You’ve heard us mention the word “vulnerable” or “vulnerability” quite often in previous posts. And I’m sure you’ve heard about this concept before. But have you really dug in deep to find out what exactly it is? Or what it means to you personally? If your first inkling is to define it as weakness, you aren’t alone.
However, Brené Brown sees this as the most widely accepted myth and a dangerous one at that. In her book Daring Greatly, she defines vulnerability in a way that is far from weakness, and instead as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” She relates it to love and how when we love someone we haven’t a clue if they will love us back or if they’ll be there tomorrow. Love is uncertain, risky, and leaves us exposed. It is vulnerability. But can you imagine life with out it? We don’t see love as weakness, so why would we call vulnerability weakness? She continues,
Vulnerability is also the cradle of emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. (pg. 34)
Wow. That is a lot of emotion wrapped up in one word. To better understand vulnerability and to see the personal side of it, we thought a question and answer format would work best. Some of the questions are from the reading guide in the book and others are just those that are important to us.
What are the beliefs you hold around vulnerability?
Andrea: It’s hard, it’s risky, but in the end I believe it makes you real. I value it when others are vulnerable with me, when they share thoughts and feelings that I too sometimes feel, but are afraid to speak. It’s putting yourself out there and being all in. I believe it takes courage to be this kind of person.
Annie: It’s incredibly hard for me and incredibly scary as well. The family environment I grew up in didn’t encourage talking about feelings or things you were going through. I can remember my mom crying at a movie or TV show and my dad, my brother and myself making fun of her. I feel horrible about that now but that also taught me to not show emotions, to not be vulnerable at home. That wasn’t a safe place and I feel like I’ve never really had a safe place where I could be vulnerable. I have cultivated spaces for vulnerability and nourished relationships that allow me to be vulnerable. But it’s hard for me. Very, very hard.
What does vulnerability feel like?
Andrea: Absolutely awful, at first that is. But the outcome is by far worthwhile. I feel closer to people and with myself when I choose vulnerability over my usual response of hiding or avoidance. Sometimes, I feel surprisingly relieved, like a burden has been lifted.
Annie: It’s super scary. It feels nightmarish in the moment. I never know how the person I am being vulnerable with will react to my thoughts/feelings and my mind goes to the worst possible situation possible. Of course, everything is fine but it is scary in the moment.
When do you feel the most vulnerable?
Andrea: I feel the most vulnerable when I meet someone new and I want that friendship to grow. When I share things with this new person, I’m always wondering if they have the same desires as I do to connect.
Annie: I feel vulnerable in number of different ways everyday. Asking for help makes me feel vulnerable. Speaking up in a meeting makes me feel vulnerable. The times I feel the most vulnerable is when I am trying to connect with someone.
How are shame and vulnerability connected?
Andrea: Shame is the fear that creeps in when you worry about what people might think especially when you are being vulnerable. We attach our self-worth to our vulnerability and shame keeps us from exposing our stories, our gifts, and our struggles because we are afraid they won’t be appreciated or desired.
Annie: Shame prevents you from being vulnerable. Shame gets in the way. It’s being terrified of being vulnerable because you are worried what people will think. It is the darkness that seeps into the light.
What forms of vulnerability armory do you wear?
Andrea: I run to perfectionism, believing that I if do it all perfectly, I can hide or avoid my shame. I also numb with TV and disconnect myself from realities.
Annie: I numb some. I don’t numb with drugs or alcohol but with TV. I mostly serpentine – try to control the situation and then back out of it and pretend it’s not happening. I will also use the cool/cynical shield.
What do you want to change in you when it comes to vulnerability?
Andrea: I want to share my anxieties, my challenges, and my desires instead of wearing a mask of “everything is fine.” I want to have the courage to engage with my vulnerability and lean into discomfort in order to deepen my connections.
Annie: I want to not be afraid of vulnerability. In the times I want to open up to the people in my life, I want to do that willingly and openly and not let shame get in my way.
If you’re interested in diving deeper into vulnerability, you should give Daring Greatly a try. Brené Brown helps the reader truly understand and define vulnerability. She provides a much needed perspective on how to dare greatly and to transform the way we connect with all aspects of our lives.
Give vulnerability a second chance and let us know how it feels to be all in.
Your fellow travelers,
Annie & Andrea