The Rise of the Sigma Male
One of my clients recently made me aware of something floating around the internet called the Sigma Male. This is part of the “social hierarchy” of Alpha, Beta, etc. men. While this hierarchy is entirely made up and has no basis in science or research, it remains popular nonetheless. So, let’s just ignore this glaring issue and focus on these supposed Sigmas themselves. Who are they and what is said about them?
From what I can gather, Sigma Men are said to be “lone wolf” types who are strong, intelligent, fiercely independent, highly decisive, and super individualistic. They know who they are, know what they want, and—of course—all women want them.* These men are supposedly equal to Alphas on the social hierarchy but are so alpha they exist on their own outside this social pyramid. They don’t need your rules and regulations!
(* We should ignore pretty much everything men say about what women want, just as we should ignore everything women say about what men want. Let your partner directly tell you their wants. I remember being in high school when one of my female friends was reading the latest “what men want” article she received. No, Cosmo magazine, I don’t want a finger up my anus while a girl stares in my eyes without blinking while having sex. This will not “build intimacy.” It will lead to a VERY different outcome!)
The most striking thing to me is that these Sigma Men seem to choose their hyper-individualistic isolation. They don’t want close friends, nor do they want to be too tied in to others. They have no great emotional expectations out of their romantic relationships either. These men are solid rock islands. They’re powerful, strong … and entirely alone.
Belonging & The Path of Men
Virtually all data we have on human groups and social relationships goes against these ideals. Even if Sigma Men exist as mentioned, they wouldn’t be successful. Sigma men wouldn’t be at the top of a pyramid. They’d be under it.
One of my favorite books for new male clients is Tribe by Sebastian Junger. Junger is a war correspondent, author, director, filmmaker, and has had more brushes with death than most would go through in multiple lifetimes. In Tribe, Junger describes how humans are built to function as social units. From his experiences being embedded with the military in the worst parts of Afghanistan to drawing from history and anthropology, Junger describes how humans are a hyper-social species that thrive when we feel connected and purposeful to those around us.
Belonging is so attractive that many will sacrifice greatly to experience this. For example, Junger describes how early American colonists—primarily men—ran off in huge numbers to join Indian tribes. The ability to be part of an egalitarian society instead of a British socioeconomic class system was very attractive. Indians enjoyed liberal social freedoms, welcomed new members, and success was built off one’s own merit instead of who their parents were. This opportunity to find belonging in such a culture was intoxicating to early colonists. They ran off into the woods in droves, often evading search parties sent to “rescue” them. In contrast, not a single Indian voluntarily joined colonial life. I often wonder what America would look if we let our cultures merge instead of choosing eradication.
From crossing the seas to landing on the mood, humanity has always achieved its best by working together in tight-knit groups. Our individual successes are no different. The isolation incurred by Sigma men violates against this rule. With no strong emotional bonds or deep networks, a Sigma male would be on his own at all times. Nobody would watch his back; nobody would trust him to watch theirs. Relationships involve both giving and receiving. Emotional isolation prevents this. No matter how good such a man looks on the outside, he’s always going to feel empty within.
“Am I A Sigma Male?”: Lessons From My Work
If a new client contacted me and claimed he identified as a Sigma male, I’d likely ask to explore his sense of isolation. There could be many causes: experiencing a challenging childhood, growing up in a hyper-isolated and lonely Western culture, poor social skills, etc. Since humans have an innate need to see and be seen, we would start with the assumption that his chosen isolation is a coping mechanism in response to something he experienced—and not a part of his innate personality.
To be fair, there are many traits associated with Sigma men that I work on developing with clients: confidence, self-awareness, knowing who they are and what they want, etc. These are all needed for healthy living. However, none of these are born in isolation. We have to be deeply connected to find them, especially within ourselves.
There’s no more important relationship in our lives than the one we have with ourselves. After years of doing this work, helping clients build a strong, healthy self-relationship has shown itself to be the most effective way to make forward progress. Once this happens, everything in life becomes easier. External connections and relationship improve in tandem. As a client developed a better connection inside, they’re far more willing to be seen by others—and far more likely to connect.
In relationships, my goal is to help clients reach a place where they’d rather be rejected for who they are than loved for who they’re not. This isn’t achieved by isolation. Clients want to be loved and connected to others, many actively look for these connections. But they don’t need everyone to love them to stay alive. Since they’re able to fill their own emotional cup at least half way themselves, they’re willing to wait until the right people come along who can help them be filled the rest of the way. Having a strong self-relationship lays the foundation for this. It gives us internal peace and opens the door to real connection. We can’t be loved for who we are until we show up as who we are, and we can’t show up as who we are until we feel secure enough to take off our masks.
The strongest man in a room isn’t the one who can bench the most or who earns the most money. It’s the man who feels secure enough to show up as nobody but himself. Such vulnerability is the ultimate sign of strength.
It’s a tough time to be a man. While many have cheered at the destruction of old masculine doctrines, I feel like we’ve left entire generations of young men lost and without healthy guidance. While this is probably a topic for another day, having some sort of “north star” to aim towards would be helpful. However, I’d doing my best to assist in my own way. By helping clients reconnect with their own inner strength through self-belonging and healthy external connection, I have watched insecure men turn into leaders who inspire those around them.
The world doesn’t need any more islands. We achieve our best when we’re deeply connected, both internally and externally. Walking the path of a Sigma male will not lead to victory. Finding deep, genuine connection—both internally and externally—is far more likely to lead us to where we want to go.