Vulnerability: the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally – Oxford Dictionary 2017
But is that really what it is?
Vulnerability has long been considered a weakness or that thing we keep hidden deep down to protect ourselves. But is it really a state of being that hinders us, or could it possibly be a state of being that brings us closer to the people around us?
A recent study by Eli Finkel (2017) found that mutual openness, such as being vulnerable, played a crucial role in creating healthy relationships. But what do we mean by being vulnerable? We mean the ability to express our emotions freely, to be intimate (and not just in the physical sense) and to be able to express the raw, unfiltered version of ourselves that we usually keep locked away.
As women, we are socialised and told that is it okay to be emotional, okay to openly express our feelings and that it is okay to not be okay. For men, it’s clear there is something different. With the increasing awareness of men’s mental health, with campaigns such as C.A.L.M and #MendTheGap , it is evident there is a lack of understanding of what it means to be vulnerable as a man. Men are aware, that although they are asked to be vulnerable, their vulnerability may be met with uncertainty and sometimes misunderstood.
Following from our last blog, we recently discussed what is “rejection” and what it is to be vulnerable with men of different ages and races. Many perceived rejection as something that only occurs when (and if) they approached a woman for a conversation. We also found that this is biggest reason as to why men don’t approach women at all. Many went on to say they found women can be mean in conversation and this deters them from approaching women at all!
We also found that men saw vulnerability as something that happened rather than an emotional way of being. One participant said they felt vulnerable when they were in a state of financial uncertainty and they were unable to provide for their family. Many of the men saw vulnerability as a state of being weak. So how does this affect relationships?
“If there are prerequisites for worthiness that we carry either knowingly or unknowingly within us, then we apply them to ourselves as well as other people” – Dr Brene Brown
Dr Brene Brown carried out research for her book Daring Greatly and found that we really can’t offer people more compassion than we have for ourselves. Her research found that for us to be able to tolerate vulnerability in others, we first must be able to accept the perceived imperfections within ourselves.
For men, intimacy is often synonymous with sex. It has been said that this is one of the few areas where men allow themselves to emotionally and physically vulnerable (being naked usually does that to a person!). But intimacy is far more than just that, it is a something of a personal or private nature that we allow ourselves to share with someone else with freedom, regardless of how the other person may receive that sharing. Without vulnerability, how can we have love, trust and intimacy?
We can’t expect a person to “change”. But what we can do is transform our expectations, develop our understanding of intimacy and vulnerability and understand that we really can’t offer more compassion than we have for ourselves. Let the ones you’re with know that they can talk to you and really mean it, let them know that you love each other because of your imperfections, not despite of them, and that it is okay not to be okay.