Men’s Vulnerability – Mistaken For Weakness


Men are confused about vulnerability.

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work captures the heart of men’s difficulties with vulnerability. She describes how:

“Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness illicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak”

The implications of fear and shame on men’s mental health is described in this earlier post.

Vulnerability challenges how a man views himself

From a psychological perspective there are numerous definitions describing vulnerability. Here are a few.

“Vulnerability is the quality of being hurt. It comes from the latin word ‘vulnus’, meaning ‘wound’ “(Psychology dictionary)

“Vulnerability is a person’s openness and willingness to risk being hurt emotionally. For example the risk of being willing to love and be loved and admit to the risks that go with it” (Psychology glossary)

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but never weaknesses” (Brene Brown)

Men often think the only way to show vulnerability is by expressing their emotions and crying. However, vulnerability isn’t just about breaking down in tears.

What does it really look like?

Vulnerability can be about:

  • Being courageous and taking a risk to change
  • Communicating difficult feelings about an event or relationship
  • Being brave to speak up when feeling out of control
  • Failing at your job and seeking help
  • Applying for that job you really want
  • Opening up in your relationship
  • Sharing your deepest fear and worries with your partner
  • Telling your partner that she upset you
  • Telling your partner how grateful you are for having her in your life
  • Approaching someone for the first time despite your fears of being rejected
  • Asking your partner about their worries and fears
  • Your first attempt at asking a person out on a date
  • Expressing your love with some uncertainty
  • Writing your true feelings in an email.
  • Saying sorry and admitting your mistakes
  • Asking your partner for help
  • Telling your partner how much you miss her

Mistaken for weakness

The portrayal of vulnerability as weakness has many of its origins in our history of childhood, early relationships, gender, the media and culture.

Paradoxically, the more attempts we make to shield our fears and insecurities the more internal shame rears it’s head. Often, it’s this shame that tends to deplete us of strength and power.

The surprising part of expressing vulnerability is it’s amazing strengthening qualities both in our relationships and our self-esteem.

Being open increases closeness and intimacy.

Vulnerability enhances the following vital features and experiences in relationships:

Connection and intimacy 

Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable creates safety to open up to our partners and for them to be open with us. Receiving love and care makes us feel accepted and supported. This connection created through vulnerability allows partners to genuinely know each other.

Cultivates trust

Being open and sharing our hidden thoughts and feelings needs respect and care. This fosters security and trust for both partners to look out for each other through difficult times.

Enhances growth and change

The sharing of our reflections in a supportive relationship enriches the platform for personal change to take place. Acceptance of vulnerability means an absence of judgement therefore talking about insecurity doesn’t attack our self-esteem.

Boosting confidence

Expression of vulnerability will help us feel comfortable with our imperfections without shame or embarrassment. Opening up to our fears strengthens our sense of self as we resist the temptation to pretend everything is ok.

Strengthens our humanity

Every person feels vulnerable. It’s the essence of being human. The more we hide from this the more disconnected we can feel. When we talk or listen to others we are acknowledging the humanity of fear, doubt and worry with openness and curiosity.

Consider how we respond to the vulnerability of people in crisis and how that motivates us to help.

Increases love

Expressing our feelings and thoughts with openness and acceptance are the building blocks of love. Being open emotionally and physically naturally increases love in a relationship.

Brene Brown also said

“ Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

 Vulnerability is about being authentic and honest.

A new strengthening exercise for men in ‘manning up’ is developing the courage to be real. Look at all the positive outcomes!

Dr. Brene Brown  is an expert on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Listen to her brilliant TED talk on Vulnerability here


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