Stories of Men

vulnerability in men: Why acknowledging it can lead to healthier masculinity?

vulnerability in men: Why acknowledging it can lead to healthier masculinity?

why vulnerability is important for healthy masculinity

vulnerability in men: Why acknowledging it can lead to healthier masculinity?



Is vulnerability in men OK?


Is vulnerability in men OK? Is it OK for men to ask for help? Is it OK for men to show emotion? Are boys now allowed to cry. 



Learning to be vulnerable


Part of this change seems to have occurred due to a shift in the social climate. In a society which is becoming much more sceptical of traditional masculine stereotypes, a space has emerged for men to be something other than rugged, unflappable, dominant breadwinners. 

As a result, vulnerability in men has become much more acceptable. They do not always need to appear to be strong and in control.



The risk facing males


There is also a much greater awareness of the importance of promoting positive mental health. The need to encourage men to come forward when experiencing psychological issues is now clearer than ever. 

The evidence shows that men are at particular risk. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, males account for three-quarters of all suicides in the UK. Part of the reason for this seems to be that men continue to be much more reluctant than women to seek help when experiencing severe anxiety or depression. 

Take Darren Smith’s story, for example. While suffering a breakdown on the way to work, rather than his instinctive response being to seek help, he was immediately overwhelmed by feelings of embarrassment and shame. Where did these feelings come from? Then there’s Luke Scott’s podcast interview, who, while going through a particularly difficult period in his life, chose to plan his own suicide without revealing a word of what he was experiencing to his family or friends.

The extremes that men will go to to avoid showing vulnerability no doubt make recognising and treating severe mental health disorders in males particularly difficult. But, if we can see how important it is for men to be open about their feelings, why is it that they still so often seem reluctant to openly be vulnerable?



Continued confusion


Well, the issue seems to be two-fold. Firstly, despite there being an apparent consensus on the importance of men being open about their feelings and reaching out for help when necessary, beneath the surface, there continues to be significant confusion.

This is partly because so much of what we are learning about mental health is only recently becoming popularly understood. The facts that mental health professionals have no doubt been aware of for decades have taken time to trickle through to the general populace. Yes, as a collective, we are beginning to appreciate the issues surrounding mental health conditions but there is still so much that we do not understand. 

For example, many of us still don’t know the difference between “feeling blue” and having clinical depression. And many of us still don’t understand the ways in which biology, lifestyle and experience influence the brain and cause people to suffer from poor mental health.



Muddying the waters


This uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that popular figures in the world of social media, such as Andrew Tate, still claim that depression and anxiety are not “real”. In case you’re tempted to write such people off as being marginal or extreme, let’s remember, he’s only making arguments which are similar to those made by Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise not all that long ago when he said “psychiatry is a pseudoscience”.

These influential men passionately and, for some, convincingly argue that there are quick fixes to mental health issues which the science and the vast majority of real life experiences do not support. But if such confusion continues to be sown, how can we be surprised that feelings of vulnerability in men are still viewed with suspicion?



Pervasive social stigmas


The second issue is the pervasive social expectations which continue to limit and stereotype both men and women. It’s easy for people to claim that vulnerability in men is natural, that it is not just OK, but vital that men reach out when experiencing psychological distress. But the social expectations that have permeated our society for centuries have not disappeared overnight.

There is still a social stigma attached to being a stay-at-home dad, for example. There is still something slightly embarrassing about a man earning less than his female partner. There is still an expectation that men exude confidence and control and that they “have it all together”. The concept of being a “real man” is still very much alive and it’s a concept many men instinctively aspire to.



Men’s greatest fear


What many men hear when people say “It’s OK to not be OK”, is that “It’s OK to be a failure”. And being a failure is the very thing that so many men fear most. “It’s OK for others to fail,” we think to ourselves, “but, please God, don’t let it be me.” Of course the true message that we should be trying to communicate is that “It’s OK not to be OK sometimes”.

The message here is that we’re all going to have serious challenges to go through in our lives and that we may not always be able to take those challenges  in our stride. We may have to go further to meet them than we’d ever expected. And taking those steps to deal with the grief, suffering and pain that life can present is the truest sign of strength one could ever imagine.



The importance of being vulnerable


So often, when faced with a mental health struggle, the most difficult thing to do is to accept that we have a problem. To accept that we need help. It’s because it’s so difficult that it takes such bravery to do it. Getting therapy, opening up about grief, having the courage to speak about vulnerability, all of these things take courage. Doing these things are attempts to regain control, to make the journey back towards living a fulfilling life.



Being open and honest about your feelings


There are so many testimonies from men who have reached a point of extreme desperation that communicate the importance of talking about their challenges. Jed Irving, a former soldier who witnessed the horrors of war in Bosnia, discusses how vital it was to be able to speak about his experiences in a supportive environment. Darren Smith urges men who are suffering to pick up the phone and talk to anyone who will listen.



Healthy masculinity


The urge men have to bottle up their feelings and to not tell anyone about their pain does not come from a place of strength; it comes from a place of resignation. For so many of us, mental health is something that we must actively pursue.

Just as it’s important to take the right measures to look after our bodies, we need to find the right diet and routine for the mind. The more suffering we have experienced, the more active and committed our routines must be. 

Acknowledging vulnerability in men and encouraging them to speak about their feelings is the only way this can begin to be explored. It is only via this honesty that we can find a way forward to a healthier way of being and, thus, a healthier form of masculinity.

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

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I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

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When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

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Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

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While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

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Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

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Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.