Vulnerability is the New Superpower

“Men suffer in silence”

This is the message that I hear over and over again in my work. And I find myself on a mission to change that.

When I speak about my work, men will often say things like – “Oh I wish I’d met you 5 years ago when my life was in tatters” Or “My brother should talk to you” or “This is such important work, but I am fine.”

It seems they recognise that the men around them need support with the challenges they face, but they don’t recognise it in themselves in the present moment.  They seem to be under the illusion that distraction techniques, ignoring the problem, keeping it under control or “giving it some time” will be enough. They fail to see the monster beneath the surface that will, inevitably, raise its head and create a crisis.

It’s only when they are miserable, stressed, unfulfilled, anxious, in relationship breakdown or any other symptom of a life crisis, that they eventually realise they need help.

In series 3 of The Crown, we see how courage and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. We see that when a man shows his vulnerability he is at the same time showing his courage and it takes courage to ask for help.

It’s 1969 and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, sits before a group of priests in George’s house at Windsor Castle. He is about 48 years old and Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Micheal Collins have returned from the first moon landing.

The Duke begins, nervously…

“There wasn’t a specific moment when it started, it’s been more of a gradual thing! The drip, drip, drip of doubt, of disaffection, of disease and discomfort. People around me have noticed my general irritability, that’s nothing new, I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.  Not to mention an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts, a compulsive over-exercising, and an inability to find calm, satisfaction or fulfillment.”

“And when you look at these symptoms it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I am slap bang in the middle of a crisis, I can’t even bring myself to say what kind of crisis – just that it is a crisis. And of course one reads or hears about other people hitting that crisis and just like them you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better, some of which I can admit to, some of which I probably shouldn’t.”

He continues…

“My mother died recently. She saw something was amiss – that’s a good word amiss. She saw that something was amiss, something was missing in her youngest child, her only son…”

He pauses…

“Faith!”  ‘How’s your faith?’ she asked me. I am here to admit to you that I’ve lost it – and without it, what is there?”  The loneliness and emptiness and the anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation – ghostly silence – gloom. That is what faithlessness is! As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation or God’s design – purpose.”

“What is I am trying to say? I’m trying to say, the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the ingenuity of the rocket or the science or the technology or even the bravery. No! The answer is inside, it’s in here (he points to his head) or in here (he points to his heart) or wherever it is that Faith resides.”

He looks at Robin Woods, Dean of Windsor, and says:

“And so, Dean Woods, having ridiculed you for what you and these poor blocked, lost souls were trying to achieve here in St. George’s house, (there’s a ripple of laughter from the priests in the group) I now find myself full of respect and admiration and, not a small part, of desperation, as I come to say Help!  Help me!”

He pauses, then chuckles to lighten the moment…

“And to admit, while those three astronauts deserve all our prayers and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today as I would have been going up with any bloody rocket!”

(A rough translation from a scene in The Crown – series 3 …this is fictional)

And there it is – Courage and Vulnerability – sitting side by side.


In Freddie Flintoff’s recent BBC documentary “Living With Bulimia” we see the courage and vulnerability of this successful man facing his demons. We see him repeatedly push the monster down, telling himself he’s got it under control when it is clear to everyone watching that he hasn’t. We see the exhausting battle he faces every day.

The fear of appearing weak seems to be at the root of men’s inability to seek help and support when something happens in their lives that they can’t deal with.

They push the pain and emotions down, they sit on them, like  holding a balloon under the water and, if you have ever tried to hold a balloon under the water for a long period of time, you can imagine how exhausting that would become over time. A never-ending effort to keep it submerged and an inevitable “bursting” of the calm surface when you are too tired to hold it down anymore.

This is how a crisis is born.

The solution to problems and the healing takes place when a man can truly show his vulnerability. When he realises he can’t fix things alone.

“No man is an island” 17th century English poet John Donne said, and I agree, no one is truly independent, truly self-sufficient. We belong to families, to communities, to countries and to the planet. Our problems are not our own, they do not affect only us. And the solutions to our problems come when we ask for support and help.


Fiona Ross, October 2020
Coaching for Men


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