By David Visiko
In the healing circles that I have interacted with, I have often heard the phrase “lean into the pain.” As if the act of experiencing the pain of a breakup, or job loss, or disappointment was not hard enough, I am supposed to expose myself to even more suffering, and invite this “pain” to dinner? Sometimes, the answer is yes. I have experienced that leaning into anything involves the opposite of trying to fix, quickly move past or recklessly improve upon something.
As I have talked with men and women about male vulnerability and have reflected on my own experiences, I have discovered my own hesitancy to masculine vulnerability, despite my desire to practice and strengthen how vulnerability appears in my life. The act of leaning into something involves a level of acceptance, a self-acceptance that this pain or joy or whatever one’s feeling is a part of a person’s life and is present now.
Vulnerability can feel potentially dangerous, yet it is important. I once equated vulnerability with a reckless sharing of my private self. To be vulnerable one does not have to share their innermost secrets with everyone they meet. It is important to be vulnerable enough to know one’s self and move through the world authentically. I have come to understand that vulnerability requires boundaries to be used or practiced for vulnerability to be in its healthiest most beneficial form. It is important to be vulnerable enough to allow true connection. I am learning that it takes healthy vulnerability to allow people into my life, my world and my thoughts so that I can connect with others.
It may seem that men receive the most shaming for being vulnerable from other men who may feminize authentic sharing, keeping the sharer in a traumatized state, pushing him toward the inner isolation of one’s masculine box. What I have discovered is that although this can be true, many men in fact do want to engage with other men in brotherhood – to exchange authentic vulnerabilities – because they too have their own experiences, questions and perceptions that they want to share safely in the company of other men. However, a great undermining of masculine vulnerability also comes from a man being poorly received by an important woman in his life. As men are shifting toward expressing vulnerabilities and practicing a new found strength within it, the way we receive them in this process is an important societal issue. It is important for men’s partners, women and society to work to understand vulnerability for both men and women. We must work to receive men – as well as women without berating or ridiculing them. Let us strive to work together in support of authentic, vulnerable expression as we strengthen relationships, community and society.
Vulnerability is more expansive than sharing those parts of you that remain under lock and key. As a whole man, I don’t want to live out my life omitting connection around what is most close to my heart. Vulnerability can be inclusive of how one shows happiness, joy and the positive feelings that we associate with the most beautiful of life moments.
Until I embraced vulnerability as a positive aspect of my manhood, I kept many wonderful parts of myself locked inside – including the positive feelings that I have associated with cutting the umbilical cord at the birth of my son and the joy of experiencing a drumming performance in front of a receptive crowd. I now share these things. Through this level of sharing I am becoming more connected to quality people that allow me to share the more challenging items of life, lessening the unhealthy impact of the mask of false bravery.
It is my hope to be a living example of masculine vulnerability, to enrich my own life and lift up those around me. I challenge you to open to your own healthy vulnerability and support the people you interact with in their journey too.