What “vulnerability” really is, and why it has nothing to do with “weakness”
The other day I had a fascinating epiphany about the correlation between being a powerful alpha male/masculinity and being vulnerable. This aspect, being the tender and less glamorous side of the masculine discussion, rarely gets any attention – but I believe it has some incredible value.
When I shared this idea with a few friends they were baffled on how such a contradiction could possibly have any weight… after all, the big strong masculine figures appear to be anything BUT vulnerable. As I explained it further, all the lights bulbs started going on like a string of Christmas tree lights finally untangled. The reason for their initial confusion it seemed, is that most of us tend to equate “vulnerability” to “weakness”.
First off, let’s take a look at the definitions and clear this up:
- vulnerable – susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
- weakness – the state or condition of lacking strength.
As you can see, they are totally different. Keep this in mind as I talk about being vulnerable, because it has nothing to do with being weak, and in fact, everything to do with strength. I digress, back to my initial realization.
If we take a look at natural indicators of “alpha” status, of powerful males, we see many postures and positions that are not only vulnerable, but so vulnerable that they risk harm, outcast, or even death. Some of these positions or indications that tend to correlate to high masculinity or status are:
- Chest out; exposed
- Head up & neck back; exposed
- Hips & pelvis forward
- Head of the line/leading/leadership roles; exposed, first in the line of danger, and well-know as an easy target, also, vulnerable to losing the most status, power, and respect.
- The testicles, symbol and organ of masculinity; hanging, overtly exposed and vulnerable
- Warrior/responder (first-aid, firemen, etc); vulnerable to attacks, injury, and death
You can see that most positions of status are actually very vulnerable positions, rather than safe, hidden ones. Imagine low status stereotypes: your everyday janitors, paperboys, librarians, programmers, personal assistants, office workers, etc. Those roles don’t typically scream strong primal masculinity do they? No, they don’t. You can imagine a programmer hunched over at his computer, walking around slouched with his head down chest in, all closed off in protective mode from the dangers of society. He’s for the most part, putting himself into a safe position unexposed to threats (or at least that’s the attempt from posturing – chances are it actually puts off a prey vibe.)
I’m not saying people doing those specific jobs aren’t masculine or anything like that – no no! I’m simply showing a contrast of stereotypes and postures that reveal how low-risk, safe, and unexposed positions (both roles and body language) don’t really excite any neuro-networks of masculinity and strength. The ones who have the highest vulnerability and risk tend to correlate to stereotypical masculine qualities.
Now there’s an important caveat that makes vulnerability an attractive masculine quality and NOT a weakness, vulnerability must be in the context of strength. Vulnerability coming from a place of overall strength, confidence, and self-reliance is incredibly attractive, powerful, and masculine. Vulnerability coming from a place of weakness, is well frankly – disgusting. It’s a repellent. It’s a liability and is the anti-provider. These are the antelope that get slaughtered by lions first and then picked apart joyfully by the vultures and left to be decomposed by rodents and other creatures.
Did I make that explicit enough? I hope so. It’s that bad. It’s being the guy that complains about getting beat up everyday and isn’t strong enough mentally or physically to defend himself.
I’m getting a little carried away here, but it’s to make a point – vulnerability from weakness is a liability and will likely get its neck bit from a wild cougar and die passively without notice. Vulnerability from a place of strength has its neck exposed even more, but isn’t seen as prey. If attacked, he can defend himself in one way or another, but alas may very well die. It’s not an invincibility – it’s being vulnerable despite the risks that make it powerful, sexy, and admirable. This may sound familiar… it can also be referred to as courage.
Fascinating stuff you might say, but how can you actually apply this to your own life? I’m going to use the icon of James Bond 007 to illustrate this perfectly. The most important are the following 2 areas of application:
- Physical Vulnerability
- Emotional Vulnerability
The first, being physically vulnerable from a place of strength, looks like James Bond’s body language. I’m not going to go into it, but just watch some Bond films, or look at the photos of Bond in the media (the ones with Daniel Craig are great). He has great posture: shoulders back, chest open, hips forward, head up… all technically vulnerable positions. He doesn’t even wear any protective gear on missions – his flesh is totally exposed. He does get hurt, but can handle it – vulnerable in strength not weakness. He prefers to travel sophisticatedly and fashionable over protecting himself. However stupid that may be in real life, you see the appeal apparent – men typically want to be Bond, and some women want James Bond more than they do a soldier behind a bomb suit.
The second, emotional vulnerability, is even more powerful than the first because it requires a certain amount of character which is a lot more elusive and rare than physical vulnerability/strength.
In the last Bond film, “Skyfall“, we can see a glimpse of emotion and care from James as “M” is in danger and does more than “protocol” to protect her. We see this climax as the ever so strong and calm Bond cries for a moment as he holds her dying in his arms. This vulnerability, what most normal people would call “human emotions”, was an incredibly powerful moment where we connected with the human side of somebody that’s really inhuman (see fictional) in most aspects. This is a perfect illustration of emotional vulnerability in the context of strength.
Compare this to a guy who lost a letter from his co-worker and started crying his eyes out, or who got a ticket and went on a rampage and blew up a police station. That’s being vulnerable from a place of emotional instability and weakness. No good. Yet, compare this to the man who is too numb or tough (see “emotionally unavailable”) to cry when he hears his mother dies. The loss of a parent is a perfectly natural reason to cry, it is not a weakness. I would beg to say NOT crying would be a sign of a major emotional issue.
The above examples are a bit extreme, even the James Bond examples aren’t realistic, but they should illustrate the concept well. No need to take it extremes. James Bond has incredible sex appeal, yet, isn’t likely to have very healthy relationships given his lifestyle – obviously. Hopefully this is showing you how to balance Mr. Badass with Mr. Authentic.
Physical vulnerability within strength shows the physical power and status of a powerful man, and emotional vulnerability within a stable and wholesome mind and emotional system shows you’re human. That you’re real. Awesome… but real. People can connect with you on a deeper level; people don’t trust people who are “too perfect”. Despite your confident appearance, you’re just as human as everyone else. You can provide a safe and sensual space, and at the same time show she’s needed and appreciated there.
That gentleman, is the magic key to real intimate human connections – the real purpose of all of this.
Real interactions with an honest, stable, and solid personality will open you up to people in authentic ways more than projecting the “lone wolf”, “damaged goods”, or “over-compensation” vibe. While playing out pseudo-vulnerabilities to make you appear more human (even though you don’t think you are) may create some results, I encourage authentic displays of your real self. Your real self is exposed through the inner work of discovering yourself and being natural in your day-to-day life.
As you refine your body language, postures, and courage in the world – along with your character, emotional states and reactions around these principles – you’ll move past the “macho-masculine” facades that litter the world of “being a real man”, and into a place of masculine purpose and power – becoming evermore authentic and open in your journey to be the best man you can be.
Originally Posted At: ThePolyManPhoto: Transformer18/Flickr