- February 10, 2019
“We are never more powerful than when we are completely vulnerable and have nothing to defend”—Robyn Norman
Vulnerability is a word we hear a lot these days. Most of us have been raised to believe that to be vulnerable is to be weak. Or worse, that it will position us as prey, ripe for victimization. Is that true?
What exactly is it, and why bother?
WHAT IT IS:
Vulnerability is acting from the depth of who we are – exposing our feelings, wants, limitations and fears. And allowing others to do the same.
It is the opposite of acting one way but feeling another.
It is the doorway to intimacy and true connection, the cornerstone of meaningful conversation, and the bridge to knowing and better understanding each other.
It puts us at risk for criticism. But without it, life is duller, flatter, and somehow, less remarkable.
It is the ability to accept our humanness, to be wrong, to laugh at our foibles, and to take ourselves a little less seriously, while taking our lives a little more seriously.
WHAT IT IS NOT:
It is not brain dumping our entire life history on a first date, or with our boss, or with our children.
It is not ‘telling it like it is’ to anyone who will listen.
It is not crying at TV shows or commercials. (Although the two are not mutually exclusive.)
It is not saying yes when saying no feels like the right thing for you.
Vulnerability does not mean indiscriminate sharing, caving under pressure, or martyrdom.
WHAT IT TAKES:
Vulnerability begins with being honest with ourselves, owning our feelings, wants, limitations and fears. Even the ones we find less than attractive.
We’re not used to embracing the fullness of our humanness, or laughing at ourselves, or accepting our less than attractive thoughts and feelings, much less sharing them.
Expressing them, and when necessary, asking for support, is risky and takes courage.
Discretion is often the better part of wisdom.
Test the waters with a baby toe, not a full body dive with someone you don’t know well, or someone you suspect might not be interested in really knowing you.
If you pay attention, people will show you very early on who they are and whether or not they can be trusted.
Start small. Pick someone who is safe, willing, and capable of listening.
Pick one issue, get clear about what you want from your conversation.
Breathe all the way out and soften your body. Ask if now is a good time to discuss something important to you.
Help them out by asking them to refrain from offering an opinion or advice unless you ask for it.
When you’re done, thank them.
Programming and domestication.
We learn to mimic protective and defensive behaviors modeled by our parent figures, who unwittingly pass along what they have been taught, even if it doesn’t work.
We learn to cover up our vulnerability to protect ourselves from discomfort because we have been taught that discomfort is unbearable.
Unfortunately, what may have protected us from hurt and discomfort as little children often stops working in our favor as we move into adolescence and adulthood and desire connection and intimacy.
Desire for approval.
We cover it up to gain approval in our attempts to ensure that we don’t lose what is valuable to us.
What if you don’t value me once you know the real me? What if you judge me?
We are hard-wired to want approval and to be accepted. I figured out long ago that I even want people that I don’t like much to like me! Taking the chance that we will lose someone’s approval is a big risk.
Fear of loss.
If I lose your approval, does that mean I lose you?
It has been said that all fear is based on the idea of loss. Whether it’s loss of someone important to us, loss of self-respect, of the respect and approval of others, loss of safety, loss of material possessions and success …
In order to be vulnerable we need to be confident that we are enough, that we can take care of ourselves, regardless of someone else’s approval or disapproval.
Vulnerability is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Vulnerability is openness to the full range of what we are experiencing. It is emotional exposure.
Not everyone chooses to be vulnerable in this way. And that’s ok. Not everyone chooses to like many of the things that float my boat, and I’m beyond grateful that I’m not expected to love boxing matches and opera.
WHERE TO START:
If you do want to explore emotional intimacy and increasing meaningful communication with the important people in your life, I encourage you to begin practicing with your body. It’s the quickest way into your real self, and the easiest way to remain present with someone else when it’s difficult.
When we are on the defensive or offensive, our bodies are tight, ready for a fight. Vulnerability requires a softening and relaxing of our physical body.
The quickest path to authentic vulnerability is to breathe all the way out, while softening your body. Soften your face, forehead and jaw. Drop your shoulders, Relax your chest and your belly. And then lean in, instead of away.
I’m not talking about relaxing into vulnerability when you are in danger. I am talking about when you want to be more emotionally and meaningful connected to someone. I can’t guarantee that this will be easy, or always get you the outcome you seek. My experience is that it is a process. When I remember to drop my defenses I generally feel better about myself. I don’t remember feeling good about myself when I attack. That approach leaves me feeling frustrated, lonely and disconnected.
Brene Brown is a well-known spokesperson for the benefits of vulnerability. She stands up for it in her groundbreaking Ted Talks and most recent book, Daring Greatly. You can check her out here.
As always, play is the operative word. Sit with these ideas, play with them. Consider using your body to open the doors to the experience of vulnerability, which may allow you to be the most authentic and receptive you have ever been.