The Beauty of Vulnerability
It’s not like I woke up one day and just decided, “I’m going to be vulnerable from now on”. Nope. My journey isn’t quite that simple, as I’m sure yours isn’t either. There are so many complexities to the human condition that I’m sure we could each write a book about how we’ve affected others and been affected ourselves.
Vulnerability is hard. Don’t think that because I write about it and post about it on Instagram that means that I’m really good at it. Oftentimes it takes weeks, months or even years to come to a realization about vulnerability before I share it (a vulnerzation, if you will).
Why is vulnerability so hard?
I understand how hard it is to be honest, open and vulnerable, especially when we’ve been hurt. And unfortunately, being hurt is unavoidable. But when someone steps out and exposes their hurt, it gives others permission to step out themselves and say, “me too”. I’m sure most of us have witnessed this recently on Facebook and in the news; women sharing that they’ve been victims of sexual harassment and/or assault by sharing those two simple words. Individuals shared and then individuals turned into pairs. Pairs turned into groups. Groups turned into hordes. Hordes turned into masses. And masses turned into an army. An army of survivors who are being set free from their past experience and setting others free in the process. It’s empowering, transformative and eye-opening. It’s taking something negative, and channelling it into something brave and strong.
I’m only just starting off on this journey, and it’s only with much hesitation and fear that I step out into the open and expose the things that I want to run from. But I know that at my core, my truest self wants to be vulnerable and to encourage others to do the same.
Why? Because I think that it’s best for us.
When we’re vulnerable we are fully seen - the good and the bad - and only when we are fully seen can we be fully accepted. Only when we see someone fully can we fully accept them, but it takes a risk. A big, fat, scary risk that not very many people are willing to take, for obvious reasons. Why would you expose your heart when every person has the power within them to damage, scar and burn with their words and actions (or lack thereof)?
Sometimes we think that vulnerability equates weakness, but Brene Brown would say that actually vulnerability shows true courage. She says that, “courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”.
Often we preemptively take measures to protect ourselves. When we hurt, we withhold. We withdraw before people have time to leave us. We say the hurtful thing before we can be hurt. A classic example of this is Matt Damon’s character Will Hunting in “Good Will Hunting”. Raised as an orphan in the homes of many different foster families, he’s learned that the “best” way to live is to be withdrawn because it’s “safe”. It’s there where he can’t be hurt. He pushes people away before they have a chance to leave him. It’s a pattern that he’s been following his whole life, and it’s a pattern that’s hard to break. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s self preservation. We’re trying to protect ourselves from the harshness that life throws at us. We figure that if we can avoid pain, grief and fear we’re better for it.
But when we operate in this manner, what are we missing out on?
We aren’t letting people into our lives because it’s hard. Honestly, it’s embarrassing to have people see the disaster that we may consider our life to be. Maybe our apartment is a mess. Or maybe our marriage is a mess. Maybe the dishes have been left unattended. Or maybe our hearts have been left unattended.
We’ve become hardened and maybe we want to change, but the very thing that softens us is the last thing that we want to do - we soften by letting people into our lives, by being seen (in the good and bad) and being vulnerable. It’s actually feeling the feelings, feeling the hurt and not brushing over it; not saying “I’m fine”, “it’s okay” or “we’ll be alright”.
I believe that my issue, my addiction, my pattern of behavior is what would keep people away from me if they only knew. So we keep it hidden. Tucked away. We keep the ugly buried underneath smiles and laughter but the truth is that there is hurt that we don’t want anyone to see and there are tears when no one is watching.
Feeling all the feels
And it’s the same with sensitivity. When we think of being sensitive, we don’t necessarily think it’s synonymous with weakness, but we also see it as being the opposite of strong. Don’t we? No? Just me? This is especially true of women. Our expression of sensitivity (AKA feelings) can easily be written off as weakness around the boardroom table or the kitchen table. So we often ignore the feelings or do our best to “get them under control” or hide them away so that they aren’t seen. We don’t want to be “found out” when actually this is part of who we are. This quality doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation, but it can certainly affect us negatively if left unattended. Hurt feelings can lead to bitterness and resentment if we don’t address it ASAP.
In my experience, the best way to start is to have a conversation and be honest from the get go. Saying something to preface that actual issue like, “This makes me really uncomfortable and I don’t even want to talk about it, but I really feel like I should” or “I’m not quite sure how to say what I feel, so this may sound a little scatterbrained, but please bear with me…” This signals to your listener LOUD AND CLEAR that you are in a vulnerable spot and now is NOT the time to make jokes or be dismissive; it’s time to listen.
And let me tell you right now - it doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes there isn’t an immediate feeling of relief. When the words escape your mouth, it feels awkward and clunky. You may not say exactly what you want to say. You will feel squirmy and stuttery. BUT that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. I’m learning that there are so many things in life that are HARD. It’s hard to make the right choice. It’s hard to put in the work now in order to reap the benefits later. It’s hard to delay instant gratification, but again, it’s worth it.
How I experience vulnerability
I’m a people pleaser.
I’m afraid of being judged.
I want people to like me.
I fear rejection.
Because of this, I often keep my opinions to myself. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t often disagree. I go with the flow. I try to validate people as much as I can, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. But I don’t want to be that way anymore. I want to feel free to speak about my life in its entirety and not censor the things that I think may be rejected or scoffed at. I have this idea in my head that people don’t want to hear about the things that make me who I am; things that are literally the foundation of my life. But I think that’s a lie that I need to STOP BELIEVING. Everyone needs to see openness and vulnerability in their lives. Everyone wants hope, beauty and significance in their life. I’m not saying that I embody all of these things, but I want to share the part of me that does.
Vulnerability is spelled R-I-S-K. To be vulnerable shows that you’re willing to take a chance and to be seen (no mask or shield for protection) with no guarantee that it will be received well. What feels vulnerable to me? Sharing my feelings, especially when I’ve been hurt. Sharing an opposing opinion for fear of being shut down. Sharing my faith, because I’m afraid that people will dismiss and/or reject my beliefs and in turn, me.
I want to live a life of courage. I want to be my truest self BOLDLY. I want to do hard things, knowing that with taking a risk comes greater fulfillment and enjoyment in all facets of life. What would it look like if we all stepped outside of our comfort zone and did the same? I’m not saying it’s fun, comfortable or easy. But I think that when we start to live a life that looks bold and courageous, we can be sure that our truest selves are being revealed. Within each one of us lies more boldness and courage than we even realize.