The word ‘vulnerability’ can make a lot of men cringe. I get it.
Until Brene Brown explained a different take on this word in her 2010 Ted talk, I pretty much had ‘weakness’ associated with any kind of vulnerability - physical or emotional.
And I’m a woman.
From the stories many men have shared with me, most grew up with the same general idea instilled in them – vulnerability was NOT something men were supposed experience. It would result in getting your ass kicked or being bullied or mocked.
And for some, that sadly did happen in their household growing up and on the playgrounds of their school. So although we know now that it was a reflection of what we knew at the time and what was taught, thought patterns do get started, repeated…..and then well…. become super hard to break.
But since I’m married to such a man, one who has had to expand his definition of what vulnerability means ( because the old one stopped working )… here’s an additional concept to mull over.
And as with anything I present, you’re not required by any means to agree or adopt it for yourself. If your current definition is working for you and getting you the relationship outcomes you want, then…. keep on keepin’ on.
But I do ask you to consider one additional definition of the word that may be helpful in 2023.
Vulnerability - a willingness to show your humanity to those you care deeply about....and who you feel safe with
Now, that last bit is pretty self-explanatory. We’re definitely not required to be deeply vulnerable to complete strangers or those who harm or threaten us.
But the willingness to share common human experiences like grief, sadness, joy, and fear….it may feel a bit foreign at first, but it’s extremely powerful tool for cutting through the crap and getting down to the ‘real-deal’ – which if you’re part of our community, you know I support.
THE SAME, YET DIFFERENT
And the way a man shares his humanity may sound different than the way a woman would. And if you grew up in a different culture, that will have it's influence as well. Shared humanity. Different language to express that humanity. Get it?
So LADIES (or those who express more feminine energy) LISTEN UP - don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a man doesn’t share his humanity in the same way you would, that he’s not doing it!
And DUDES (or those who express more masculine energy), DON'T MAKE THE MISTAKE of assuming your woman always will recognize you’re doing it at first. It takes a bit of practice and cross-education to learn each other’s language.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
“So okay”, you might ask…”I'll bite. But what’s it sound like for a guy? Is just about crying, cowering and acting like a wimp?”. No, it is not.
Granted, some tears could happen at some point. But to begin showing your shared humanity, is less complicated than you may think it is.
1. Try lowering your voice. Or try a subtle change in tone. You can actually practice this on your own.
Try saying something like “This presentation is not going to go well!” (loudly). Then drop it done a few notches and see if it sounds different or feels different in your body.
2. Try some of these phrases in that lowered voice. ( BTW, a low voice doesn’t have to sound ‘mouse-y, just lower the volume )
“I’m not sure, but I can help you find out”
“I don’t know the answer right now. I can give it some thought”
“I’m frustrated / hurt/ disappointed that you see me that way”
“I’m really bummed that we’re having this fight..”
“I need a break. My head is spinning. Gimme 30 minutes”…
“You’re my girl/guy..and I hate it when we fight”
“You mean so much to me. When we fight, it freaks me out like we won’t make it”
And many more variations that are unique to you and the way you speak…
IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT TO BE EFFECTIVE
To me, it’s less about showing some sort of 'weakness' or using precise language…. and more about connecting at a human level. Which is something both men and women relate to.
It can shift the conversation just that little needed bit ….enough to take a breath and begin again. None of us get it 'right' the first time. In fact, to be honest..even with practice, no one is perfectly on their game all the time and mistakes are inevitable. But somehow as we got more practice, apologies come quicker and a desire for 'do-overs' becomes stronger.
YOU MAY NEED TO WADE THROUGH SOME MUCK
It’s a bit of dance between partners when you try this. Both sides often have past conditioning you’re sorting through. And an attempt to show humanity to your loved one may still get met with resistance, an unfair comment or irritated attitude. I’ve been guilty of that.
When my man showed leadership in a way I couldn’t in a disagreement, I silently beat myself up for ‘not doing better’. That was my childhood conditioning. And it often came out in a snarky remark to offload it.
But when he could ‘hold space’ and try again….or when he gently (yet firmly) called me out on my behavior but reinforced that he still wanted to talk me…..it did shift the conversation.
These days ( because now we have a lot of practice and know it works )… showing our humanity, sharing fears, doubt, sadness….it’s become more ‘natural’.
So has my husband become some sort of ‘sissy-boy’? Hardly! He’s still my rugged, masculine life-partner. He’s a gentle warrior and humane leader. Men can do both. (as can women in a different way – but that will be a different post).
Remember, learning those interpersonal relationship skills that we didn’t learn as kids… yah, it’s hard. And it is sometimes complex. But it’s not always as complicated as we think it is.
You can totally do this.
And as always, I'm in your corner,
NOTE - although in this post I am refer to cisgender males and my own cisgender, heterosexual experience, to me 'masculine' and 'feminine' is really about the energy we put out and our preferred interaction style. My experience and the insights above can easily be represented and useful in all relationships, regardless of sex or gender.
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