We all struggle with vulnerability. Letting others see us, blemishes and all is scary. Facing that truth feels like we are undressing our emotional selves to the core.
Researcher Dr. Brené Brown describes this need to cover ourselves and numb vulnerability as armour. For men, armouring up tends to be the default to protect themselves and keep a robust masculine front.
“Many women are like, ‘I can’t be vulnerable because it shows imperfection.’ Men are like, ‘I can’t be vulnerable because it shows weakness,’” explains Brown.
Men typically bottle things up, avoid confronting or speaking about their suffering to keep this armour in place. In fact, a Canadian survey revealed that some men “would be embarrassed about seeking help for depression.”
This armour may not serve men’s mental health, affecting their families, jobs, and relationships. It can deepen their shame, hinder meaningful connections and prevent them from asking for support—especially when they need it most.
But how can men drop their armour after many generations of suited-up gentlemen? Let’s begin by exploring where this shield may come from.
Why Do Men Armour Up?
It All Starts With Shame
Brown’s research associates men’s shame with not wanting to be perceived as weak.
This belief is ingrained in men since childhood. Boys may learn from an early age to assume society’s prescribed role of men: to “suck it up,” not to cry, not to show any weakness. They grow up seeing men wearing sports guards, military shields, business suits and other types of semiotic armours to defend themselves from the outside world.
Men’s armoured identity can sometimes be perpetrated by parents, caregivers and partners, translating into patterns of anger, self-control and more shame.
Living up to Different Roles
Men tend to add even further weight to their shoulders when adopting the role of breadwinners, husbands, and fathers. And they may carry their childhood experiences and expectations over to their own families in search of validation.
According to The Canadian Family Physician, instead of communicating their emotional struggles, “men tend to act out their stress.” They might overwork (which means they may spend less time at home) and resort to unhealthy behaviours and substances to ease the pain.
And so the cycle continues, from one generation of armoured fathers to their sons.
Mindfulness and Vulnerability
Mindfulness is all about embracing the present moment as it is, without judging it or trying to change it. But to nurture this awareness, we must look inward and notice our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
In other words, we embrace vulnerability with courage.
We drop our armour. We let go of whom we think we should be, the need to control and prove ourselves. We accept our stories and our pain, and we develop a connection to self and others in the process.
Mindful Tips to Drop Your Armour
1. Ground Yourself
Whether through meditation, breathing or other mind-body techniques, take a few minutes during the day to exercise conscious awareness. Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions without distractions or numbing mechanisms, and reconnect with the now.
2. Practice Self-Compassion
Take it one step further and respond to what you are going through with kindness and empathy. This may be challenging, but as Dr. Kristin Neff explains, self-compassion is about comforting yourself in those difficult moments, “planting seeds that will eventually blossom and grow.”
3. Ask for Help
Once you have mindfully recognized your suffering and treated yourself with compassion, you may still feel disconnected and uneasy. Opening up to your partner, family members, or peers about your struggle will help you lower your guard, establish deeper connections and heal.
If you don’t know where to start, Senses Mindfulness Coaching is here for you. Through co-active coaching, mindfulness, guided imagery and music, we can help you tap into your mind-body wisdom, welcome your true self and explore healthier strategies to navigate your path.