Earlier today I was having a conversation with my co-worker about taking things personally. I wrote about this recently and the topic was a bit fresh in my mind. Of course, it’s something I actually think about daily since taking things personally is a challenging aspect to change.
The conversation was centered around business and we both agreed that there was (generally speaking) an inherent difference between how men and women handle business situations. We agreed that women tend to get involved more “personally” and emotionally where men tend to be much more rigid and emotionless.
This all got me thinking about why it’s like this and how this translates to our regular (outside of work) lives as well. Vulnerability has been at the forefront of my mind over the last few weeks. I wrote about it recently when I faced my anger towards the kiosk workers in the mall, Brene Brown spoke about it on Super Soul Sunday, and several other sites and podcasts spoke about it including Zen Parenting Radio.
So I had to ask the question following my conversation today, Why do men and women view and incorporate vulnerability differently and how does that impact our lives?
If we look at the definition of vulnerability we can see that it means we have the ability to be hurt emotionally or physically. Vulnerability is an Inherent Quality that we all have and one we’re born with. Obviously, all humans stand the potential of being hurt emotionally or physically. We can’t fully appreciate we’re vulnerable until we also appreciate our other Inherent Qualities such as resilience and strength. Accepting ourselves as we are means it’s okay to accept we can be hurt AND we’re strong and resilient at the same time. These are opposing qualities that coexist nicely together because they allow us to get punched in the arm and heal. They allow us to have a girl or boyfriend break up with us and eventually we’ll recover.
The problem exists when we remember we’re strong and resilient but forget or deny we’re vulnerable. We are whole because we’re made up of many different Inherent Qualities. When we start picking and choosing which qualities to accept we lose the concept of our wholeness and things begin to breakdown.
From a young age boys are taught that if they show fear, get hurt, show any emotion other than happiness or anger, or follow any path outside of what a “Man” should be, they’re punished. Vulnerability is looked upon as a weak attribute and certainly not something to celebrate let alone validate. So boys and eventually men live their life with a wall up. You can’t just take away the fact that you’re vulnerable. You can only deny it and we do that with walls and masks. We act as though we’re not vulnerable by over exaggerating our other qualities such as strength. The problem is we can get hurt and we do get hurt. That hurt is never acknowledged, it can’t if you’re a man, and so we resist anything that stands in our way (perceived or otherwise).
So men walk through life rigid, inflexible, and with a huge wall up either deflecting anything coming in (Hello, afraid of getting married!) or not allowing ourselves to accept when we’re hurt (Hello Rage, Alcohol, and Drugs!).
Women on the other hand (typically) are raised to have and express their feelings (not all but at least sadness, fear, and grief). Mostly they’re allowed to accept their vulnerability which is a beautiful gift all in its own. The other thing girls and women do though (many men do this too) is take things personally. Many women fall victim to “people pleasing” even at the risk of sacrificing their own wants and needs. You can’t be a “people pleaser” and not take EVERYTHING personally. The two exist together and can’t be separated. The catch here is that if you’re both vulnerable and fully open it’s impossible to stop the rush of feelings that come in! This is almost the opposite affect we see happen to many men. Over time women (like men) learn to put up walls to protect themselves.
The problem we see in both scenarios is that neither one is healthy. There is no balance as we’re too open or too closed off. It’s led me to believe that besides having to accept and embrace our vulnerability (good job Ladies!) we also have to use good boundaries (almost good job Guys!). Walls are not boundaries (at least not healthy) which is why I only said, “almost good job…”. Healthy boundaries allow for the appropriate things to enter our inner self and inappropriate things to be left “out there”. This means we get to be both vulnerable and esteemed at the same time! I get to put myself in situations where I may get hurt (Hello Vulnerability) knowing I’m strong and resilient all while having healthy boundaries.
So what does this look like in the real world?
There’s a million examples but I’ll use a common one.
John and Sally begin a romantic relationship that lasts for several years. Things seem to be going well by all measures and Sally wants to step up the game. She hints at John about marriage but John is resistant and won’t approach the topic. Months go by and Sally finds herself talking to the wall as John will have no such conversation. Eventually, John and Sally part ways and both are devastated. While (on the outside) John bounces back pretty quickly (inside he’s torn apart) heading off to the bars and dating many different women, Sally is stuck. Sally is heartbroken and spends the next year in seclusion only hanging out with her closest girlfriends.
In this example, Sally was vulnerable in that she was open to “possibly” getting hurt by furthering the relationship. This is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated! It took both strength and vulnerability for her to want to take the relationship to the next level. John wanted nothing to do with marriage and even though they were in a long lasting and healthy relationship he wasn’t going there. It was obvious that John was not accepting of his vulnerable nature. He was too scared at the thought of what could happen if they got married. He put up a wall and shut out Sally. Once the relationship ended, John’s wall was still up so he wasn’t feeling much of the pain from the breakup (at least not consciously). Sally on the other hand took the break up to mean that she was a horrible person, not worthy of marriage, and doomed to be single. She personalized the breakup to mean that John’s issues had everything to do with her.
In a healthy situation where both John and Sally accepted their vulnerability and had healthy boundaries things would have gone much different. Let me give you two possible scenarios to show you.
John and Sally begin a romantic relationship that lasts for several years. All things seem to be going well by all measures and Sally wants to step up the game. She hints at John about marriage and because both are in love and think it makes sense to continue the relationship they get married. Both know they could potentially get hurt if things don’t work out but they know they’re resilient and strong. They also both respect each other and know that they other person doesn’t COMPLETE THEM. They are not two halves joined to form a whole but rather two wholes joined to form two wholes.
John and Sally begin a romantic relationship that lasts for several years. All things seem to be going well by all measures and Sally wants to step up the game. She hints at John about marriage but John is reluctant to push the relationship further. John asks Sally for some time to sort out his feelings and returns to have an honest and open conversation. John tells Sally that while he loves her and their relationship, he’s not interested in marriage at this time. Sally tells John that this is a deal-breaker for her and both agree to go their separate ways. They both feel great sadness and grief over the loss of their relationship. However, they leave the relationship knowing they were both open and honest about their feelings. Although they both spent several months getting “back to normal” they didn’t allow the rejection of the relationship to take on any other meanings (ie; I’m not good enough, I don’t matter, etc.).
What this all leaves me realizing is that if we want to be in the flow of life we need to both accept ourselves as we fully are and have healthy boundaries in place! Of course, this is easier said than done but like any shift we make in our personal lives it begins with awareness.
Are you aware of when you feel vulnerable? Do you allow vulnerability in your life? In what ways do you protect yourself in vulnerable situations? Have you ever put up a wall to protect you? These are some of the questions you may want to consider as you continue on your own path. As always, I encourage you to leave your comments and let me know what works for you.
With Gratitude and Appreciation,