Perhaps you have recently encountered difficult life experiences, such as work place or relationship difficulties or a loss of some kind. Has your usual way of dealing with your feelings been by putting them in a box and shutting them away in a cupboard behind a lock and key?
Perhaps this time you seem to struggle to do it and whatever helped you to get through in the past is not working anymore. You may have self-medicated and covered up your feelings, for example, by using alcohol, gambling, and/or getting into unhealthy relationships or maybe you have noticed that you tend to become angry and “lose it” more frequently than in the past.
How does hearing the word vulnerable make you feel? I’m guessing that it is that word that you would rather erase from your vocabulary. You may have grown up with the message “Men can’t be vulnerable” and learnt to hide away your feelings for years. Recently, I wrote about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and how that impacts adult wellbeing. You can read it here.
Culturally, there is a lot of pressure for men to conform to certain stereotypes, which then can lead to men feeling like they cannot show vulnerability or seek support when needed.
You might be surprised that the struggle with vulnerability is not gender specific to men. However, I wanted to write this post to men, as this topic may not often catch the attention of men, I have observed and spoken with many men who struggle with the idea of getting in touch with their vulnerability and often these men are suffering in silence.
How is fear of vulnerability demonstrated?
I have been thinking about vulnerability a lot, as I started reading Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly”. She has dedicated her life on researching vulnerability and confessed having struggled with the idea of emotionally exposing herself.
I see how many men in the world are suffering because they are fearful of vulnerability. Many people say that they had always thought of themselves as weak for having feelings.
Fear of vulnerability in men is often covered up, for example, by:
- macho behaviour and bravado, banter, and making a joke out of difficult matters
- “bottling it up” and withdrawing/isolating
- using substances
- engaging in meaningless relationships that lack emotional depth
- bursts of anger when something vulnerable deep inside is triggered
- directing attention away from self to something or someone else
- career focus – disregarding the importance of relationships. You may be interested in reading my other post about “When being fiercely independent leaves you feeling alone and isolated. You can read it here.
Not being in touch with our vulnerability can lead to, for example:
- relationship difficulties
- out of control behaviours:
- anger and violence
- sexual behaviour
- substance use
- further shame & guilt
How can your life benefit from you getting in touch with your vulnerability and feelings?
Understanding your feelings can help you to live a life where you are able to make better decisions in your private life and at work. If decisions are based on, for example, wanting to please someone or look good in the eyes of other, they may leave you feeling really unhappy or put you in difficult situations.
Vulnerability is essential in close relationships because it creates the bond that helps to carry the relationship over sticking points. If one or both partners fear to let their guard down and let the other person see them, the relationship lacks depth. You may be interested in reading another post I wrote about “6 signs that fear of rejection is killing your relationship”. You can read it here.
Brene Brown talks about research that was carried out amongst managers who reported better connections at work when they asked for help from their staff. She also talks about how vulnerability is in the heart of innovation and being able to be creative.
Recognising your feelings and being ok with it, is likely to help you to manage or live with stress and anxiety better. Often when sharing with another person when you are having difficult feelings takes their power away.
Getting in touch with vulnerability and those parts of ourselves that we really feel uncomfortable about allows you to know yourself better and accept that you are good enough as you. You might argue to say, but that might make me lazy or not help me to reach my career goals etc. In fact, knowing yourself frees up the time to pursue your goals as time, effort and emotional capacity is not lost on being confused about who you are and what you want.
How can you embrace your vulnerability and get to know your feelings?
We have a real range of emotions, some are primary, such as fear, joy, grief/sadness and anger, which then all have secondary emotions behind them.
- Anger: hatred, contempt, resentment, irritability, exasperation, jealousy
- Fear: anxiety, nervousness, suspicion, prejudice, panic
- Grief or Sadness: melancholy, despair, humiliation, shame, remorse, embarrassment
- Joy or Happiness: love, delight, enjoyment, relief, pride
(borrowed from http://www.alive.com/health/the-primary-emotions)
In order to know what something means to you or how it feels, pause, close your eyes & ears from any distraction and listen to your inner experience both physically and emotionally. If you are really struggling, take one emotion at a time and think about times when you have felt that way and reconnect with your experience.
It may be helpful to work on getting to know You with a help of a trusted friend or partner, or a professional.
I appreciate that getting to know yourself and connecting with your vulnerability is very hard. However, I’m hoping that reading this gets you thinking about how your life could benefit from you getting in touch with your feelings. I’d like to hear what you think about this article.
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©2017 Dr Mari Kovanen, CPsychol. All rights reserved.