Up until our era of awakening, “vulnerability” was deemed an “ugly” word if not repulsive. Generations before us were taught to be strong, endure, and power through. You were not to talk about your emotions or show them in any way. You were to strive for perfection and settle for nothing less. You were to be the best at everything, or at least pretend to be. There was no other way if you wanted society to consider you worthy and successful.
Humanity has been blessed with such a complex spectrum of emotions. We have the ability to experience an astonishing palette of feelings. But we tend to push them away if they don’t have positive connotations. Vulnerability is often at the top of the list of emotions we reject simply because much of society has told us that it is not becoming to expose your emotions to the world and shed your emotional armory. Why should we expose our authentic selves to the world and risk being taken advantage of, ridiculed, or mocked?
What is vulnerability?
There is no conversation about vulnerability without citing the work of Dr. Brené Brown and her talks and books about the power of vulnerability and the courage to break our vulnerability armor and embrace the entire palette of our emotions.
Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated the last two decades of her life to studying vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame. She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Vulnerability can take many shapes. It can be the feeling you get when you step out of your comfort zone, the rapid breathing you feel when you share your emotions, the pit drop in your stomach when you see someone you like, or the inability to speak when you become overly emotional.
All these feelings help make sense of why we may feel fearful to be vulnerable. However, they shouldn’t stop us from taking that leap into the healing abyss of our emotions. The rewards make all the sudden turns and twists of our inner journey worth it. Dr. Brené Brown mentions that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” Certainly, the chance to access all this is worth shedding perceived control and exposing our personal vulnerability.
A frozen nervous system, the inability to speak, and tense muscles are all physical manifestations of vulnerability. How can something that may interrupt our daily life be the path to leading a life of courage and emotional plenitude? How can vulnerability lead to a meaningful connection with people in our lives? How can vulnerability add balance to our mental health and allow us to get to know ourselves and bring light to our true needs?
What are the benefits of vulnerability?
If you look back on some of the most dramatic events in your life, you’ll notice that the times when you felt more vulnerable and dared to expose your emotions were the times when you showed the most courage. Furthermore, the times when you stepped out of your comfort zone – taking a new class, learning a new skill, discovering a new place – were also the times when you opened yourself to experience new emotions and grew as a person.
Vulnerability is indeed the “core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness” in the words of best-selling author Dr. Brené Brown, but when we become aware of the epidemic of shame that plagues our lives, stand up to fear, raise our voices to ask for what we deserve, say no when we need to, or admit that we are wrong, we start to reap the benefits of embracing vulnerability.
When our vulnerability armor comes down, and we dare to feel shame, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, we can experience:
- empathy and understanding
- trust and intimacy in a relationship
- increased self-worth
- personal awareness and accountability
- personal growth
- our accurate measure of courage
Vulnerability is the only way to get to know our authentic selves. It opens the path to growth and gives us the courage to fight the need to please others and focus on our well-being. Vulnerability helps us bring to light all our emotions and process them. It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of the world without your armor, but this is the only way toward authentic and meaningful connections with others.
Types of vulnerability
While vulnerability means the same thing in every circumstance, it does take different shapes depending on the environment where we manifest it.
Vulnerability in relationships
Our relationships benefit the most from our exposed vulnerability. Many fear to reveal their true selves and needs out of shame or fear of rejection or judgment but it’s when you reveal yourself from beyond your shield of cynicism and fear that you get to establish an authentic and meaningful connection with the people in your life. Vulnerability is indeed the birthplace of joy and the one and true path to human connection.
So, have the difficult conversations, ask for what you need, and talk about your hopes and fears. You are both imperfect human beings empowered by your vulnerability. Be patient and take small steps. This cannot be achieved overnight and should not be achieved in a haste. Build that trust, cultivate closeness, and “choose courage over comfort.”
Vulnerability in the workplace
The workplace might be considered the last place where you would show your emotions and be vulnerable. You have an image to build and a reputation to protect. However, many of us fall prey to doubts, incessant comparisons with our colleagues, or the imposter syndrome where we feel as if we are not worthy of all our achievements. Remember that self-doubt is paramount for growth. Accept it as part of who you are and work to improve your self-confidence. Ask for help when you need it. Vulnerability is often the foundation of excellent teamwork.
Leaders especially fear showing any crack in their vulnerability armor out of fear of losing the respect of their peers. However, visionary leadership is born out of courage, and courage stems from vulnerability. You can’t dissociate them and, honestly, you shouldn’t even try. Authentic leadership can only be the result of daring leaders who have embraced their vulnerability. Transformative leaders will never hide in their comfort zone. If your dream is to become a confident leader who practices true leadership, you need to be willing to experience shame and fear.
Vulnerability in community
Too many generations have lost their true selves because they feared “what people are going to say.” Shame has crushed so many spirits and broken so many lives that it hurts just to think about it. Parents have taught their children to always look and act impeccably, and children have learned that only “positive” emotions are acceptable. We are now afraid to say no to other people just because they would think “bad things” about us or label us as selfish.
When you embrace your vulnerability, you allow yourself to invite only the people you want in your life. You give yourself permission to make the best decisions for yourself and your family and simply remove yourself from situations you are not comfortable with. You are empowered to set healthy boundaries and rearrange your priorities to better reflect your needs.
How to embrace vulnerability?
The key to becoming comfortable with your own vulnerability is to let things fall apart and give up on this hurtful idea that we have to be in control at all times. The closer you get to your own vulnerability, the more your life is going to change. Vulnerability helps you improve your self-awareness and admit the fact that you don’t know everything and you shouldn’t in the first place. It frees you from the prison of perfection and validation and opens the way to accepting risk, uncertainty, and that dreaded feeling of being uncomfortable.
When you break down the walls around your comfort zone and step into the unknown, you get to explore, learn, and grow. You will see your relationships in a different light and start to understand the thought process behind your decisions. You learn to love with all your heart. What can be more beautiful than becoming a “wholehearted” being, as Dr. Brené Brown describes people who embrace their vulnerability and dare to love without conditions?
Find the courage to see beyond the myths of vulnerability. Understand that vulnerability is not weakness or a dispensable set of emotions. Vulnerability should not be used as a bargaining chip or confused with full disclosure. It shouldn’t be used recklessly but only manifested in front of the people who deserve our truth. Vulnerability creates a sense of belonging, the innate need we all have in our quest for happiness. It should be used as a foundation of our relationships and a way to create new connections.
Vulnerability gives us access to profound insights about ourselves. These transformative insights help us build self-esteem, combat anxiety and depression, reduce stress, and live fuller lives. Leading a meaningful life and having profound connections with other people can improve both our physical and mental health. Take the time to acknowledge your emotions without judgment, look for value in your life and relationships, and practice vulnerability every day.