What does it mean to be vulnerable?
I have to admit that when I first began exploring the concept of vulnerability and what it means to be vulnerable I viewed it as something I wanted to avoid. Perhaps this was because the very thought of being vulnerable caused my stomach to tighten and my face to scrunch.
I recently looked up the meaning of the word vulnerable and synonyms such as weak, defenseless, powerless and helpless filled my computer screen. It’s no wonder I thought being vulnerable was “negative.” Who wants to feel weak and helpless, these feelings and emotions remind me of all of those other “negative” emotions like anger, fear and sadness.
On a side note: I use the word “negative” in quotations because I feel as though we have been conditioned to believe that these feelings and emotions are negative/bad and that we should not feel them, we should hide them, bury them somewhere deep inside of us where no one will ever be able to find them, or simply replace them with happier emotions.
For most of my life I ran from my “negative” emotions, denying them, scrambling to get away from them as fast as I could. I feel hurt, I drink a glass of wine. I feel anxious, I smoke a cigarette. I feel lonely, I eat an enormous bowl of pasta.
It hasn’t been until recently that I decided to allow myself to feel these so-called “negative” emotions; whether it be sadness, anger, fear, anxiousness or vulnerability, and sit with them instead of burying them or running from them.
Let’s get back to what it means to be vulnerable. It seems as though, through my multiple conversations with friends and colleagues, that when one is able to be vulnerable they allow themselves to open up their heart and with that the rewards can be high: love, trust, empathy and connection.
However, to be vulnerable also opens one-self to being hurt, sad and disappointed. Hmm…okay, I think this is starting to make some sense to me…to be vulnerable is to open your heart which can lead to great reward but not without the risk of potential hurt.
Why is it that so many of us, including myself, are afraid to be vulnerable? Does the idea of being hurt or the unknown outweigh the potential goodness that might come from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable? Are we so afraid of what others might think of us that we are unwilling to take a risk and show our authentic self—to allow ourselves to be vulnerable?
I decided to re-watch the TED Talk on vulnerability by Brene Brown-–The Power of Vulnerability. Brene has some beautiful things to say on the topic of vulnerability and while watching this clip, for a second time, I found myself deeply moved by some of her words.
She says that in order to connect with others we have to be seen (our authentic selves) and that is being vulnerable. Brene discusses people that are living the “whole-hearted life” and that what she found is that these people have the courage to be imperfect, they embrace vulnerability—what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.
However, they are not saying that being vulnerable doesn’t make you uncomfortable. Being vulnerable is the willingness to be the one to say, “I love you” first. It is the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees: the willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not workout.
Vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birthplace for joy, creativity, belonging and love. Let us be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. Let us love with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee. Instead of catastrophizing an event, tell yourself, “I am grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.”
The idea of being vulnerable still scares me at times, but the alternative scares me more. I choose love instead of fear. I choose to live a life in which I will say, “I love you” first instead of wondering “what if” years later. I want to see my vulnerabilities as a beautiful part of who I am—perfectly imperfect in an imperfect world!
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Editor: Travis May
Photos: Author’s Own
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