you cannot prescribe role models to young people either. You look for it. Sometimes quite unexpected for the adults. Teachers are sometimes frightened when they feel the tension that one or the other boy is building on them.He has discovered something in the teacher, felt something that draws him to him, something he believes he could do or be like that. This is often the case with coaches, youth workers, relatives or neighbors. But it is different from what the Eisenhans disciples had in mind. It is not the ritual with which older men want to induce the boy into male status, whether he wants to or not. Rather, it is the boy himself who is drawn to the elderly, whom he believes will suit him, that he can understand what moves him. The parents are then worried about the wrong friends. Especially when the youngsters don't want to tell anything. But that is part of the adolescent distance from parents.

The male-dominated clique

At puberty, the peers, the cliques of their peers, exert a special influence on boys. They constitute a social field of experimentation, testing boundaries, practicing social roles and are the arena of male competition beyond home and school:

In the group that the adolescent looks for for identification [...], the extreme group members act for the whole group. Everything that occurs in the fights of young people - stealing, stabbing, breaking out and breaking in - everything has to be lifted in the dynamic in this group. (Winnicott, Ed. David and Wallbridge 1983, p. 134)

Above all, cliques also promote separation from the parental home (cf. Schubert 2012). This happens in a tense relationship. Especially in the phase towards the end of puberty it becomes clear that the chances of boys “to go their own way with adolescence are initially tied into the corresponding signals from mothers and fathers: whether they emphasize binding qualities or give separating impulses ". And:

The quality of these [peer] relationships determines how the young men manage to break away from their parents internally - including sexual desires and fantasies. (Flaake 2012, p. 118)

Above all, however, peers are places of learning for gender identification in search of male identity. After a long childhood dominated and dependent on women, here they are “among men” and can mirror each other in their masculinity. However, this can become problematic if the clique builds its cohesion and its activities solely through the staging of masculinity. Then there is easily a masculine escalation process of idolizing the masculine-strong and devaluing the feminine (see above). All clique members are then drawn into this suction, because in the group the individuals are under pressure to do things that they would not do on their own.

Everything that the group gives out of itself - reciprocity, appreciation, arousal, activity - happens in the group; the clique is self-sufficient and does not care what is thought of in the social environment or how it is judged. That is why the experience of group membership is so important for young people: the unreal, isolated from family and society I opens and relates in the intimacy of the We of the group and can thus regulate itself. In this dynamic, however, it also has an impact on the school again and again.

Boys in school

On the other hand, she believes with hers Co-educationedict to have compensated for gender-typical differences in terms of disadvantages. Here, however, gender-specific student surveys show that in school - as was already the case in kindergarten - similar gender-typical behavior is released: On average, girls are more class-centered, boys are more crowded and therefore more disruptive to class. On average, boys are also punished more than girls for their behavior. This is what teachers like to cite when they are reproached by gender research for paying more attention to boys than girls; they punish you! But mostly their sanctions are ambiguous:

This puts boys in a dilemma. On the one hand, active and wild behavior is expected of them as boys. On the other hand, this behavior is criticized and sanctioned. But because many adults do not want to be authoritarian, the sanctions are not applied directly, but indirectly, e.g. B. about performance assessments in school. (Rohrmann 2012, p. 129)

Most teachers cannot understand that a hidden social curriculum develops in the process. Boys experience so unconsciously that they can draw attention to themselves through antisocial behavior, change the classroom climate and - by having teachers and the class turn to them - can at least assert themselves in the situation. The structure of the school is designed to promote a male culture of assertiveness and a culture of female restraint. The girls perform better on average, but when it comes to social behavior and social assertiveness, especially after school in the competition for professional opportunities, the male dominance and assertiveness culture has a clear impact, especially as it is in the social environment and society:

It is noteworthy that boys and girls behave in a more gender-stereotyped manner in the involuntary situation of school than in private settings. Many boys and girls learn, among other things. at school, how to behave in a gender-compliant manner. [...]. The mandatory character does not seem to contribute to the reduction of gender differences and hierarchies, but can even exacerbate them - contrary to the claim to reduce inequality in schools. (Budde and Veth 2010, p. 70)

Precarious transitions

The school’s secret gender curriculum breaks up to the extent that the transition phase to work brings with it new coping problems. Because the economic and technological structural change in the working society has not only led to a relatively stable base of structural mass unemployment, but also made the transitions into work and career prospects fragile for many young people overall. On the one hand, there are families who have enough economic and cultural capital to allow their children detours so that they are not exposed to the negative dynamics of professional failure and the hopelessness of career prospects: They should be able to experiment, try different things, up to and including The middle of the second decade of life or even up to the thirtieth year of life have created a solid and reflective biographical foundation from which they are equipped for the future vicissitudes of a flexible working society. On the other hand, there are the many families who do not have this economic and cultural capital stock and who have to expose their young people to the new risks of the working society at an early stage. Young men come under greater pressure in the transition period from young to adulthood:

The structural uncertainty of the youth phase leads [...] to greater uncertainty among many young men than among young women. (Youth 2010 2010, p. 44)

The structural change in the working society has hit this group particularly hard with the reduction in unskilled activities as a result of computerization. The biographical findings on transitional research (Arnold et al. 2004) show that - especially with young men - denied access to the labor market also restricts access to the self. H. that the helplessness associated with it can be split off and the naturalistic-masculine assertion orientation released in the gender competition, which in view of the equal educational opportunities and comparable educational qualifications of boys and girls already seemed to have been abolished. The structural change in the working society forces many into repeated attempts and breaks:

In all federal states, young men have a significantly higher risk [...] of ending up in a 'waiting loop'. […] But even if they complete vocational training, young men have a greater risk of subsequently becoming unemployed. (Matzner 2012, p. 161)

For young men, such early crises of integrity are always crises of meaning, as many of them would like to continue to fulfill their male responsibility for a family in the best possible employment relationship. The meaning of 'raising children', which is open to young women in addition to their job, on the other hand, still seems to them subjectively as well as being denied by social conditions.

In open and diffuse transitions between job and career search, young adults are often under the pressure of self-presentation, especially in their social environment. They are pushed to show that they are there and that they are who. Self-portrayals can therefore be regarded as “transitional management practices” (Stauber 2013, p. 530 f.). Interpreted in terms of coping theory, they are split off (compensatory) acts of self-assertion in which helplessness can be converted into strength, self-worth and self-efficacy and symbolically generated. A medium for this is corporeality in an often exaggerated masculine staging, but also in anti-gender alienations. The young men run the risk of being exposed to stereotypical interpretations that often do not correspond to their physical and mental state behind the physical facade.

The role of gainful employment and male identity tend to merge in our work society. At the same time, the company's work organization is gender-neutral, but requires men to be absorbed in their work and to solve problems of reconciling family and work themselves. The production structure is geared towards competition, growth and acceleration; there must be no idleness and standstill. The work organization and work culture reflect these principles. One speaks of “gendered organizations” in which male principles of communication, enforcement and control predominate, to which women also submit.


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    Lothar Böhnisch

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Böhnisch, L. Depth Psychic Dimensions of Male Socialization. Psychotherapy Forum23, 31-37 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00729-019-0118-x

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  • Gender research
  • socialization
  • Childhood and adolescence
  • Peer group
  • Identity construction


  • Gender studies
  • socialization
  • Childhood and youth
  • Peer group
  • Identity