Imagine this scenario: a little boy is playing on the playground at school. He hears his friends calling, so he gets up and starts running toward them. Then… he trips and falls. Tears come to his eyes. His teacher looks at him and says:
“Boys don’t cry.”
Most men and boys can relate to this situation. From a very young age, men are told that they have to be pillars of strength and should not show emotion – but is this really a healthy way for us to live?
The answer is “no.” You feel emotions because they are a natural part of being human. It is okay not just to feel them, but to express your emotions in a healthy, cathartic way, and to empathize with the emotions of others.
In fact, being able to accept yourself as an emotional, empathetic person can help you to heal from the trauma of life’s wounds. Being vulnerable is not a weakness, it is a strength.
Vulnerability as Strength
For some people, being vulnerable with others is as easy as breathing. For others, showing our most exposed side can be as intimidating as facing the world heavyweight champion in a boxing ring.
Why do some of us fear showing others how vulnerable we can be? The answer is that some of us are trained from early childhood to view vulnerability as a weakness. The truth is, being able to show who you are and how you feel – even when things are not going well – is a strength.
When we let other people in and show them who we are, we are inviting them to empathize with us and our situations. By exposing ourselves openly and emotionally, we are making genuine human connections with others.
More importantly, by expressing how you feel, you decrease the power a traumatic experience has over you. By sharing your suffering and opening yourself to the cathartic experience emotion brings, you can overcome the ordeal faster.
Think about the scenario we began with. How much more valuable would it be if that teacher told the little boy something else? Perhaps she could say something like, “Just cry it out. It’s okay. A cut will heal.”
Like a scrape on the knee, your emotions can heal, too. You need to feel them freely first, though.
Learning to Speak Your Feelings
Did you know most people can only label five basic emotions? These are the emotions we always think of when we try to describe our feelings: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and happiness.
Being able to verbalize how you feel goes a long way when it comes to helping people find that empathetic connection in their vulnerability. And some studies have shown that being able to label emotions helps to take away the trauma the feeling stems from.
Think about this: let’s say you are having a bad morning, and your coworker asks how you feel. You pour some coffee and tell them you are sad this morning. It doesn’t leave them a lot to go on with the conversation, does it?
What if you could instead label the specific emotions you were feeling? So you say, “The report for the boss has got me a little down. I’m getting depressed because I haven’t been given enough time, and it’s giving me anxiety.”
Now your coworker knows the problem and may be able to help. You’ve given them a lot to go on now that you labeled your trauma and your emotions. This is why it is important to be able to articulate your exact feelings to others.
Finding Meaningful Emotional Connection
How does being able to speak your emotions make you strong? Well, the answer is simple. Living in this world is tough. None of us, no matter how hard we try, can do it alone. We need other people and human connections to make meaning in our lives.
To connect with other people, we need to be able to show them who we really are. We have to be vulnerable, not just for them, but for ourselves. To overcome our own obstacles, we need to acknowledge our feelings.
Being able to be vulnerable allows us to take responsibility for our own shortcomings. When we do, we begin building communities of other people around us. These people share one thing in common: an empathetic connection with each other that allows them to reach out without pretense.
Sure, talking about how you feel can connect you with others, but did you know there are real health benefits to vulnerability? Emotional connection can be a powerful health benefit. In addition to lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, human interaction lowers your risk of depression, too.
When we teach boys from a young age to internalize their emotions, we are also teaching them to isolate themselves and embrace loneliness. In doing so, we are setting them on a collision course for anxiety, depression, and a host of mental health disorders.
As men, it is okay to feel. You can cry, laugh, joke around, and show the world who you really are. Like the things you want to like, regardless of what someone tells you that you should or should not do. When you are free and happy, others can see it, and you might even make them smile.
Vulnerability as Strength for Men in Recovery
Treatment for mental health and addiction is centered on being able to confront your trauma and release it. As an alumnus, you already know how embracing your emotions and receiving the love and support of a community can impact your life.
Maybe it’s time now to share your feelings and yourself beyond the counseling or group therapy session. Whether you are in the store or talking to a mentee in the Band of Brothers Alumni Program, show them it’s okay: boys do cry.
Recovering from substance use is more than just learning to take every day one at a time, follow the Twelve Steps, and live a clean life. It’s about learning to become a new person who benefits from the skills you learned during your treatment and therapy. From the time we are children, men are told that boys should not express their feelings. As they say, “boys don’t cry.” However, being vulnerable allows other people to empathize with you. It brings you closer to others and helps you release your trauma. At Renaissance Ranch, we know that when a man is vulnerable, it is a mark of strength. If you need someone to talk to, call us today at (801) 308-8898.