Expectations—we all have them, and many of us strive to abide by them. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we can’t escape them in our personal and professional lives. The concern for good mental health and equal access to it is slowly gaining traction. But at what cost to our long-term happiness and success? Expectations can deeply affect each of us to our core’s foundational need for love and acceptance.
As a woman, I can confidently describe the mental pressures placed upon us in modern-day American society. But I also wanted to get a male’s viewpoint on expectations towards men in hopes of a well-rounded approach to change that benefits everyone with our collective goal of happiness and success.
However, a subgroup of people still needs to be included in the equation of access to our collective goal. Grab your favorite beverage, kick off your shoes, and sit down, because you’re about to take a deep dive into knowing how modern-day societal systems continue to perpetuate a vicious mental health battle cycle that holds you back from your long-term happiness and success… and you may not even realize it.
The Modern-Day Expectations of Americans
The most notable and trending topics of roles and expectations of women in modern-day America meet the definition of being “successful” and “happy” include:
Doing it all. Women should attend college, get married, have a family, and become leaders in their chosen industry (including owning a successful business) while raising kids and being supportive wives. And don’t forget to keep it home-grown and home-cooked.
Don’t be difficult. Women are considered “difficult” for speaking up or speaking out in their career or if they question or attempt to implement change. So, being quiet and responding with “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is a “safer” route to being “successful.”
Obtain a higher-education degree. Holding the highest educational degree weighs much more heavily on women than men in higher education and other workforce industries. Women are taught at a young age to find a husband and obtain their degree simultaneously to be “successful” and “happy.” Yet, in high school, the primary focus on young women’s sense of worth is not highly encouraged toward future career goals. Girls in their teens learn the value of self-worth, happiness, and success when cared for or “loved” by a young man through society’s expectations of women. Just turn on the TV.
For men, it’s similar. According to Mark D. Motz, an award-winning writer, and editor, men face modern-day expectations in their quest for happiness and success facing pressures of:
Competition. From a young age, the conditioning of men is to win at all costs. UCLA coach Red Sanders famously stated, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” But by definition, any competition that produces a winner also creates a loser. So, when the locker room bleeds into the board room, half of all men feel the pressure of being wrong about simply being in the game.
Not all competition is inherently harmful, but many dangers exist, even within the positive elements. According to Business.com, discouraging a team of employees by setting unreasonable expectations can lead to workplace cheating in an attempt to get ahead, such as when Wells Fargo employees created unauthorized bank and credit card accounts to meet target goals.
Fear of public opinion. Did you know men are likelier to complain about back pain than sadness (yet do nothing for either)? The unrelenting barrage of images from traditional and social media reinforces the notion of the resilient, silent man and the perception of a man’s need to be a self-sufficient island. A recent report by The O’Colly aptly says, “The portrayal of mental health, particularly men’s mental health, is often clouded with stereotypes, stigmatization, and misinformation.” Furthermore, “When instances of violence occur, there is a tendency to label that person as “crazy,” sometimes implicitly linking mental illness with criminality, which is a damaging stereotype to establish.”
Shame. The American Psychological Association defines shame as “a highly unpleasant self-conscious emotion arising from the sense of there being something dishonorable, immodest, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances.” Further, it says, “Research consistently reports a relationship between proneness to shame and a host of psychological symptoms, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, subclinical sociopathy, and low self-esteem.” Look back at the competition: Not winning = shame. Look at the fear of public opinion: Not living up to a societal norm = shame. Men are continuously combating feelings of shame.
4 Reasons Why Americans Are Still Misguided Despite the Growing Trend of Mental Healthcare Services
Worldwide, people are rewarded by their country’s government and religious systems when following expectations of them based on the system’s definitions. And in America, single women and men of all races are further excluded in efforts to achieve happiness and success.
Some examples of the misleading continuation of achieving our collective goals include:
Financial challenges. Marriage provides tax breaks for two incomes, while single men and women are not treated equally with taxes on a single income. It also affects single mothers and fathers on a single income (child support doesn’t always come through for the children involved). And presently, according to Forbes, women are still not being paid equally, with women earning 82 cents for every dollar a man makes in income.
Health challenges. Mental health, like dental and vision, is not part of medical insurance. Currently, I’m paying $135 in Cincinnati, Ohio, for one 45-minute therapy session. The government and insurance companies also still leave out brain health as part of our core “health”. And obtaining medical insurance is extremely expensive if the company you work for doesn’t provide it, doesn’t provide it at reasonable costs, or you are self-employed. Without a well-paid job with low medical insurance costs, how can we put our health first if we don’t have access to it or access to it at reasonable costs? The stress grows.
Religious challenges. Women and men who are considered more neutral or non-religious are more likely to be frowned upon in defining what it means to be a “good” person because they don’t use symbolism and faith to guide them to that “goodness” and corresponding “happiness,” both while on earth in a physical body and in the afterlife.
Relationship challenges. As a single woman, while people around me marry and have families, my family members age and pass away; growing older and “fitting in” becomes more difficult. Our society still normalizes and often glorifies “successful” men as compounding their success if they marry younger women, thus promulgating the antiquated concept of women being “left on the shelf” and forgotten—and indeed judged—because they’re not dedicated to the notions of “happiness” and “success” defined by the government and dominant religious organizations (who in many countries have partnered together for centuries).