Certain personality traits traditionally considered “masculine” that is encouraged during military training, are the very same traits that can worsen symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when veterans return home from the field, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.
Continuing to keep up traits such as self-reliance and emotional control can also make treatment more difficult to access and less effective when it is implemented, the study found.
The importance of certain traits traditionally thought of as “masculine” are often encouraged in the military as a way of helping service members perform confidently and develop skills in the field.
However, lead author Elizabeth Neilson of Morehead State University says the current findings suggest that “veterans with rigid adherence to traditional masculinity may be at increased risk for developing PTSD, may have more severe PTSD symptoms and may be less likely to seek mental health treatment for PTSD."
As reported in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities, Neilson and colleagues used qualitative and quantitative methods to assess data from 17 studies conducted over the last 25 years that included more than 3,500 military veterans.
All studies assessed the association between conforming to traditionally masculine traits and symptoms related to trauma.
The studies mainly focused on men, although one paper did include men and women. They were also mainly conducted in the US, but some studies from the UK, Israel, Vietnam, and Canada were also included.
"Overall, we found that strict adherence to masculine norms was associated with more severe PTSD symptoms in veterans, but more detailed analysis suggests that the association may specifically be caused by the veterans' belief that they should control and restrict their emotions…In other words, they should be tough."
Although society members, in general, are exposed to aspects of traditional masculinity, these values are normalized and reinforced as part of training among military members, says Neilson:
"Previous research has found that military personnel reports high levels of conformity to traditionally masculine norms, such as emotional control, self-reliance and the importance of one's job."
Although these traits can be useful for promoting self-confidence and building skills whilst on the field, they can also contribute to the severity of PTSD symptoms if a military member is faced with trauma.