Male vulnerability: Reflections on Dele Alli's traumatic past

As young boys and adolescents, males often receive messages either explicitly or implicitly that they should be self-reliant, independent and physically tough. Through parents, caregivers, peers, popular culture and the media, men often learn to suppress their vulnerability, so as not to appear "weak".


Having to act a certain way to meet the desired stereotype of a male is not a healthy way for any person to live. We all group with models around us displaying values, behaviours and beliefs we internalise and acceptable and expected.

In recent weeks, the England and Premier League player Dele Alli took a huge step in making public his own personal mental health battles and childhood trauma. Dele is a public figure who has not been as successful on the pitch in recent times and has faced criticism for his sporting performance from commentators and for being flashy and arrogant.

On the surface, he was a man who was much too young, lazy, unfocused and motivated by money and fame. His mental strength and desire were questioned alongside his decline in abilities on the pitch.

Maybe you have been experiencing an internal battle and carrying demons from your past or present that have held you back from performing at work. Being unable to tell a soul whilst you continue with your own internal struggle, leading to reduced connections and performance in the external world. 

Dele has taken a huge step and shown his vulnerabilities in the public eye. He has shown courage and vulnerability as a high-profile male athlete. We often hear mental health cliches such as "You will never know what someone is dealing with behind closed doors". He has been carrying trauma and trying to deal with adverse childhood events at a critical age that would have left a lasting imprint on his psyche as an adult male. No amount of money or fame can cover up the vulnerabilities Dele has carried with him since a child.

Unfortunately, Dele Alli was forced to speak out after attending rehab in America and the press caught wind of this and were about to break the story.

Why is this so important? By talking about our problems with appropriate people at the appropriate time, we help remove the stigma that men cannot be vulnerable. It helps family members and those close to us understand certain behaviours and, on a wider scale, helps prevent discrimination.

By talking about our problems with a therapist, it helps us to name, validate and process our feelings. It promotes problem-solving or acceptance of certain situations. Carl Rogers' famous quote springs to mind - "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change."

Dele Alli has shown the world it's not weak to speak up. Most loved ones would prefer you get appropriate support than for you feel a burden. The first step to change is accepting support and having the courage to reach out.

Hopefully, after reading this today and understanding all humans go through difficult patches, you can take that first step and show true strength and embrace your vulnerability.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Basingstoke RG24 & RG21
Written by Nathan Hipple, (MBACP) Dip. Couns
Basingstoke RG24 & RG21

I am an integrative therapist after working 8 years across various mental health positions within the homeless sector and NHS.

During those years I gained extensive experience of working with anxiety, depression addiction and stress. I believe through a trusting relationship healing can begin.

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