Do you really want me to be vulnerable?

Growing up I’d learnt that it wasn’t OK for me to be in touch with my emotions. It wasn’t OK for me to be vulnerable. As a boy and young man I’d had years of conditioning that had made me believe that I would be seen ‘as less than’ or not a real man if I showed what I was feelingor what was going on for me. Especially if those feelings and beliefs were negative or I found myself needing support and comfort as I dealt with my shadows and demons.

Through joining a men’s group and also doing my own work alone and in supportive spaces I began to learn and believe that it was not only OK for me to be aware of my feelings but also to ask for support if I was dealing with something that was difficult for me process alone.

This change has benefited me as I feel that I’ve become more comfortable with who I am and healed. Over the past nine years I’ve learnt not only to acknowledge my own fears but also to work with others to acknowledge my own anxieties and uncertainties and the beliefs that lay beneath them so that I can develop into the man that I want to be.

For me this journey has been a helpful one not only personally because I can be more open and honest about what is going on for me but also professionally as I’ve been doing my training to become a counsellor. As a counsellor it’s useful to know if the emotions being discussed in the counselling room are mine or my clients. To paraphrase Jung I can only support a client to look at their shadows only after I’ve acknowledged and owned mine.

However recently I’ve become aware of something that has been looming on the horizon. Something that has made me stop in my tracks and question what I’ve learnt in my recent past and made me think that perhaps those messages I learnt in childhood were actually right.

That something is two phrases that have become quite common.  They crept upon me without my noticing them until I couldn’t ignore them anymore. Those two phrases are “time you grew a pair” and “you need to man up”. Both phrases challenged the man I am becoming and made me want to resume my default position and become again the closed off boy/man that I’d been.

However there is another part of me that is angry about this and I’ve learnt that anger is often due to boundaries being violated. I’m angry because the implication of both of these phrases is; I’m not a ‘real’ man if I talk about being sad or lonely or I’m less than a man if I’m scared and want or need support to come out of the darkness.

I wonder if it’s those people who berated me for not being able to own my fear who are now doubting the presence and size of my testicles, as if I’m not a man without them. I also wonder if it’s the same people who complained that I wasn’t in touch with my sadness that are now telling me to man up and become unspeaking and stoic when they see tears in my eyes.

Or perhaps it’s those people who sell beer or electric drills and other DIY related paraphernalia who think that questioning my manhood will make me want to compensate for it or the lack of testicles by buying their beverages or products.

Whoever it is, I’m happy with the man that I am thank you very much. I value being in touch with my emotions and sharing them with those I care about. Not only that I welcome the opportunity to connect with others and share my hopes and fears as I believe that doing so helps us all to learn and grow.

So, the next time you hear a voice telling someone “to grow a pair” or “to man up”. I suggest that you ask them what they mean and what they want. I believe that one of the reasons suicide rates were 3½ times higher for men than woman in 2012 (The Guardian) was because men aren’t being allowed to acknowledge their vulnerability. I also believe that one of the reasons men die on average years younger than women is because their fears and anxieties slowly poison them to death.

by Shaky Shergill