Why Men Don’t Open Up and What to Do: Unexpected Lessons from My Week with Wim Hof
Vulnerability is hard for everyone. And while this struggle is universal, men have an extra layer of complexity because so many have been taught to believe that their value is in their ability to appear “strong.”
Which is why I recorded the video below (stay to the end for a special announcement).
While it’s never your job to fix or solve a man’s problems for him, this is an opportunity to be one of his greatest allies in bringing out a side of him that no one else sees.
Learn 5 Techniques to Help Him Open Up to You. Get Access to Your FREE Training…
We start this video saying, “Dedicated to my Ice Brothers… May we all thaw together.”
I recently, as many of you know from following me on Instagram or Facebook, went to Poland with a very small group of amazing men to do the Wim Hof ice retreat.
For those of you that don’t know, Wim Hof is a guy who I guess has become a kind of spiritual leader in recent times, but has been known over a longer period of time for being the Ice Man, this guy who seems to do superhuman feats of running barefoot half marathons, spending up to or close to two hours submerged in ice, the longest under-ice swim. He has done things that you or I would not do because we would die and because we don’t want to.
He has this retreat in Poland where you go and you do some of these crazy, seemingly superhuman things for yourself. I didn’t want to go on this trip. I was invited by my friend, Lewis Howes and I was so afraid of it that I decided, “If I’m this scared, it might be something interesting for me to do.” What ensued was exactly what I thought it would be, and maybe worse. We ended up jumping off of cliffs into ice-cold water. We spent up to 10 minutes in an ice bath. We trekked up the tallest mountain, the highest point in Czech Republic, in nothing but shorts and shoes, where it got up to minus 20 at the summit and the wind was whipping against our bodies.
I feel warm.
You look warm.
It was a crazy experience. But this video isn’t about the physical side of that experience. There was treasure lurking in this trip that went beyond the physical challenge. We were a group of guys going through something very, very intense together. And every single one of these guys is a high achiever in some different way. We had a renowned singer-songwriter. We had guys who had built businesses that are at a level… I consider myself to be successful in business and we had guys on this trip who have built businesses that most people, even successful entrepreneurs, wouldn’t do in 10 lifetimes. We had super athletes. NFL Super Bowl winning kicker. New York Times best sellers. We had all different types of guys that were just extraordinary high achievers and thought leaders. It was a group of guys that I think would be intimidating for almost any guy to be a part of.
To be in the company of all of these kind of surface-level winners who had so much going on in their lives and of course weren’t just winners outwardly, but had done an incredible amount of work on themselves. These are people that have gone past the point of simply collecting trophies in life and are looking for something bigger in their lives. Are looking for more meaning, are looking to be expansive in their mindset, are looking to do the emotional work. It’s like an emotionally intelligent football team. Stop drooling. That’s what it felt like.
And to be in the company of these guys was magical for this reason: Over the course of these five days, we opened up to each other in the most extraordinary ways. And because we were already afraid of what was going on and what we were up to, that opened us up too, and we were there for something more than just the physical.
We sat around and did breathing exercises, and between those breathing exercises, we actually talked about our vulnerabilities, our fears, our insecurities. People talked about stories of bullying from childhood that had stuck with them. Some people talked about how they weren’t proud of themselves. Some of them talked about how they doubted themselves and felt like they were in the company of all these confident people and they themselves were filled with so much doubt. Extraordinary, given that every single one of these people was a high achiever. There wasn’t one person in the group that you could point to that you could say, “Oh, there’s a reason that person should doubt themselves.”
To be honest, the whole thing reminded me of my love for men. And granted, after spending 10 years resident in a swirling vortex of estrogen, a boy’s sleepover was probably needed for me. To be around guys and to see them in that light. When guys so often get such a bad rap. When I spend time with guys in that capacity, you see the complexity of men. You see what’s going on beneath the surface. All the things that they don’t talk about or feel they can’t talk about, that come out when they feel like they’re in an environment that’s safe. This was so powerful when we were there that Wim Hof, the guy running the program, this superhuman tough individual, he said, “Being around you guys and watching you become vulnerable made me feel like I could be vulnerable.” He literally told us that he felt he released some of his own personal trauma by witnessing us doing the same.
You think about that. This is a guy who has to be a leader at all times for everybody. People were going up mountains with him shirtless in the snow and looking to him as the source of confidence that they’re not going to die. This is not a guy who feels, I’m sure, like he can be vulnerable all that often in those contexts. But I think that’s relevant to so many men. They may not be climbing mountains in their shorts, but they are experiencing some version of life that they feel makes it difficult for them to truly open up, for them to truly be vulnerable. And their life hasn’t necessarily rewarded that vulnerability.
It’s funny, we came out of this experience like brothers. And I feel like I can be so open with this group of individuals because of the experience we shared. And yet, we got home and within a couple of days I got sick. “No shit,” I’m sure you’re thinking… Look, whether it was sleep deprivation or the ice or whatever or just sharing bedrooms, six bunk beds at a time with the Avengers, where we didn’t get any rest. I didn’t tell the group that I got sick because I had this whole plan. I’m going to go home. I’m going to continue to do ice baths every day. I’m going to continue to do this, that whatever. And then I was really sick and it took me down for like five days and I didn’t feel I could… It’s not that I didn’t feel I could say anything, I just didn’t want to say anything. And that to me is so fascinating.
There was a text message chain where we – we have our own texting group between the boys – and there was a moment where one person at some point said, “Oh, I haven’t been doing this because I got sick.” And then all of a sudden another person said, “Oh, me too.” And then another person said, “I’m sick too.” And all of a sudden we realized half to three quarters of the group had gotten sick in the week after the program. Looking at that was like a pressure valve for me, where all of a sudden I went, “Oh my God, everyone else goes sick too.” The fact that I was still afraid to say that shows how deep these things between men run. Where you’re waiting for someone else to make the first move before you get vulnerable. And there is a reason for that, I believe. We put so much value on being strong and so many of us believe that our value is in being strong.
Men are terrified that they’re not going to be strong enough, that they’re not going to be able enough, that they’re not going to be able to provide enough, that they aren’t as capable as the next guy, that that bloke over there could beat them up if they wanted to. We are constantly bombarded with thoughts like this. I think this runs so deep, that men stoke that in each other all the time in so many different ways.
Not one week after my ice retreat, I was on a flight – or I was getting on a flight from Newark Airport in New York to LAX. And I’m sitting on this plane and the pilot starts talking about how there’s been problems with the plane and that’s why we’ve had a two-hour delay and I’m immediately nervous like, “Why are we on this plane if there’s problems with this plane?” The plane took off and 20 minutes into the air, you heard this noise… And the plane started shaking. The engine caught fire. The pilot got on the radio and said, “We have to land because we’ve had an engine malfunction.” Flight attendants sprinting up and down the plane. Terrifying. Terrifying. Sitting on this plane and felt sick with fear. Genuinely, I say this with no hint of drama, I genuinely thought, “I think we’re going to die. This is one of those situations where it seems reasonable we could die.”
The guy next to me wrote a goodbye text to his wife that when we eventually landed, he had to delete. He said, “Oh, I guess I don’t need to send this now.” That’s the state that people were in on this flight. And I got off the flight and I get back into the terminal and our airline says, “We’re arranging another flight for you to leave in an hour from another gate.” Now in my head I thought, “I’m done with flying for today. Maybe for the next month. I do not want to get on another plane. That was horrific. I don’t know. I’m still processing that that happened.” The last thing I wanted to do was get on a plane – and I’m ready to go home. I remember calling a friend of mine, a female friend of mine, and telling her what happened and her saying, “Go home. Go home, get some sleep. In the next few days you can take another flight back, but just right now, please go home and just look after yourself. Take a bath, relax. Just decompress. You’ve been through something traumatic. Go relax.”
I call a male friend of mine. This is no joke. I call a male friend of mine, I tell him what happened. He says, “Oh my God, that’s terrible,” blah, blah, blah. He empathetic, but then he says… I tell him, “There’s another plane right now. I don’t even want to get on it. I just want to go home.” He goes, “Well, yeah, I guess you could go home and be a complete pussy and not get on the next plane.” This is a true story. And even though he was half-joking, I remember an instant feeling in my stomach of, “Oh, maybe it does make me weak if I don’t get on this plane. Maybe that’s a sign of weakness that I can’t just get straight back on the horse and go for it.”
And I sat there in the terminal… This is no joke. I sat there in the terminal while we were waiting for this plane to come and arrive at the gate going, “Do I go?” Like it was this dichotomy. I mean, overly stereotypical dichotomy, but a real one nonetheless between my female friend who said, “Go home, relax, take care of yourself.” And the male friend who said, “Don’t be a pussy, get on the plane.” And I sat there going, “I don’t know what to do. If I go home…” I literally thought if I go home, I’m going to beat myself up for going home. I’m going to go home. I’m going to feel weak. I’m going to tell myself that that wasn’t… I should be stronger. I should be able to just get straight back on the plane. What’s wrong? Like I’m not going to let myself off the hook for that.
So then I thought, “I have to get on this plane because if I stay I’m now going to stay and suffer for making the decision to stay.” Luckily I was off the hook logistically because it ended up being delayed another three hours and I was like, “Screw this. I can just take a flight in the next day.” Which I did the next day and I was not going to wait on a terminal floor for three hours. But that’s the funny thing: That I needed, in order to give myself the grace of going home, I needed to be given the okay by logistics. I didn’t give it to myself. I didn’t say, “Let me just be kind to myself right now.” I said, “Oh, the plane is going to be delayed another three hours? Okay, now I can go home.” Because it wasn’t me who made the decision.
That is so much of what men feel day to day. I mean, I think it’s funny when women talk about like, “You don’t know what we have to deal with with men.” Like women have to put up with men. Men have to put up with men. Wait, you think men are shits to you? They’re also shits to men and men who have experienced that their whole life. Ladies, it is fucking hard to deal with men. We don’t have to deal with them in the same ways that you do, I appreciate that, but there’s still… Like we were in the locker room at school when guys made our life difficult. We went through those experiences at school or at college or in a place of business where we constantly felt like we needed to be tough. We needed to be alpha, we needed to take control because otherwise we’re going to be eaten alive not by women but by other men. It’s a ton of pressure.
And I don’t believe, by the way, it just comes from men either. Because as much as women will say they want men to be vulnerable, they want men to be more sensitive, many, many men have had the experience of feeling like that’s not true based on a reaction they got to something. I’ve said things in relationships in the past where I literally have revealed a deep insecurity. I’ve revealed something that is intensely vulnerable about something I was feeling and then instantly regretted it. Instantly thought, “I wish I hadn’t said that because I can’t put that back in the box now. This person now isn’t going to unknow that about me, and even this person’s reaction to what I’m saying right now is not one that is making me feel more attractive, is not one that’s making me feel sexier. If anything, I do feel, even though she’s not saying it, I’ve slightly turned her off with that.” I’ve felt that in the past. I know many men will have felt the same way.
I remember a few years back, I was on a first date, where at the end of the date I wanted to kiss the person. And men, you know this moment. You’ve been on a date with someone, some dates you really feel it, where you’re super touchy-feely with each other and the kiss feels completely natural and it’s just this truly organic moment. And other times you’re questioning a little bit, “I don’t know for sure that she feels the same way as I do? I don’t know if she’s as attracted as I am?” And so you feel a little tentative.
I remember being in the car at the end of this date and saying to this woman, or asking rather, “Can I kiss you?” And she immediately began laughing in my face. She said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you just said that.” And then she looked at me and she went, “Never say that to a woman. Never say that. Oh my God. Just do it if you want to. You’re asking? That’s so…” And she just kept laughing and laughing. Now a younger me or less confident me would have looked at that situation and thought, “Oh my God, I should have just leaned in and kissed her. What was I thinking? Why did I ask? I’m such an idiot.” Luckily, I was at a stage in my life where I could look at that situation and go, “Ah, this is not a very kind person. This is not someone that I actually would want to go on a second date with.” That’s a red flag immediately. But it does show just how confusing the world can be for guys sometimes.
And this is a real point of confusion for men. Ladies, please let it be known, in that situation the message that could be received by so many guys is, “You should have just kissed me. You should have just leaned in and taken charge. That would have been the sexy thing to do. You asking me if it’s okay to kiss me is weak and not attractive and not fun and not spontaneous and not romantic.” And of course this is backed up by God-knows-how-many TV shows and movies and books, you name it. All picturing the guy who just takes control and goes for what he wants and doesn’t have a moment’s hesitation. This is a confusing state of play for men.
I believe that if more men were in rooms like the one I was in in Poland, around other strong men, and they saw examples of truly strong men, men that they look up to, men that they admire opening up, that they themselves would be humbled and it would take all of the pressure of them being strong away because they’d know they can open up. In fact, it’s more than they don’t have to be strong, it’s that opening up and revealing those things about themselves is strong. That is a form of strength. They would see that example and it would give them permission to do the same. Frankly, I don’t think that there are many places that men can do that. How many places can men go to truly open up, not just to women but to other men? I mean, no woman was required in that space in Poland for this group of men to open up to each other. Men could do it for each other. And this is the responsibility we have to take on guys. And by guys, I mean men. We have to create more spaces for each other to actually open up and to talk and to release that pressure valve because this is serious.
I watch guys bottle this stuff up. I watch them not talk about these things, the demons they have, these fears they have, these insecurities they have, and it frightens me. You see the number of guys who go out and kill themselves because they’re not talking, they’re not releasing that trauma, that energy. They’ve got no pressure valve.
What comes to mind when you think about men opening up? It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. All right, so it’s like the easiest route to going to a group of guys and opening up is to become an alcoholic. That’s where you’re going to go to actually be able to talk. That’s where it’s socially acceptable to be able to talk and open up. But where’s the space for everybody else? I don’t have the exact answer to that right now. This is something that I’m processing and thinking about more this year because I think it’s so needed. It’s so needed. Whether guys go find their retreat to do, whether guys find a space where they can come together with like-minded friends, or whether they just are brave enough to do it around the women that they’re around, they have to start doing it.
Men, you have to start talking more. You have to start opening up more because all the good stuff in life is on the other side of that bravery. On the other side of opening up in those ways. And I’m passionate about this right now. I’m passionate about it because I believe it will make men’s lives better and I’m passionate about it because it’s going to make women’s lives better, if men can learn to do this.
Women, let me make this clear. This is not your job to fix this. It’s not your job to play therapists to men. It’s not your job to take everything I’m saying right now and to use it to go and be this therapist figure with every man in your life. That’s not what I’m saying. I want you to be an ally. I want you to be strong enough to hold that space for men to be vulnerable, but it’s our job as men to actually step into that space.
In the interest of being practical for you women who are watching, one of the things that I did want to do for you is at least create a template for what holding that space looks like. If you have men in your life, whether it’s your brother, whether it’s your boyfriend, whether it’s your husband, your father, or your son, what does it look like to be an ally for someone who deep down is desperate to release that pressure valve, is desperate to open up more, is desperate to show you more of who they are, but he’s terrified of doing it, consciously or unconsciously? I put something together and I’ve detailed five very specific things that you can do to create that environment. And my promise to you, ladies, is that in knowing just these five things, you’re going to have the tools to be the kind of person that men open themselves up to, that men truly show themselves around. My hope is that I’ll get, as a result of this, far less women saying to me, “My guy just won’t open up. He just won’t talk to me.”
I do believe that there are certain men that, no matter what you do, they have their own stuff going on that they need to resolve. And if they don’t take responsibility for resolving it, eventually you have to leave and find someone who will open up. So I’m not suggesting that over the long-term you stay with someone who won’t open up to you, but I do think that there are things that can be done to facilitate that process. And that’s what I’ve put together in this training, which is free by the way. I’m not charging for it, but I am opening it up to my mailing list. So all you need to do is sign up to my mailing list to get it and I’m going to put it over at this link right here.
Once you get to that training, leave me a comment underneath that video and tell me what you think of this whole message. Men and women. I want the men to comment too. Guys, I want you to go there because I want you to see the psychology of this. And as I said, I need you to take responsibility for this. We, as guys, have got to take responsibility for us being more vulnerable. I’m here for you, my brothers, in helping you do that. We’re in it together. Go to that link now, get that training and I’ll see you there.