Chris Kyle learned early on that he better man up and sure as hell ‘Don’t cry!’ He learned later that vulnerability makes him stronger.
When I was a kid, I can’t tell you how many times I heard phrases like these: “just suck it up, Kyle.”
“Don’t cry.” “What are you, a pussy?; “Don’t get too excited.” “Tone it down.” “I don’t want to hear how you feel about it, just do it.” “Don’t get angry with me young man.”
These came from my friends, my teachers, my coaches, and my family too.
I know many men who can relate to these words and far worse including a lot more swearing— “f*cking” this and “goddamn” that.
As a boy and then a young man I was told constantly to stay in a zone of feeling and behavior that essentially felt like I was a block of granite—solid, unmoving, rational, toned-down, and generally unfeeling. Sharing my feelings, my deep fears, expressing sadness, crying were all seen as weakness for a young, maturing man.
I came to believe vulnerability = weakness.
I recall one key event in my early teens when some friends at school were instigating a fight between me and a kid named Evan. I didn’t want to fight him, but it somehow became a matter of honor, or an issue of shame, if I didn’t fight him.
I remember facing Evan, with a small crowd circled around us, and thinking “Why am I here?” I literally couldn’t remember what we fought about or what was the issue that had us squaring off against each other with fists raised. We finally dove into it, trading a few punches, and then found ourselves wrestling on the ground. He got me in a headlock and all I could do was say ‘uncle’—to tap out. I’d lost the fight.
As I stood up, facing the others gathered around, I could feel the shame welling up in me, and the tears started to come. And, of course, one of the boys says: “F*ck Kyle, are you crying?” It was said with such disdain and disbelief. I dropped into a deeper level of shame for having these feelings and showing the tears. This moment shut me down and locked me out from my tears, and slammed the door on my vulnerability.
Our culture continues to indoctrinate boys and men in this way—through old socializing patterns that are deeply ingrained in our cultural DNA. Be tough, don’t cry, don’t share your fear, win at all costs, prove you’re a man.
And yet, now what I’m seeing are adult men who are willing to work on themselves and take a deep look at these beliefs and patterns. They are consciously unwinding this shame and belief of ‘vulnerability is weakness,’ and bringing a new understanding and self-compassion to their childhood wounds and traumas. This truth-telling about myself and the willingness to be more open, transparent, revealing… to be more vulnerable, is freeing and empowering.
Now, vulnerability looks and feels different. It has become a hidden source of power for me.
At its core, vulnerability allows us to really be seen, warts and all, so we can feel more connected. Researcher and author Brene Brown says that it’s this vulnerability that helps heal our shame and opens us up to deeper connection and a greater sense of worthiness.
So as I investigated deeper into masculine vulnerability, I became aware of what I call the Three Hidden Powers of Vulnerability.
1. Vulnerability opens us to an increased capacity for courage. Being vulnerable, sharing more of myself, taking the risk to say with needs to be said, to speak the truth in my heart—all of it takes courage. As we practice being more vulnerable (open, transparent, being seen) then we foster a new level of courage that we can apply in many areas of our lives. This courage building also garners respect and appreciation from others. And it builds resilience in us to face the many challenges that life will bring.
2. Being vulnerable brings forth greater compassion for ourselves and others. When we are vulnerable, when we truly open ourselves to be seen by others, we are sharing more parts of ourselves with the world. And in that awareness of the hurt, raw or broken parts of ourselves we are able to see our own humanity and have greater compassion for ourselves. As this capacity builds inside us we have more empathy and compassion for others. This growing power of compassion provides us with a greater ability to accept and let go of beliefs and judgments that don’t serve us. More presence and peace is found in this compassion.
3. Vulnerability creates deeper, more authentic connections. What I see as the greatest gift of vulnerability is the ability to actively cultivate deeper, more real connections with everyone in my life. When we practice being more open and vulnerable we are able to pierce the veil of shame and fear and experience deeper connection and relatedness. More honest dialog emerges, more healing between friends and loved ones occur. And this is counter-intuitive to our minds—where we equate vulnerability with fear, hurt and weakness. When in fact it creates more support, more freedom, more joy, more release and more appreciation. These authentic connections serve our success and happiness in every area of life—relationships, work, parenting, community and well-being.
So, I invite you to choose more opportunities to share yourself, to express your fears, to let your tears be seen. Cultivate this openness, this vulnerability and watch these hidden powers blossom and grow so that they infuse your life with more meaning, passion and care for yourself and others.
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