Does being tough and strong really help men?
There are many men out there, maybe you and I, who hold great value in being tough and strong.
There is no doubt physical strength and regular exercise has great benefits to mental wellbeing. Get out there, keep up a fitness regime, move your body and release those stress hormones!
However, focusing only on physical toughness and strength alone may not always be enough for our mental health.
What does tough mean?
Tough has many qualities not only concerning physical strength.
At various times of life there are forms of toughness that we all need. In particular such as the ability to make difficult decisions under great adversity and distress.
This aspect of toughness includes our capacity to be:
- Stable in the midst of uncertainty
- Able to Negotiate
- Mentally strong
Another aspect of remaining tough is sometimes described as being stoic.
How would you define stoic?
Here’s a couple of formal definitions:
‘Determined not to complain or show your feelings especially when something bad happens to you’ (Cambridge Dictionary)
‘Being calm and almost without any emotion. A person that seems emotionless, almost blank, someone who goes with the flow’. (Vocabulary.com)
Lots of blokes I meet see themselves as stoic. Some stoic qualities include:
- Suck it up
- Non emotional
- Able to ride it out
Yet, there’s a dilemma! Faced by many a good man.
Being tough,strong and stoic alone is not always enough to look after ourselves emotionally.
Remaining tough, strong and stoic as the only way to deal with emotional stress can end up with us struggling more. This is often because difficult emotions can return unprocessed and unresolved.
What’s missing here? The big ‘V’!
Accepting vulnerability is a perfect combination alongside a tough, strong and stoic approach to life.
For many blokes, vulnerability simply isn’t part of our language. Hence the dilemma!
What does vulnerability mean?
One formal definition of vulnerability is:
‘a person’s openness and willingness to risk being hurt emotionally’. Psychology glossary
The problem for many of us is that the more vulnerable we are, the weaker we think we look! We’ve been taught that the more invulnerable we are, the stronger we become!
Therefore, vulnerability for many a man, is seen as a negative experience.
Many men see vulnerability as:
- Not being in total control.
- Feeling weak, embarrassed and shameful
I have no doubt that you (without knowing you personally!) and I have had numerous experiences where we have been vulnerable in life and we have expressed this in all kinds of ways.
- Having the courage to take a risk to change
- Being brave to speak up when feeling out of control
- Failing at our job and seeking help
- Applying for that job we really want
- Opening up to problems in our relationship
- Sharing our deepest fear and worries with our partner
- Telling our partner that she upset us
- Telling our partner how grateful we are for having her in our life
- Approaching someone for the first time despite fears of being rejected
- Asking our partner about their worries and fears
- Saying sorry and admitting our mistakes
- Asking our partner for help
- Telling our partner how much we miss them
Is vulnerability really all that important?
In a word, yes!
- Vulnerability connects us to each other.
- Our worries, fears, sadness, imperfections, draw us close to our partners, kids and close friends because it makes us relatable.
- Vulnerability is the courage to be ourself. It involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional
- exposure. This is also is why it seems scary.
- Vulnerability is an inevitable part of human interactions.
Too many of us blokes believe we should hide our vulnerability. Sadly, if we end up dismissing or disapproving of these feelings in ourselves and others we inevitability will feel more alone and isolated.
Is there a fix?
I think we as men we need to find the balance between toughness and vulnerability.
Our task is to:
- Become comfortable with emotions
- Accept our imperfections
- Express ourselves without limitation
- Fine tune our empathy in order to normalise all our feelings
- Focus on self-compassion to soothe our hurt and pain