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Negative Masculine Ideals: Deprived Vulnerability in Boys and Men

Two boys looking at the camera depicting deprived vulnerability in men

By: Amifel Eribo.

Image Credit: Unsplash/Bill Wegener

Boys get a large percentage of the codes of conduct they follow regarding how to be a boy or a man from the experiences and instructions they garner from the men in their lives. Of course, this socialization or education of masculine ideals starts at a young age for them, where just anything can stick and persist.

Now, with the same cycle of societal norms and standards of masculinity being passed down, most times, boys have no choice but to inherit these norms and ideals, whether positive or negative, especially the negative masculine ideals.

Unfortunately, one of such negative masculine ideals which aims to uphold patriarchal codes is a type that requires boys and men to achieve dominant and non-emotional behaviours, hence the emergence of the concept of deprivation of vulnerability in boys and men.

You see, the term vulnerability in this context means the ability to choose to not hide your emotions or desires from others consciously. It simply describes the capacity to freely express your thoughts, feelings, desires, and opinions regardless of what others might think of you. It’s those moments when you could have said what was really on your mind, moments when you could have asked for that aid, moments when he could have let it all out, yes, even those tears, moments when you would have simply been, well, human.

But unfortunately, time and time again, boys are raised to think differently, raised to normalize masking their emotions, raised to normalize masking it all.

But how did we get here and how has this deprived vulnerability in boys and men become the norm?

The answer is simple; societal pressures spotlighting negative masculine ideals.

I mean, you must have probably heard these phrases, “Be a man!”, “Omo, you be woman?”, “You’re such a girl!” or similar ones countless times being used in an almost disruptive attempt at motivating boys or men. And what do these boys or men do next? You find them trying to “man-up” or hold themselves back from displaying emotions other than anger, happiness or any other of the limited number of feelings boys and men are raised to see as “acceptable.”

Now, are there of effects deprived vulnerability in boys and men?

Truth be told, boys and men are more sensitive that we realize, but when we deprive them of a chance to feel the things that they actually feel, there’s bound to adverse effects leading to things like the following:

Disrupted communication

Emotional suppression especially in boys and men, only stands to prevent clear communication between them and the people in their lives and this lack of communication only makes it difficult when it comes to working through conflict.

Picture this: Someone’s action upsets you as a boy, you choose not to work through it. The same issue festers. You become angry and resentful, feelings that start to trigger conflict. And now, to avoid such conflicts you start avoiding the people who provoked those emotions, leading to loss of valuable relationship.  Great end, right? Of course not!

Emotional suppression can even become so much of a habit that it begins to happen unconsciously, till the point where you lose touch with your own feelings.

Mental illness

Suppressing emotions can lead to depression and anxiety, but for men especially, it can also increase their risk of suicide. Men are much more likely to commit suicide than women. For men, being told to “man up” or “act like a man” is something they learn in childhood, and it stays with them into adulthood. Over time, men get really good at turning off their emotions or coping with their feelings in a way that is more acceptable for males. This then creates a cycle of toxic masculinity, which can be hard to break once it becomes a habit.

Festered addiction

Sometimes young boys and men fall victim of various substance addiction due to traumatic pasts or painful emotions that they had failed to process. When boys or men hold back on expressing these emotions, it only increases the tendencies to continue to mask their issues with addiction.

Is there hope for the end of the cycle of deprived vulnerability in boys and men?

Yes! On one hand, we all as a society need to give our boys and men a chance at their own vulnerability. We need to be ready to change the negative masculine ideal narratives, to do things differently and help our present and future boys and men be better.

On the other hand, for our boys and men who are already deprived of vulnerability, they need to be encouraged to learn how to become vulnerable and allow themselves to express their emotions freely. However, this is easier said than done, as it can be difficult for boys and men to feel comfortable showing their emotions, especially if they’ve been hiding them all their life.

But hey, there are a few things they could try:

Practicing mindfulness

This involves boys learning to sit with their emotions, thus allowing them to fully experience and understand them. They don’t need to shy away from them. Let them recognize the way they’re feeling, and try to figure out what’s making them feel that way. This way, they get a deeper understanding of the situation, which further helps them explore potential solutions.

Engaging in therapeutic hobbies

Boys and men could try engaging in hobbies that allow them reflect on their feelings. This is a great way to tap into their emotions. It could be through activities like exercising, art, music. As long as it’s positive and it works for them, let them.

Seeking therapy

Yes, therapy! Therapy is one of the best ways boys and men can learn to open up about their feelings. Therapy is a safe space for boys and men to be vulnerable without judgment from anyone else. It can help them learn how to feel their feelings and cope with their emotions in a more healthy and productive way.

In conclusion, we must never forget that a massive part of what makes us human is our vulnerability, our ability to feel our feelings and process our emotions, emotions that are part of our life experiences, which when disregarded can ultimately invalidate our identity and sense of self.

So, instead of clamouring that our boys and men be REAL MEN, let’s first allow them be HUMAN.

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