Why do we fear being vulnerable?
Vulnerability is not the opposite of strength. Vulnerability is not the same as weakness. When we string together these truths, what does that leave us with? Well, to start, are we encouraged to be vulnerable? The truth of that question is backhanded. In our world, we are vulnerable to sexism, harassment, toxins of patriarchy. These are vulnerabilities that we don’t get to choose. They’re thrust into our palms and we’re expected to make fists and fight back. Ten toes down. What ends up happening is that the world then forces us to resist vulnerability in all its forms. Of course we will fight against what makes us feel helpless. Of course we are strong and resilient in the face of all those who hope we aren’t. But if we go back to the first two sentences, then how can that contradiction possibly exist? The only explanation left is that it is not our vulnerability that’s the problem. The systemic issues themselves frame us as the problem. To be vulnerable is to be human. To be vulnerable is to be our complete selves without fear. To be vulnerable is to be free. To be averse to vulnerability, then, is to hide from a part of yourself that needs expression. How do we keep this fear at bay and more importantly, how do we meet ourselves at our most vulnerable moments with kindness?
Pro tip 1: Know vulnerability as strength
Exposing yourself emotionally takes courage and it should be celebrated for just how much courage it takes. Whether telling your best friend that you might be in love with them, or telling your coworker that you really messed up a team project, or being honest with yourself about your insecurities, these acts take immense acts of bravery because they open our hearts to risk. We are putting ourselves at risk for judgment, for rejection, for shame and possible feelings of inadequacy. Yet, with great risk comes great reward. By opening our hearts and sharing our feelings, we create new avenues of intimacy, friendship and understanding amongst the people we care about. We begin to understand ourselves at a deeper level and can then meet people who have done the same work. We can then come together and create spaces for creativity and art and love and success and spirituality and belonging and joy. We might create spaces for the things that truly matter, and we will definitely create space for the things that matter more than fear.
Pro tip 2: Cherish vulnerability in yourself as you see it in others
A study was conducted at the University of Mannheim in Germany, inspired by Brené Brown, the renowned author and Ted Talk extraordinaire.
Similar to the way we see our physical imperfections much more than others do, the study reinforces this idea that distance can shift our perspective. Being in such intimate quarters with our own vulnerability makes it seem overwhelming and all consuming. With just a little bit of a gap, such as watching and recognizing when those around us are being vulnerable, we see it for all its dimensions, the good, the bad, the ugly. We see it for its courageous beauty and terrifying horror and that makes it almost mesmerizing to watch. We cherish it in others and condemn it in ourselves. Yet, research shows that everything from gaining the admiration of our peers/superiors to falling in love demands vulnerability and its time we answer its call.
Pro tip 3: Know vulnerability because you want to know yourself
Brené Brown found two keys that people who have a strong sense of love and belonging possess.
- Courage to be imperfect and, you guessed it, they
- Embraced vulnerability
Being vulnerable means accepting yourself for who you are, in the glory of your flaws, and then projecting that compassion to the people around you. It is the profound act of letting go of who you thought you should be in order to be who you are. That pretty much makes it inevitable and necessary if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life longing for that authenticity. It’s the act of understanding what will create a world that honors you, all of you, every single dent and scratch and doodle and mural that adorns you.
“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee –to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”
Let’s Get Real: Vulnerability is scary and anything worth its weight in our lives probably will be. What’s scarier, though, is knowing we might close ourselves off from love, life and happiness if we don’t at least try. Maybe that’s just it. Let’s try.
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