Since I was a child, I had the capacity to cry one second and then to laugh the other; I’d fallen over, someone could tell me a funny story and I’ll be giggling before I’d wipe away my tears.
Feminism for Men
Though I’ve grown out of this (a little), recent conversations with friends have enlightened me to the notion that we tend to suppress our vulnerability. Particularly in dialogue with male friends, I’ve noticed that though females may battle stereotypes, glass ceilings and commentary on what constitutes femininity, men also face a battle with vulnerability from an early age with phrases like “big boys don’t cry,” “man up,” and “don’t be a pu**y.”
Such phrases inadvertently suppress the capacity for self-expression. The gendered nature of such dialogue isn’t my main thesis, but it is something I’d like to point out as a jumping off point (I have a little brother and I want him to know that self-expression, emotions, and vulnerability are a necessary part of life).
As aforementioned however, this isn’t about men; this is about vulnerability, and it applies to everyone who is human.
A Little Context
In her talk, researcher Brene Brown highlighted that the current American population is the most in debt, obese, and medicated cohort in US history. Though I don’t know the Australian or worldwide statistics, I can say that I have considered the points Brown makes; essentially, that we are using un-evolved strategies for dealing with a vulnerable world. In short, we are findings ways to ‘cope’ with uncomfortable emotions and situations and are fighting our aversion towards vulnerability.
The way we’ve ‘adapted’ is by becoming experts in numbing our vulnerability; food, alcohol, drugs, or unfulfilling corporate climbs are tools and (inadequate) fillers for what is burrowed deep down in our souls and humans. We distract ourselves from our feelings when we search for food in response to negative emotions, when we take drugs after a break-up, when we drink to numb our emotions and our pain. Our temporary highs however, don’t last, and after the comedowns we’re worse off than when we started. And the cycle continues.
Quick fixes don’t work; they’re short-term strategies that generally make us ‘manage’ our emotions by quieting or suppressing them. As we use these ‘strategies,’ our capacity to deal with our feelings diminishes and we become ill equipped to cope with the multitude of emotion that accompanies human existence. A lot of it is uncomfortable. But moreover, we don’t just numb ourselves to the bad stuff (pain, sadness, anger and frustration) when we suppress vulnerability. We numb ourselves to the other cornerstones of the human condition; joy, hope, love, kindness. The point is that we can’t selectively numb our emotions, and numb is not how we’re designed to be.
We live in a vulnerable world; sh** happens, our knees and heart get bruised and scraped, and there are very few things guaranteed in this life. People hurt us, disappoint us, and we lose faith. We are faced with challenges and obstacles. Of course our lives involve learning what works and what doesn’t, and not repeating the same mistakes. I am not proposing that we ignore the lessons we’ve learned or jump into situations that we know will hurt us. However, when we live our lives in fear, suppressing our emotional vulnerabilities, we ignore two important needs.
The first, is the desire for genuine human connection, and the second is living authentically, whether that is staying true to yourself and/or being in fulfilling friendships and personal relationships. Show me a genuine connection that doesn’t require vulnerability. You can’t, because it doesn’t exist.
Brown says that we need to let ourselves “be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.” This, and accepting that this is what most of us crave at our core, takes strength. Specifically, she reminds us that ‘courage’ that the root of the word courage is ‘cor’ – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart.’
tl;dr Be Uncomfortable
The strongest people practice gratitude and joy and allow themselves to feel the uncomfortable parts of their lives. These are the people who laugh and cry, who know that numbing ourselves to our emotions is a fool’s way to live. They’re the ones who get their heart broken and take risks and build genuine connections with others – whether it is in their friendships or their romantic lives. They say: “I’d do it all again, because to feel vulnerable is to show courage, and that, is strength.” Funnily enough, I see it in children; in their honesty, their bluntness, and their capacity to show their hearts to you. As we grow up we become more guarded, sometimes in the name of self-preservation, but often to our own detriment.
Broadly speaking, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. If we’re not careful, we will pull away and suppress important parts of what it means to be human. Living and loving with our whole hearts with no guarantees is perhaps one of the most challenging things in the world. Let’s recognise the inner strength and inner courage that comes from being vulnerable; authenticity, and genuine connection might be the only way to satiate our basic emotional needs, and perhaps is the reason we’re all here in the first place.