Men, Vulnerability, Talking and Not Expecting Miracles. 

Men need to get better at vulnerability, better at relating  to each other and the world around them.

Traditionally masculinity is about strength, courage and independence back from a time when men had to be the protectors and hunters. In 2020 for many living up to these ideals means a reluctance to ask for help. Men have been conditioned to hide their emotions, it does not mean they don’t have emotion they just suppress them.  

Still with all the information and resources available men still find it harder than women to talk, men are still less than half as likely to seek help than women and this needs to change.

Masculinity and Vulnerability

Masculine norms (as they’re called in psychology) include specific ways men are told they should act (man up, be a man, be tough, stay in control, be a provider) Dr Powell PhD, MPH, is an associate professor in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Health Behaviour was asked what affect do these norms have on men’s mental health over time?

masculinity norms for example can govern the way men seek help. In general, when men adhere rigidly to the kinds of norms that encourage them to not share their emotions, to be sort of relentlessly self-reliant without seeking the help or support of others. They can have poorer mental health outcomes

Sometimes, even if you know you need help, it can be tough to know where to start. According to leading Psycologist and  CEO of BioBeats Dr David Plans 

“I’ve experienced many men who do not want to ask for help because they’re afraid of looking weak or stupid. Internal struggles are just as valid as any other struggle, and these do not make them less of a man. …Many men don’t know how to ask for help…Men are taught from an early age, either by cultural referencing around them or by direct parenting, to be tough, not to cry, and to ‘crack on,’”

This is echoed by Dr Aiden Burell of the Alfred Hospital and Male Hug “Men have a fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable… typically men have a stoic approach to life which can be a great strength but also a weakness”

 “One of the problems is that in the last decade the world hasn’t really been interested in the psychology of gender,” the psychotherapist Nick Duffell told The Guardian last year.

The last 10 years has seen a really significant and meaningful discussion about gender equality and gender in the work place and more recently about mental health but nothing linking the two. Clearly men are more vulnerable today than 10 years ago, certainly than 30 years ago. The rules of being a man have changed, how men work (more competition and less entitled to senior roles) , how men interact with women (acceptable behaviours have changed, particularly  in the workplace, how men parent (more hands on, active and present) means there is a lot of confusion, uncertainty and vulnerability, yet men continue to be incapable or unwilling to express their emotions and feelings. 

Portrait of senior male patient standing at hospital ward

Importance of being Vulnerable

For many men, being vulnerable is being weak. This is of course nonsense, being vulnerable does not detract from your masculinity, it is being human, and having the courage to admit vulnerability is a sign of strength

Perhaps we are we trying too hard to be happy, live a perfect life and to eliminate all the stresses in life, when this is simply impossible. It is OK to admit not everything is perfect, admitting being vulnerable is the first step.

As high profile mens health advocate Paul Mort  puts it “The Unstoppable guy is just a guy who isn’t perfect, isn’t a superhero, but understands how to deal with everyday stress, events, triggers, circumstances,” he says. “I say to the guys ‘Listen: stresses and pressures aren’t going away. But you can just get better at dealing with them. It’s sometimes the problem for most men that we think we’re going to get to this perfect life. But that life doesn’t exist.”

In Mort’s mind, there is no crisis of masculinity apart from the fact men don’t know how to ask for help if they’re suffering.

“My opinion — and this upsets some people — is that depression, anxiety and stress are all just a state. And you can manage that state, It’s a case of having the right tools, and staying on top of it …..The great thing about vulnerability is it’s a starting point: you can’t really make a change until you’re radically honest about yourself and your vulnerability.”

Acceptance is important, accept yourself, accept your vulnerability, talk about. It won’t make you instantly happy but it will help you realise you are not alone and it will help you “deal” with your life situation and start building towards greater contentment. Stop hiding it, stop fighting it, start accepting it and talking about it.

How to be vulnerable

We know men need to talk more, admit their vulnerabilities and emotions but saying it`s OK to be vulnerable is one thing but a what does it actually mean? 

As humans, we are made to connect with others; this is what gives our lives purpose and meaning. Being truly vulnerable with others builds trust and that is the foundation of connection, which we all need to have good mental health.

Perhaps the connection is informal, perhaps it`s a formal discussion with a group or maybe what works better for you is a discussion with one mate.  Show me your vulnerability and I’ll show you mine? 

Facilitating these conversations is key to The Male Hug. Creating safe spaces is important, The Male Hug buddy program is just this. Vulnerability is linked with being authentic and being authentic is hard and men need to feel they will be understood and not judged if they are to be vulnerable.  

According to Dr Ian Drever, a consultant psychiatrist who’s worked in The Priory in London:

 “There’s significant value in realising that we are vulnerable, that we can become ill, that we have needs which we should acknowledge to ourselves. At The Priory, I saw a lot of the stereotypical alpha males in professions like law and banking who tried to soldier on, maintaining an aura of invincibility, only for it later to come crashing down when illness set in. For those guys, having a sense of vulnerability earlier on would have been helpful.”

Buddy Catch ups and get together events are the perfect space for this kind of discussion. A safe space is created where men talk openly and know others with listen, empathise and not judge. Talking and working on your mental health in a community environment with other you can trust is so very beneficial.

According to The Male Hug founder Tony Rabah it`s never too early to talk and as he loves to say “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Tony adds,  “When we feel anxious and unhappy there can be a reluctance to share, a feeling that your problems won’t be understood and you need to toughen up. This is not true, talking to someone will help, you will feel a weight lifted and you might even find some practical help. It takes a strong man to admit they are feeling vulnerable”

There are online forums and plenty of Apps for your phone that seek to help men improve  their mental health but the very best AI on the market is still not the solution that works best, two humans talking in an empathic understanding, and non judgemental way. 

The Male Hug are big on talking and catching up with mates. Talktober and the Buddy Program underline our commitment to this. Why? Because talking helps.

Call The Male Hug on 1800 4 BUDDY today and find people who get you and accept you.