Psychologist Jordan Peterson, the contemporary avatar of toxic masculinity.

How mindfulness (and lots of therapy) is helping me tackle my toxic masculinity

Like most unhealthy behavior, toxic masculinity is an attempt to protect ourselves when we feel vulnerable.

Jeremy Mohler
4 min readOct 9, 2019


I witnessed something sad at a D.C. street fair recently. A smiling boy, all of six or seven years old, asked a face painter to turn him into a blue and purple butterfly.

“No, you’re not going to be a butterfly,” said his mother.

“But why?” the boy asked, his smile fading into confusion.

“Because,” she said. “Why don’t you be a tiger or a pirate?”

It wasn’t exactly abuse, but it was a glaring example of so-called “toxic masculinity.” Presumably, the mother thought her son should want to be fierce and aggressive rather than radiant, harmless, and feminine, like a butterfly.

Like all ideology, toxic masculinity is not natural but socialized — we learn it from other people. Many children — especially boys — receive messages from adults that lead to behaviors such as suppressing emotions, acting tough no matter what, and anti-femininity (“No, you’re not going to be a butterfly.”)

If that doesn’t resonate with you, think of your conditioning. Maybe you have body image issues or you’re a perfectionist or you’re addicted to work. We all have patterns of behavior that we learned from others or developed to cope with challenging situations when we were children.

Mindfulness wakes us up by making us conscious of this unconscious conditioning. It drives a wedge between our thoughts and the thinker of those thoughts, our awareness.

When we witness thoughts from a distance, we no longer have to identify with them. They’re no longer me — they’re thought patterns that have been forced on to me or that I took on to protect myself.

Awhile back, I visited my grandfather who was in the hospital with pneumonia. A nurse walked into his room and began to remove a breathing tube taped behind his ears.

“What are you doing? You’re hurting me,” he yelled. “Idiot!”

I’d never seen him scold someone outside the family. The nurse, a young Latino woman, was being…



Jeremy Mohler

Writer, therapist, and meditation teacher. Get my writing about navigating anxiety, burnout, relationship issues, and more: