Do we still see vulnerability as a weakness in men?

Do we still see vulnerability as a weakness in men?

Do we still see vulnerability as a weakness in men? A few days ago I was having (yet another) conversation about Donald Trump and my disbelief that so many people are voting for him. “People want a strong man, Obama is seen as weak and this is a reaction to that” said the person I was talking to. I remembered Barak Obama’s speech about gun crime in the USA and his tearful response to yet another young person being killed: a beautiful poignant moment of compassion and deep sadness.

Do we really see men who show their vulnerability as weak?

This got me thinking about vulnerability and men and the expectations, messages and preferences we have as a society in terms of how men are in the world.  Of course we each have our own personal preferences, but I think that often vulnerability and strength are seen as opposite ends of a continuum.  I would suggest that this is not real and not useful to us individually or as a society.

In all cultures we tend to raise little boys differently from little girls.  Parents, teachers and society in general have different conscious and unconscious expectations.  We talk to boys differently, we dress them differently and we communicate different messages to them about what’s ok and not ok in terms of their behaviour and who they are.

Maybe this is biological and it’s about raising good hunter gatherers, however, certainly in our country, long gone are the days when survival was our primary focus.

Boys tend to be given more permission to be angry and assertive then girls and less permission to be scared, sad and vulnerable.

I do think that our culture is changing and I have certainly noticed a difference in the 25 years that I have been a Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist, in that more men are now allowing themselves to come for therapy on personal development courses, and allowing themselves to be more vulnerable and seeking support.

However, it is still not uncommon in my couples work to have one party complain that “he doesn’t communicate with me” or “I just want him to share his feelings”.

Vulnerability is about us being real, truly being who we are, and being authentic.   We all feel low, sad, scared, inadequate and vulnerable at times in our lives, and what is the cost when we shut down on that?  What do we lose in terms of ourselves and our connections with others when we hide our true selves with a veneer of pseudo strength?

We all have unconscious bias towards certain groups of people and against others.  We tend to have a positive bias towards those we see ‘as the same as’ us and want to move away from those we see as ‘different’.  We all have prejudices and we all unconsciously discriminate.  We often see reflections in the media of gender stereotypes and this reinforces these unhelpful biases for both men and woman.

Human beings are social animals; we need each other for comfort, development and quality of life.  Allowing ourselves to feel and express our vulnerability is vital for emotionally healthy intimate relationships with ourselves and others.  To truly connect and empathise with another human being we need to be in touch with our own vulnerability.

To be psychologically healthy we need to be able to be and accept who we are and to communicate that to the world.  It is when we pretend that we are someone who we are not that can cause us all sorts of problems.  Often, of course, we can also hide it from ourselves as we may have learnt early in our lives to shut down on our own needs and feelings.

Brene Brown says “The number one shame trigger for men is being perceived as weak. Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness elicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak. But if you can’t be vulnerable, then you can’t truly grow and be your best self” 

Allowing ourselves to experience and express our vulnerability is not a weakness, it is in fact a strength.   Often it takes courage to be who we really are in the world but only through that can we be authentic, compassionate individuals who contribute to a healthy society.  Of course all of this is also true for women.

These are my random ramblings of today, tomorrow I may change my mind – Leilani Mitchell