Is Competition Between Men Healthy?

Unhealthy competitiveness can be detrimental for men.

Posted Apr 10, 2015

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Most men are competitive. We like to push off against something or someone else to make ourselves stronger and to sharpen our skills. Men have found ways to fight against each other on the battlefield since time immemorial.  Some men are soldiers, but the majority of us do not actively engaged in warfare. Instead, we find other arenas besides a battlefield in which to compete. Some men compete fiercely in the arena of ideas.  Others enjoy simulated or mock battles and historical recreations. Others satisfy the need to compete through any number of sophisticated graphic simulations in video gaming. Others reject the console and choose to compete on a tennis court, a football field, the baseball diamond, or a golf course.  Work can be another arena where men can flex their competitive muscles. 

With healthy competition, there is no conflict with values like honesty, integrity, and dependability.  Healthy competition allows you to push off the efforts of others, to make yourself stronger, to improve so you can become better. In healthy competition, you do your best to compete against others and learn from those who are better than you. Healthy competition is not about putting anyone else down; it’s about using resistance to build you up.

Competition is healthy when it stays within its proper boundaries and does not venture into the realm of compulsion. It picks its battlefields and its combatants wisely and maturely. It contains the potential for both success and failure. Healthy competition includes honest effort and a fair use of skill.

Conversely, the goal of unhealthy competition is not to find a way for you to be better but to find a way for others to be worse. This type of competition often occurs when men rely too heavily on comparison between themselves and others to gain a sense of self and value. Instead of stretching and growing so you can stand taller, you find a way to undercut the other person. Instead of learning and evaluating so you have a better answer, you lie and misrepresent and undermine what the other person said. Instead of admitting and learning from your own mistakes, you deny and hide them while highlighting the mistakes of others.

The challenge is to keep that competitive drive within its proper boundaries. There are a couple of reasons why men go off the healthy track where competition is concerned, and begin to veer into the unhealthy side streets of compulsions.

The first reason a man may turn competition into a compulsion is because he develops a reliance on the “zing,” the physical thrill that happens during competition. Competing can give you an adrenaline rush that sharpens your focus, quickens your breathing, races your heart, and makes you feel alive. You can get this rush running down the field towards the end zone and dodging opposing players. You can also get it watching the home team score a touchdown. This competitive zing is also why the casinos are packed on Saturday night.  They can begin to crave this zing, and to seek out opportunities to satisfy this craving to the detriment of their family, friends, and pocketbook.  A misplaced obsession with competition can leave addiction of many kinds.

 The second reason a man may turn competition into a compulsion is because he sees competition as a way to satisfy a need for dominance. For some men, it's not enough just to play the game and let the chips fall where they may. For these men, it's not about the playing; they are obsessed with winning. They want to be the best at everything.

Men who crave dominance will excessively manipulate circumstances and outcomes in order to win, but only in those areas where they place value.  Obsessive winning is often tied to outward, physical trophies, such as who has the best muscles, the hottest car,  the hottest girl, the most money, or most noteworthy accomplishments. It’s also known as “bragging rights.” In these dominance contests, the thrill comes not just from winning, but also from someone else losing.

In moderation, competition is a normal, healthy human expression and way to strengthen ourselves. But it is not uncommon for competition to be taken to extremes, and manipulated to feed a man’s ego.  If left unaddressed, unhealthy competitiveness can lead towards detrimental relationships and other long-term problems for men.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 28 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depressionanxiety and others.