“Can you handle it” is a valid question when used to plan and make decisions. For instance, as a kid if your parents gave you a new task they may have asked if you could handle the responsibility, or at work your boss may ask if you can handle the added workload before giving you a new project.
“Can you handle it” can also be a hostile and demeaning question meant to provoke. The question can be toxic. And depending on how you respond, can keep you stuck or from focusing on what really matters.
In this article we talk about how “Can you handle it?” can be toxic and how it is used to provoke so you can know when someone tries to provoke you, reject it and respond in a confident and empowered way.
Real World Examples
A few months ago, there was a video circling the internet of a millennial woman singing about other millennials. The song was demeaning and poking fun at people who are in touch with their emotions.
It included the singer calling millennials “snowflakes,” insinuating they were overly emotional and at one point she commented they could not take a punch.
This morning I was in a meeting with other entrepreneurs. They set the meeting up so one entrepreneur presents their business model and attendees give feedback.
The host of the meeting commented that only constructive criticism should be given and if you want to give negative criticism, you need to reach out to the presenter directly. He then gave the disclosure that he thought the presenter “could handle” negative feedback.
The presenter smiled with pride.
My friend’s cousin is a personal trainer. My friend asked if I would like a free training session. Since I already have a routine, I politely declined. My friend insisted.
I finally said OK. My friend then responds, “do you think you can handle it?” He then went on about how his cousin is the “real deal” and that when my friend worked out with him he was sore and had trouble walking for over a week.
Behind the Scenes
The singer and meeting host were using the phrase “Can’t handle it” to show bravado. The presenter was using it as a validation of his own bravado. My friend could have been asking for valid reasons, but the manner in which he said it made it clear he was trying to show his own or question my bravado.
They are trying to assert their strength and self-worth by creating a power struggle.
This is likely a result of the cultural narrative being influenced by toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is when people feel the need to assert themselves by showing their aggression or strength.
It is a limiting belief that stunts personal growth and development. Even though masculine is in the name, toxic masculinity shows no bias and can be apparent in any gender.
When we are asked “can you handle it” in a demeaning, manipulative way, it can strike our ego. Meaning, it may produce a desire for us to respond defensively to preserve our self-esteem.
However, if we respond to the toxicity we are contributing to the poor behavior and getting off track. This stunts our growth and hinders our emotional and mental well-being.
Because in the moment it may feel powerful to respond with bravado, it is actually taking away power.
In the context where “can you handle it” is used to poke or insinuate weakness, you may be tempted to prove yourself. But the empowered response is to know that true strength would be rejecting the narrative, holding your own and managing your ego.
Toxic masculinity misinterprets strength as physical power and relies on the idea that we need to be physically aggressive in order to have power. Since we live in the industrialized world, that mind frame is no longer necessary or productive. Frankly, it’s obsolete.
Bravado is out, emotional intelligence (EQ) is in. EQ is the #1 determinate of success and employers are literally looking for it in the interview process. People with high EQ are better leaders, have better relationships, get more promotions and make more money.
Part of EQ is managing your emotional responses, which includes removal of the ego response and rejecting when other people try to poke your ego.
So the empowered response to “you can’t handle a punch” would be: “Why would I need to?” or “Why are people punching people?”
When you are confident and comfortable with who you are, you do not need to go around trying to fight people. You know there is no need to fight, unless your life is in danger, of course.
And the empowered response to “you can handle negative criticism” would be to ask for only constructive criticism. Negative criticism is mental garbage. It’s worthless and a waste of time.
Constructive criticism is valuable and can help you grow and progress. Asking only for constructive criticism shows that you value your time, are focused on growth and will not get caught up in the garbage, negativity of others.
Regarding the training session, the empowered response would be “best I don’t.” Any kind of athletic environment where you are being coerced to force yourself beyond your limits to prove bravado is not healthy for your body or your mind.
It will likely result in an injury because you are listening with your ego and not your body. If you are trying to train, it’s counter to your goals because if you’re sore for a week you can’t workout. It’s stupid. You can work out without being in severe pain afterwards and still gain muscle.
Why Would I?
I’m from a city whose slogan is “fuck around and find out.” I’ve been boxing for over 8 years and have been doing Olympic lifts for about 6. The woman singing, I could probably deadlift or bench press her.
And I wouldn’t worry about taking a punch from her because I would dodge it. But again, why is anyone throwing punches?… it’s weird.
The last person who gave me negative criticism got called out for their limiting beliefs, cognitive distortions and they annoyed me with their fixed mindset. Even so, I wish I had responded better.
Afterwards a friend suggested that when I face negative and deconstructive criticism I simply reply, “thank you,” and move forward instead of calling it out. I now heed that advice while fighting the urge to tell the negative Nancy to go away.
The non-aggressive and compassionate responses are typically viewed as being weak, but in reality, they are strength. And we need to know this if we want to maintain our power and progress forward.
I hope this article helps you reconsider the things that are being asked of you and if they are controlling, manipulative, toxic or keeping you from growth.
When you are asked if you can handle something, take a minute before you respond. Ask yourself, or ask the person asking, some questions like:
- Why would I want to?
- What’s in it for me?
- Is this what I need?
- How will this help me achieve my goals?