During Black Love’s mid-season finale, Kevin & Melissa Fredericks shared that vulnerability is a trait they are working on in their marriage. Kev even noted “it’s not that I don’t want to share my feelings. It’s that, as a man, I don’t even feel my feelings…” But Melissa insists that Kev’s ability to offer more of himself is necessary for her to feel connected and thankfully, it’s an area he is willing to work on in order to preserve and deepen his relationship.
At BlackLove.com, we recognize that Kev isn’t an anomaly. Not only do many people struggle with the idea of being vulnerable in their relationship, it isn’t uncommon for men, in particular, to find this challenging. Even TV host and actor Terrence J and Black Love Co-Creator Tommy Oliver touched on this during the Black Love Summit. Between the fact that neither grew up seeing grown men show emotion and that professional success often requires an “impenetrable force,” vulnerability is seen as a weakness. More often than not, men are conditioned to believe that being “tough” or being “a man” is antithetical to showing emotion. We reached out to Love and Intimacy Coach Kamali Minter who offered some step-by-step tips for those looking to tap into that foreign place where, by definition, one is exposed to the possibility of being physically or emotionally harmed. This very same place can also be one of great connection and intimacy.
–Black Love Team
Anyone who chooses to take on practicing vulnerability should treat it like learning any other new skill. You are undoing beliefs and behavioral patterns that have been with you for a lifetime. And braving a frontier that is historically new for most men….
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Be willing to suck at it before it gets easier.
Practice it regularly using some of the guidelines below.
Get OK with being supported in your discovery process. Find the people you trust enough to share these parts of you with, and let them give you non-judgmental feedback about how it lands with them. And professional support from a counselor, therapist, coach, or pastor may be needed. Especially if you have things in your history that make vulnerability particularly challenging.
How to Practice Vulnerability
Vulnerability is often placed in the same category as weakness. But it actually takes quite a bit of emotional strength, confidence, and self-awareness to be vulnerable. So it’s not a weakness at all, but it can be uncomfortable.
What makes it so challenging is that it requires we put down the normal ways we defend and protect ourselves, and make a choice to look at what our real feelings are and share them.
This means getting honest about our fears, our desires, and our needs.
What can make vulnerability more challenging for men than women, is that women tend to have more practice noticing and articulating their feelings.
So below are a few things you can do to get better at being vulnerable.
Learn How Your Feelings Work
Throughout your day, notice what sensations, thoughts, moods, or actions occur when you are having an emotional reaction.
It’s easiest to notice when you are having a negative reaction to something, these are often the loudest reactions in our systems.
What thoughts are tied to the reaction? Does your body respond in any kind of way? Can you name any emotions that are present? Does this make you want to do something?
Answering these questions when something has triggered a reaction in you, is a good way to begin understanding how your feelings work.
Expand Your Feelings Vocabulary
Anger or shutting down (withdrawing) are the two most common feelings for men, but what else is underneath those reactions?
Emotional intelligence increases when you can describe a fuller spectrum of the emotions you experience.
You can use a feelings chart to expand the vocabulary you have to describe the feelings you notice.
Get in Touch With Your Fears
With strong emotional reactions ask yourself, “What is the underlying fear?”
Fear of losing respect, power or authority? Fear of looking bad? Fear of being wrong?….
Finding the fear at the root of your emotional reactions will put you in touch with the heart of vulnerability.
Exhaust Your Body
Physical exertion, exercise, movement that engages your whole body, is a good way to get out of your head, and into your body which is where feelings happen.
Exercise is not only good for stress but it releases the tension that builds up in our bodies that makes it hard to feel ourselves.
Also when we are more tired, our defenses are naturally more relaxed. The mind is less likely to reach for logic and defensive thoughts and behaviors which…. makes it easier to be vulnerable.
Learn How to Cry
There are many men who have never cried, some who have only cried a handful of times in their whole lives. This is not because men are simply tougher. Most men receive the message from a very young age to “man up”, “suck it up”, “stop those tears”, or “I’ll give you something to cry about”. The cultural message has pretty consistently been that “real men don’t cry.”
It is not just men that perpetuate this with each other, but women participate in this too. Men who cry in front of people are taking a risk to be seen as ‘soft’, ‘weak’, and ‘not worthy of respect.’ Both women and men need to stop perpetuating this bias. Crying is a healthy emotional response for all humans.
So, for anyone who has learned to keep tears away, it takes practice to get in touch with how to allow tears to fall.
First, you have to be able to access harder emotions like sadness, loneliness, powerlessness, or grief.
If life presents circumstances that land you in one of these emotions, crying can actually provide some relief and aid in a quicker resolution of the emotion.
Being able to directly touch the emotion and allow it space to reside in your being instead of trying to stop it or push it away is a good start.
Also talking to someone you trust, listening to emotive music, or getting physical like boxing or running, can all help put you in a space that makes it easier for tears to happen.
You Got This
The biggest challenge with practicing vulnerability for both men and women, is that it requires us to source our strength from a new place.
Instead of working to be right, to handle our business, to have it all together; vulnerability asks us to look at where we are unsure, where we need help, and what we are afraid of.
And it also asks us to share our findings with the people who love us, who want to know us, who want to feel closer to us.
The reward vulnerability offers us is very different than other markers of success… it gives us a chance to truly know and love our whole ourselves, and invite others to do the same.