Stop me when any of this starts to sound familiar:
“Suck it up!”
“Boys don’t cry!”
“Don’t be a sissy!”
Growing up in Canada, many boys hear these kinds of phrases again and again. As one of the registered counsellors providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from guys who were raised to keep their emotions bottled up. Whenever they shared feelings with friends or family as a child, like sadness, loneliness or hurt, one of those “tough guy” phrases pushed emotions down deeper and deeper. Over time, this robbed them of something extremely powerful: The ability to be vulnerable.
It’s no wonder so many men tell me they struggle to express emotions, connect with their partners, and show affection. How do you start doing something you’ve always been told not to do?
The answer: By learning to be vulnerable.
What is vulnerability?
I’ve had many men ask me about the viral video of Dr. Brené Brown’s famous 2010 TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” which now has more than 54 million views. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines vulnerability as “risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure.”
We become vulnerable when we take action without knowing what the outcome will be. When we ask for a raise or a promotion at work, for instance, we become vulnerable to the feelings of shame, failure, and disappointment that go along with being turned down. The same goes with more emotional situations, such as a marriage proposal or saying “I love you” to someone for the first time. What if they say no? What if they don’t say “I love you” back?
From a “tough guy” perspective, vulnerability is a sign of weakness. But as Brown points out in the video, “vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage.” It takes COURAGE to ask for that raise. It takes COURAGE to say “I love you” for the first time.
Why is being vulnerable important?
Many of the men I work with tell me, “There’s something missing in my life, but I don’t know what it is. I’m doing everything right — good job, happy family, nice car, comfortable house — but all I feel is emptiness.”
It’s common for men to feel this way. Doing everything right, and trying to be perfect, masks the vulnerabilities that are mistaken for weakness. Take off that mask, and you’ll do more than remove unnecessary stress and pressure from your shoulders. In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown writes that “if we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful lives, vulnerability is the path.”
If you let people see who you really are, you have so much to gain. You can: make peace with the past, earn the trust and respect of those around you, and be a better friend, partner, co-worker, or boss.
How to harness the power of vulnerability
Becoming more vulnerable isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Here are a few simple ways to help let vulnerability work its way into your life easily and naturally.
Be bad at something—together!
Being vulnerable doesn’t have to involve heavy emotions. It can be as simple as doing something you aren’t good at. By joining someone you care about in a new activity—pottery or a painting class for couples, let’s say, or a beginner bowling league—you both take a risk together. If you’re terrible, so what? Taking a journey together shows that being terrible at something isn’t so awful after all. It can actually be a lot of fun!
Motivate yourself to take risks by focusing on positive outcomes instead of negative ones. It’s easy to allow the worst-case scenarios running through our heads to take over. But if we only focus on all of the terrible things that can happen, it’s not motivating. From relationships to possessions, so much of what we already have in life came from taking action that had a positive result. As the saying goes, “it’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried.”
Identify your core values
People tend to measure their own personal fulfillment and happiness against socially accepted standards. Society says 9-to-5 jobs are fulfilling, for example, so some people get 9-to-5 jobs to feel fulfilled.
Trouble is, those standards don’t necessarily reflect what makes YOU happy and fulfilled. So ask yourself: What kind of man do I want to be? Identify five or six core values that are important to you—things like honesty, loyalty, reliability, dependability, respect and so on. (Try Googling “core values” for more examples.) You’ll find it easier to open up and to be your true self around people who share the same core values as you do.
Find a way to share the thoughts you keep inside
Think of the things you truly want to tell people. If it’s too uncomfortable to say them out loud, write a note, send an email, put a sticky note on the bathroom mirror. Start with small things first—”I would like it if you made time for me instead of always being busy with work and the kids,” for example, or “I feel upset when you get mad at me for every little thing you think I am doing wrong”—and communicate in a way that feels safe. Putting your true self out there is the key here.
See a counsellor
The team at TELUS Health MyCare™ provides living proof that guys who want to understand their emotions and themselves better have plenty of safe places to turn. If it feels more comfortable, a close friend or family member can also help guys on this journey.
In the end, the power of vulnerability isn’t about what you know or how good you are at something; it’s about who you are. Learning how to be our true selves can help you be a better friend, partner, parent, co-worker, and boss.
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What is the most fun/awkward thing you have done to put yourself out there and feel vulnerable? We’d love to hear in the comments below!