Male Vulnerability: How It Strengthens Relationships
Expressing our true selves can be challenging for many people, but for men in intimate relationships, it is particularly difficult. From early childhood, boys are taught that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. How often have parents told their young sons to stop crying, reinforcing the notion that boys don't cry? Society is saturated with myths about masculinity, perpetuating the idea that being "macho" is the epitome of manhood.
One significant issue we face as a society is the prevalence of violence, mostly among boys and men. Instances of bullying, school shootings, road rage, and sex trafficking can often be traced back to the suppression of emotions. Men, conditioned to equate vulnerability with weakness, resort to expressing their distress through aggressive actions like squealing tires rather than engaging in open conversations.
The societal pressure to conform to the stereotype of being stoic and invulnerable has contributed to a generation of men grappling with issues such as suicide, depression, and anxiety, especially within relationships. Their partners desire emotional openness, but for many men, the prospect of appearing weak and facing potential rejection impedes their ability to express their feelings.
Research indicates that embracing vulnerability has positive effects on men's mental health in three specific areas.
Improved Communication in Relationships: Relationships thrive on open communication. When men can honestly express their feelings, trust and connection strengthen. This openness extends to their roles as parents and healthy sexual partners. In contrast, societal norms that encourage silence lead to miscommunication, leaving partners feeling disconnected and isolated.
Enhanced Mental Health: Suppressing emotions can lead to unpredictable outbursts. Verbal expression of feelings minimizes sadness, anger, and pain, thereby strengthening confidence, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence. Sharing feelings with a trusted individual helps men cope with stress, fostering increased resilience.
Re-identification of Healthy Masculinity: Toxic notions of masculinity contribute to the repression of emotions, fostering a pressure cooker of negative feelings. This toxic masculinity has far-reaching consequences, including sexual violence, road rage, bullying, traffic accidents, sex trafficking, depression, and suicide. Dispelling the stigma around vulnerability is crucial for fostering emotionally healthier men and a thriving society.
Society will change gradually as individual men embrace vulnerability. Here are suggestions to start overcoming the stigma of vulnerability in your personal life and relationships.
Listen to Yourself: Challenge restrictive or judgmental thoughts about your feelings. Recognize that feelings are a fundamental part of being human and should be accepted without judgment or blame.
Practice Vulnerability: Engage in self-reflection in front of a mirror or through daily recordings. This practice helps you become more comfortable expressing your feelings in front of others and offers insight into your authentic self.
Seek Professional Help: If expressing vulnerability proves challenging, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can help uncover deep-seated traumas and assist in the process of embracing and expressing emotions.
To feel is a basic human need, and suppressing or denying feelings for societal acceptance is detrimental to both individuals and society. Fostering an environment where boys can be as open and honest about their feelings as girls is a crucial step toward promoting emotional health on a societal scale. - Mary Jo Rapini