Vulnerability Is Strength
What feelings and/or thoughts come up for you when you imagine being vulnerable? How do you define vulnerability?
As I am writing this, I am recalling a moment which I am quite certain I will never forget. Someone, whom I value and look up to very much, looked at me (with a straight face) and said “vulnerability is strength”. I recall feeling incredibly impacted by this statement. In many ways it rubbed up against all the ways in which I was conditioned and ended up being the birthplace of several conditioning patterns and beliefs that I eventually began to unravel and reshape. I recall thinking that I always looked at vulnerability as something I appreciated and craved in other people. It was something that other people did, but not me. I loved being on the receiving end of other people being brave and courageous and yes, vulnerable. However, I held a very different set of rules for myself. Little did I know (at that time) that that those three words (vulnerability is strength) would eventually be the exact sentiment to which not only do I aim to live my life by, but the also the countless of courageous individuals I get to witness and experience every single day.
So, what is vulnerability anyway?
I believe one of the most on point definitions I have ever read comes from Brene Brown, who defines vulnerability as: uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. A great example that Brene uses to further explain this definition is in relation to love. In her book, Daring Greatly, she writes:
“Waking up every morning and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal until the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes it’s scary and yes we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?”
In essence, to love is to be vulnerable and to receive love also requires you to be vulnerable. What a concept. This may also help to explain why many people also fear love because they fear being vulnerable.
Many individuals have been conditioned to associate vulnerability with weakness. “I am not going to allow myself to show how I really feel because he/she may think I am weak”. Or, “I am not going to tell this person how I truly feel about him/her because what if they do not feel the same way”. A lot of the emotions we resist are often fear based and in turn we work hard to convince ourselves not to be vulnerable. Perhaps we believe that not being vulnerable is a strength and in turn keeps us safe – perhaps a mildly convincing story. However, the catch in this is that vulnerability is also the foundation that leads us to the very things we often crave and desire, such as: love, connection, belonging, joy, courage, etc. Therefore if we cut ourselves off from being vulnerable in order to keep us from the uncomfortable fear-based emotions, we are automatically cutting ourselves off from experiencing the feel good emotions as well.
Vulnerability also involves boundaries – both in sharing and in receiving. Being vulnerable does not necessarily mean that you are walking around spewing your “stuff” all over the place. It is important to be mindful of what you are sharing and with whom you are sharing it with
What is your vulnerability story?
Think, for a moment, who you feel you become when you are being vulnerable? What is the current story you believe to be true? Perhaps you feel empowered, weak, liberated, terrified, anxious, or maybe connected? Now, think about how you may protect yourself against vulnerability. What type of armour or masks do you tend to put on or wear in order to protect yourself from being vulnerable? Do you wear the “I can handle everything on my own armour?”, or perhaps the “I am not going to show my emotions because people will judge me armour?”, or “I am really scared to ask for help because that shows I am in some ways inadequate armour?”. There is an immense collection of armour and masks to choose from, but it is of value to increase your awareness around which masks and armour you tend to put on, when, and with whom. In taking this a step further, you may also imagine what it would be/feel like strip them all off. To simply be within your truth and your being?
The truth is, as human beings, we crave and desire connection. While we may convince oursleves otherwise, we simply need it. Real connection does not exist without vulnerability. Existing requires us to be vulnerable. To care is to be vulnerable. To lead is to be vulnerable. To love is to be vulnerable. To trust is to be vulnerable. The list goes on and on.
It is imperative that we continue to wonder about and explore the various ways in which we can lean in a little closer to the ways in which we can be more vulnerable and thus allow for greater connection and love in our lives. Where can we allow ourselves to truly be seen with our masks and armour off? In which ways can we risk staying within our discomfort just a little bit longer? These are some of the many wonderings we can sit with in order to dig a little more deeply into the essence of our being.
In my practice as both a Psychotherapist and Art Therapist, I am incredibly fortunate to be able to witness individuals every day being vulnerable. They are making the choice to truly show up in their lives, be within uncertainty and discomfort, and take great risks. This type of inner work is incredibly challenging, yet vastly rewarding. I will end this post with a quote:
“vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness”
– Brene Brown.