We currently exist in a society where the expressions “man up,” or “stop crying and be a man” are utilized all too frequently. When men are told to “suck it up” and “be strong” (aka – hide their authentic thoughts and feelings), it creates a sense of unsafely for them to feel emotionally vulnerable.
No matter one’s pronouns or gender, we are all human beings, not machines. Being vulnerable and communicating how you feel in the moment is a show of strength. But, of course, a change towards true vulnerability acceptance will not happen overnight. Continue reading to see how you can be a part of this change.
Why is it Difficult for Some Men to be Vulnerable?
When it comes to the gender binary and processing emotions, society has different expectations for men and women. Some men believe that crying in front others will threaten their masculinity. Feelings of grief may be pushed down for men. This may be why men act aggressively or get angry over a seemingly insignificant reason when really what he’s experiencing is sadness. These emotions that are being experienced must go somewhere.
According to the CDC’s suicide statistics, suppressing emotions can lead to depression and anxiety, and a higher risk of suicide, especially for men. Men are more likely to complete a suicide attempt compared to women. According to these statistics, in 2018, men died by suicide about 3.56 times more often than women did.
In addition, men are taught from an early age to be self-reliant. Much of what we are taught from a young age is so deeply ingrained in us, that it can take a considerable amount of time to unlearn and unravel those early messages. It is important to understand that going against these spoken or unspoken words at first may be uncomfortable. Know that this is okay. Sit with that discomfort, don’t let it consume you, and continue to grow from it. That’s half the battle. The other half is what we as a society can do to help provide a space where everyone can experience equality in this matter.
Society’s Role in Allowing Men to be Emotionally Vulnerable
Think as far back as you can about when gender norms and stereotypes were presented to you. As women become pregnant, gender reveals are presented to loved ones along with themes of “wear pink if you think it’s a girl” or “wear blue if you think it’s a boy.” There are common societal statements such as, “If it’s a boy you can’t let him wear pink, that color is feminine.”
From very early on, society pre-determines what we think is “manly” “tough” “strong” or otherwise. This goes back generations, making it a difficult cycle to break, especially when men are conditioned to believe that emotional exposure is not aligned with “what it means to be a man.”
As a society, it is up to us to set and create the foundation that empathetically accepts vulnerability and asking for help to be representative of strength rather than weakness. This foundation is the first step towards reaching success and recovery towards letting your emotions show without feelings of embarrassment and shame taking over. Think of how much stronger and healthier this can potentially make relationships. Some actions we can take as a society to encourage vulnerability could look like:
- Congratulating him when he decides to go into therapy
- Validating his emotions when he seems sad or scared
- Don’t verbally judge or make jokes if he wears a color that isn’t “aligned with masculinity”
- Start to challenge his ideas of “stereotypical masculinity”
- Be supportive of him and his choices
- Treat people how YOU would like to be treated
5 Things to do to Create Safety for Men to Feel Emotionally Vulnerable
Gender stereotypes and cultural norms have the potential to be toxic and have a negative impact on our mental health, but especially for male identified individuals. We want to have meaningful relationships with others, right? There are many ways this safety can be created for men in this sense. Some ideas can include:
Many men accept the false assumption that power equals strength. Through repetition and positive reinforcement (not shaming men when they cry or talk about vulnerabilities), we can begin to shift this false assumption and make men feel empowered.
Stop shaming men
Shaming men for their vulnerability is the equivalent to shaming them for being human. It is crucial that we stop shaming folks in general. Beginning to treat others how we want to be treated can be a very important step in changing the direction of allowing others to share their vulnerabilities.
What does safety look like for you? Many people aren’t going to want to share and be vulnerable in a space where they are feeling judged or belittled by others. If someone feels they have a safe space to be authentic, opening up to others will soon become easy.
Incorporate more open and non-judgmental communication within your relationship
One of the best ways to go about doing this, is to always stay curious. Many seemingly over-the-top reactions are rarely what they seem on the surface. See if there is any way for you to provide support and understanding to the situation. This could look like saying, “So it sounds that you’re saying..” or “I’m sorry that happened to you, how can I be of support to you in this moment?”
Be patient and consistent
It may be difficult for a man to express emotions at first, and that is okay! Feeling comfortable to share emotions can be challenging when you’ve been conditioned to sever that part of your human experience. Continue to be curious and compassionate each day.
Creating a space where men and other people in your life can feel vulnerable could potentially be one small step in changing the world and how we relate to each other. Brene Brown said it best, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” Change, no matter how small, has the potential to have a ripple effect and can open the door to so many opportunities.