Vulnerability is not a swear word
The word ‘vulnerability’ conjures many connotations, and depending on our experience of being vulnerable to our emotions, we may have very varied opinions regarding sharing our lives with others.
Being vulnerable with trusted individuals is a significant journey we must embark on to foster emotional well-being, particularly amongst boys. Our society often teaches boys to suppress their feelings, adhering to the belief that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Yet, true strength lies in embracing vulnerability, as it cultivates personal growth, improves mental health, and forges deeper connections with others. To encourage boys to embark on this path, the following strategies inspired by the wisdom of Brené Brown may be helpful.
Brown has coined the phrase ‘wholehearted living’, and suggests that learning to trust others in what is important to us is an integral part of experiencing life in this manner. Boys need to witness vulnerability in action. As adults, parents, or mentors, we must embody vulnerability ourselves, modelling the way. By openly sharing our own vulnerabilities (wisely) and embracing imperfections, we create an environment where boys feel safe to express themselves authentically.
In the same way that we would spend time encouraging our children to read more, or to practise their times tables, we should also be allowing them to improve their emotional literacy. Emotional intelligence is cultivated through awareness. We must guide boys to recognize and articulate their emotions, teaching them the language of feelings. By engaging in open conversations about emotions and their complexities, we empower boys to become emotionally fluent and self-aware.
To foster vulnerability, we must establish safe spaces where boys can express themselves without judgement or shame. By intentionally creating environments that encourage openness, we cultivate trust and give boys the freedom to explore and share their innermost thoughts and emotions. This is a real-world skill, rather than a nice-to-have, and the benefits of creating a culture where boys feel safe to express their feelings are invaluable.
As the adults in boys’ lives, we need to practice the art of empathetic listening. By actively listening without interruption or judgement, boys feel seen and heard, and by offering our presence and truly listening to their experiences, we validate their emotions and create a foundation of support.
Harnessing creativity is a fantastic way to encourage boys to express themselves in a less threatening and personal manner. By encouraging our boys to channel their feelings through art; whether it be painting, writing, or music, and by celebrating their creative endeavours, we affirm their emotions and help them externalise their inner worlds.
Another way in which we can reinforce the importance of appropriate vulnerability is to celebrate help-seeking. We should teach boys that seeking help and support is an act of strength, not weakness. By highlighting stories of male role models who have sought help and grown from those experiences, we dispel the notion that vulnerability diminishes our worthiness. This empowers boys to reach out and seek assistance when they need it.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to speak about the things that keep us up at night, and in speaking to many men who have had to journey with some of their emotional baggage firmly strapped to their backs, they often say that they wish that they had embraced what Brown calls ‘courageous conversations’. If we equip boys with the skills to engage in open, honest, and vulnerable conversations, and teach them how to express their needs, concerns, and emotions assertively (while also empathetically listening to others) we are empowering them to navigate emotional exchanges constructively.
We should also confront gender stereotypes that hinder our boys from expressing themselves emotionally. By promoting diverse role models who embody emotional intelligence, irrespective of societal norms, we expand the narrative around masculinity.
By wisely implementing some of these strategies, we can inspire boys to embrace vulnerability, enabling them to build strong emotional foundations that serve them throughout their lives. Let us foster an environment where vulnerability is celebrated as a courageous act - fostering the emotional well-being of boys and cultivating a more compassionate world for all.
Director of Wellbeing/Head of PSHEe/
Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster