Beards and Insecurity
October 25, 2015
Disclaimer: Many Men grow beards for reasons other than insecurity. This article is intended for men like me, who do things, for insecure reasons.
The first time I ever grew a beard, a co-worker asked me if my wife was pregnant.
At that time my wife was about 5 months along.
The second time I grew a beard, was when I was preparing to write that special exam which determines whether, after years of studying and working, you actually get what you worked for, and the titles that go along with passing.
The next time I grew a beard was when my wife and I, well, mostly her, were pregnant with our second.
The second last time I grew a beard, like a real beard, not one borne out of laziness, was when my Wife died, and I was in deep mourning.
The last time, was just after My Vasectomy.
I have always wondered what it means, when we change our appearance, and what that says about what is going on inside. Some of my female friends change their hair style or color, when they go through a break up, or meet someone new. Some of my younger adult friends change their style of clothing, or opt for multiple tattoos.
My co-worker somehow inherently knew that voluntarily growing facial hair, something usually only males are capable of, represented a call to maturity. She knew the beard was my way of preparing myself, for a new role as a male. She knew at some level, I was donning the costume of a ‘Man’, because I had to be more than I already was.
I was soon to become a parent too.
Most of us do not feel ready, to be an adult.
By the time you realize the teenage years are gone, it’s already too late. You have been shifted onto a different conveyor belt of responsibilities, and there are now people who actually depend on you.
Like every single day; for the necessities of their life.
To be neurologically fair, it isn’t really the Homo sapiens brain’s fault. It is much more the fault of our society, which decided that EVERYBODY is mature enough, at age 18, to have the same privileges and opportunities.
Those rights being to smoke, get drunk, vote, and take out mortgages.
You get to operate a several thousand pound machine, capable of reaching speeds over 100 miles an hour, within 10 feet of the sidewalk, 2 years earlier, by the way.
But for most of us, the brain isn’t really ready by 18. It is still busy figuring shit out, like when to move out, move on, and decide what you really want to do, or have to do, to make it.
The average Female brain achieves full function and integration of its most advanced parts, those being located in the Prefrontal Cortex, by about age 25.
This is often an explanation for why some women look at their partners from ages 18-25, and wonder why he was so immature.
Some women still feel their partner is more like one of their kids, than the grown up.
Luckily, if there were no severe complications and he eventually figured it out, you can laugh it off, at a future wine-infused Book Chug.
I mean Book Club.
But it can be difficult, being trapped in a relationship with a Male, who for all intents and purposes, appears to be physically mature. However he seems to behave at times like he is about 14, for longer than feels comfortable.
The average Male Prefrontal Cortex doesn’t reach its neurological maturity until about age 35, a full ten years after the Female.
So, if you think you are going to change him, you are in luck!
But you have to hang in there until his mid to late 30’s. And by then, he may have already tried to stupidly leave you, for some younger floozy.
Being asked by someone, even if that someone is Society, to take on more responsibilities than you can handle, causes internal psychic conflicts.
I don’t mean the kind where Jo-Jo overcharges you, for reading Keurig dregs.
I mean conflicts as in disputes, occurring at an unconscious level, which you may not be specifically aware of, other than the unrelenting anxiety you feel, when asked to rise to the challenge.
This type of developmental anxiety actually replays itself many times throughout our life cycle, with increasing responsibilities.
It starts with separation from Mom or your favorite parent. Next comes confronting the monsters your imagination has conjured up, lurking in dark spaces. Potty Training, and going to school become some of our next tasks, as we are slowly socialized, towards the Independence our parents hope we achieve, by 18.
By the time we hit our teenage years, we have certainly created a pattern, in how we handle our developmental challenges. Separations may have been easy, or like a scene from the Exorcist, where demonic possession took place frequently, somewhere between the parking lot, and front door of Daycare.
The Hipster movement has interestingly coincided, with another shift in how the family unit functions. These quasi adults, at times smelling of Failure to Launch, have appeared alongside the increasing rights of Women.
While things are not moving as quickly as they should, their ascent up the corporate ladder has changed parenting.
There are many more families where the children were juggled between competing schedules and not enough time, while trying to appropriately have it all. This has led to many male children growing up without deep bonds to their exhausted parents, and this shift has included many more mothers. These missed moments of comfort and support, can lead to a delay in a person feeling capable, leading to inadequacy and Adolescence, well into adulthood.
This is meant in no way to Mother Blame, as usually it is only the Mothers that are held up to impossible standards. This is merely an observation of how our changing times are likely to affect our children, teenagers, and young adults. It would be the same as the scientist who tells you about the effects of Global Warming.
The children that grow up, without these types of meaningful attachments, can have more struggles with their sense of themselves. Being unsure of yourself can certainly complicate building self esteem, and being able to decide what you want to do.
As a result, the young male (and all humans) develops unconscious Defenses, to compensate for areas in which they think they are lacking.
This can include many things, like acting tough, when you are actually scared, and burying your emotions because you believe crying is a sign of weakness.
Many men have a hard time expressing feelings in general, and romantic ones in particular, towards their partners.
They often feel more comfortable expressing tenderness and sensitivity, when it comes to their pet. This has likely led to many of a ‘Man’s Possessions’, to be labelled with a female pronoun, such as a boat or car. This gives the man a safe arena to express their romantic side, as they dote and worry about the chassis, as opposed to their partner.
Rubbing your car for hours, on your driveway, takes on a whole new meaning.
Women fall in love with things other than their partners as well. In these cases, it is usually with their children.
Sometimes, it’s shoes.
These kinds of defenses can even compel us to hurt ourselves, on a physical level, with self cuts and burns. Other times we hire professionals to pierce us and tattoo us. It is possible that these acts are ways that we unconsciously process pain.
I wonder if the Hipster movement grew out of young males being forced to be men, before they were ready, so they grew beards to fake it, before they make it.
The only other time that we ever sought control over our hair growth growing up, was when we wished for puberty to make us look like the other boys in the change room. The ones with little Afros, in the southern hemisphere, because then we were keeping up with everybody else.
When you are a man, who doesn’t feel ready for a ‘Manly Challenge’, like becoming a parent, or starting a new job, or moving out of your parent’s home, one way of dealing with it, is to grow a beard.
This beard likely has a similar effect to the Good Hair Day, I mentioned in a previous article.
Looking at yourself in the mirror, everyday, when you have a beard, is a reassuring way to confirm you are a man.
It is always interesting, to be friends with a Hipster, as they are such a neat variant of adult. Sort of trapped, between the teen years, and adulthood.
Able to grow the beard a Hippy would be proud of, but then going all Pee Wee Herman, on the fashion side.
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. He secretly wishes a beard looked good on him.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at