Gynecomastia and its Psychological Impact
June 23, 2014
By Merle Yost, LMFT
When a man or boy discovers they are afflicted by gynecomastia, it often has a major psychological impact on their emotional being and sense of self. We are highly cultured to believe that breasts belong on women. Anything looking like breasts means is supposed to be a female characteristic. While there is a subset of men who find having female-like characteristics exciting or pleasurable, the majority of males find it antithetical to their sense of being male
For those dealing with it at adolescent onset, gynecomastia happens at the worst possible moment. The boy is just starting to mature; the deepening of his voice, the increased hair growth and suddenly his chest is doing something strange, something unexpected and certainly unwanted. It confuses him. At first he wonders if he is sick or if there is something wrong with him. Until recently, he was in a world of isolation. The Internet has provided possible answers and reduces isolation. But it is likely that it is much too shameful to really talk to anyone about it.
Watch an online workshop for men diagnosed with gynecomastia:
For most boys and girls, the changing body is deeply private. The more education that a parent provides, the easier it is to move through this transition to physical adulthood. If there is an open relationship with the parents, a boy can talk about what is happening. Unfortunately for most, gynecomastia is an unfamiliar condition and parents them self may be alarmed, dismissiveng or even humiliating when faced with the problem. Fathers and sometimes mothers can even reject a son that who somehow does not match their internalized picture of what a boy/man should be or look like.
Because of this feared rejection, many boys will suffer in silence. They will may retreat from family, friends, social and athletic activities out of a fear of being discovered they areas being somehow less of a man. At the very time it would be useful to reach out for support from trusted people, it does not happen and this can begin initiate a life long pattern of social isolation and distrust.
For most boys, this fear of rejection or humiliation from family is not based on reality. Most parents want their kids to be happy. They will do what they can with whatever means that they can to resolve the issue. Because most parents have limited knowledge about gynecomastia, they will defer to their doctor, who may or may not have much more information than the parents.
From a psychological perspective, it is important to take the feelings of these young men seriously. He is will be taking a huge risk and being incredibly vulnerable to expose something so personal. It is important that his risk be honored and dealt with in a serious way. Jokes, diminishing it as fantasy or the condition being some how not important is really damaging to a young man’s self-esteem and body consciousness.
Adult onset gynecomastia is a very different experience for most men. They have had a long time to be familiar with their male bodies. Hopefully the adult male has come to some terms with his masculinity and is emotionally secure. Thus the development of gynecomastia can be just another change to be accepted or changed, but it is not a reflection or diminishing of his manhood. If a man is not secure, it can be devastating and provide another reason for self-loathing and criticism.
While surgery is a cure for the physical condition, gynecomastia may bring to light some emotional concerns that need to be addressed. Boys and men can find an external feature that they can focus on that becomes the cause of their internal pain. There were studies showing that vets coming back from war with physical injuries did better than some that did not. If there is a physical wound, then there is justification to acknowledge pain; if it is inside, then it cannot be acknowledged or justified.
Changing the body is an important part of healing for many men and boys, but it is often not the only issue. There needs to be attention paid to the healing of the mind as well.
Personal pictures of Merle Yost before and after surgeries.
Gynecomastia In The Press
Read the latestselected press articles relating to gynecomastia here.
Links are to the online article when available.
[PDF] is archived article in PDF format.
New York Times A Surgeon Who Caters to Men's Concerns (Oct 31, 2008)
People Magazine: One Boy's Private Shame (Sep 3, 2007) - [PDF]
Kansas City Star: Males Are Turning To Reduction Surgery (Jul 30, 2007)
Out Now Magazine: A Man With Natural Female Breasts (Jul, 2007) - [PDF]
NY Daily News: Bye-bye breasts, hello wonderful new life (Apr 7, 2007) - [PDF]
Yahoo News: Male Cosmetic Surgery (Jan 14, 2007) - [PDF]
Star Tribune: Hormone imbalances and medications... (Oct 10, 2006) - [PDF]
Contra Costa Times: The Metamorphosis (Sep 25, 2006) - [PDF]
Now Magazine: My breasts made my life hell (Oct 13, 2004) - [PDF]
MSN Sympatico: Teen boys struggling with gynecomastia (Nov 6, 2003) - [PDF]
Details Magazine: Are Your Breasts Bigger Than Hers? [cover]
National Post: Interview with Merle Yost (2002) - [PDF]
Gynecomastia - Merle Yost
Australian TV documentary clip about gynecomastia and Merle Yost's experience with his second surgery.
My Boob's and Me
A segment on gynecomastia featuring Merle.
TV News Clip on Breast Reduction
North CarolinaTV news clip from WLOS-TV in Asheville, NC about gynecomastia and breast reduction surgery, interviewing Merle Yost of gynecomastia.org. See http://www.gynecomastia.or