OPINION: Should men be allowed to be vulnerable?

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Two referees come together and talk during a timeout. Photo credit: Jessica Banks

“Man enough.”

Have you ever heard that phrase? What does it mean exactly?

Throughout my childhood and upbringing, I heard this phrase multiple times. Especially in settings like the basketball court, the football field, the workplace and many other places. I’ve always wondered what it meant.

After hearing it enough times, I perceived it to mean that as a man you have to be the strong one, and if you show any emotion at all, you’ll be seen as weak by anyone who sees you being vulnerable.

When asked if he thinks men are seen as weak for opening up about their emotions, Braxton Call, a junior studying communication, responded, “I think it’s very easy to. I think also though if someone views me as weak for opening up about my emotions, their perspective is skewed.”

Emotions have to be dealt with in a healthy manner. If emotions are not dealt with in that way, mental health may be affected.

“I think the real challenge is that … they are authentic in their expression of emotion (and) that the outer expression represents the inner self rather than a facade.” said Steven Christenson, department chair of the biology department.

It’s OK to talk about the way you feel.

“Emotions have to go somewhere — we can’t just snuff them down and out,” Call said. “There are definitely consequences and repercussions for not talking through our emotions and our feelings.”

For so long it has seemed socially unacceptable for men to open up and share what they are feeling. To bottle up emotions is very unhealthy and not a good way to cope with your feelings.

Thankfully, with mental health becoming a more popular talking point, the barriers are starting to come down.

The World Health Organization’s website states that, “More twice as many males die to suicide as females.”

With “suicide (being) one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide,” one has to wonder if not opening up is contributing to such a high number in suicides among men.

“Our emotions are some of the most powerful things that we feel, and they can dictate a lot of things that we do,” Call said. “So yeah, I think there is a correlation with not expressing emotions and talking through things and suicide.”

Many men may not even know where to begin. In my own personal experience, there have been times when I feel the absolute weight of the world on my shoulders, and I don’t even know where to start.

Questions like, “Who can I talk to?” “What if I choose to share my feelings and then they see me as incompetent or weak?” “Who will understand me? “Can I trust people?” have circled through my head on numerous occasions, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

Friends are a great resource. If they are true friends, they will listen to you, support you, encourage you and have your back no matter what.

Two students talk about their day.
Two students talk about their day. Photo credit: Jessica Banks

Another great resource is the counseling center on campus. They have highly trained professional counselors who would be more than happy to listen and help in any way that they can.

Click on this link for direct access to the counseling center.

What more needs to be done?

“I would like to see us be able to be more authentic with ourselves,” Christenson said.

Maybe the problem lies in authenticity. Maybe we have been so caught up in who we want to be that we forget who we truly are. Not being authentic with yourself and with others is a direct result of low self-esteem.

In my opinion, it isn’t fair for men to feel this overwhelming pressure on them to be the strong one, keep all their emotions inside and not be able to share them.

It isn’t a requirement for men to be not show or talk about their emotions. That is an outrageously high expectation. Not to mention it is impossible to accomplish and very unhealthy.

“I think it can be really good by sharing those emotions and feelings with guys that we are close to, making it a more comfortable environment and making it a more normal thing to do,” Call said.

Mental health is way more important than social stereotypes that come from social media or other outside sources. I hope that through all of our efforts, we can make it socially acceptable for men to open up and share what they are feeling.