Such a scary word.
It’s defined as the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
For me, vulnerability means trusting a person with the rawest places of yourself—and not knowing how they will handle those places. It’s sharing your story without knowing the outcome.
Practicing vulnerability is something that is extremely hard for me. In the past, when I have allowed myself to be fully open and raw, I’ve gotten my ass and heart handed back to me.
In light of my experiences with that, it would be incredibly easy for me to throw up walls and stop sharing.
But then I would not be living authentically me.
Social scientist Dr. Brené Brown defines living authentically as wholehearted living. It’s engaging in life from a place of worthiness. We do not have to change who we are. Instead, we embrace ourselves and live wholeheartedly.
Living wholeheartedly is a skill, Brown insists, that anyone can learn. It simply requires following a few guideposts to boost self-worth and awareness:
Practicing authenticity means having the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
Brown suggests not focusing on being liked or getting our way, but instead focusing on a positive outcome, regardless of what people do or don’t do. By always remembering that, then either way, you win.
I, like Brown, am a recovering perfectionist. Brown views perfectionism as a roadblock to authenticity. It stops us from being who we truly are, due to worries about not meeting others’ expectations.
Being bound in perfectionism, we often forget that we are enough. But the reality is that we don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations but our own.
Showing up is enough. We are enough.
Brown suggests that, if you’re running low on self-compassion, try a mantra as simple as, “Today, I believe I am enough.”
There are times when life throws an unexpected curveball out of left field. Everyone has experienced this—no one is immune.
Resilience is experiencing those curveballs without submitting to hopelessness or numbing tactics.
One way to do this is consciously checking in when we struggle, not check out. It’s reaching out to a trusted person in our life and allowing ourselves to be raw and vulnerable with them. It’s knowing we will make it through, no matter how bad the situation may be or seem.
Build gratitude, joy, and sufficiency
Many of the shame-resilient people Brown interviewed said they were able to feel joyful and grateful during times when they weren’t exactly happy.
This is because happiness, while important, depends more on how things are going, while joy is connected to a “good mood of the soul.”
Acts of gratitude, meanwhile, help produce that good mood, even amid challenging circumstances. Practicing gratitude also counteracts our sense of scarcity, the all-too-common feeling that there’s never enough of anything, be it time, money, or love.
Brown recommends aiming for an attitude of “sufficiency.” Abundance can feel unattainable; believing that what we are and what we have is enough can be powerful.
Trust your intuition and faith
We live in an uncertain world. We try to protect ourselves by clinging to rigid beliefs, but by doing so we cut ourselves off from the complexity of people and experiences—a high price to pay for security.
A better approach, in Brown’s view, is to gradually build our tolerance to the vulnerability that uncertainty produces. In other words, cultivate a stronger faith in our ability to remain open and connected when hard times hit.
“Faith is essential when we decide to live and love with our whole hearts in a world where most of us want assurances before we risk being vulnerable and getting hurt,” Brown writes, “To say ‘I’m going to engage wholeheartedly in my life’ requires believing without seeing.”
When we’re creative in any way, whether it’s cooking, drawing, writing, or playing Mozart on the piano, we risk failure.
We do it anyway, because it’s more satisfying than not taking the risk, and this is good practice for the rest of our lives.
“When I make creating a priority,” Brown notes, “everything in my life works better.”
To truly cultivate creativity, though, we have to let go of comparison. Comparison is about conformity, Brown explains, and its paradoxical message is to “be just like everyone else, but better.”
Embracing creativity without comparison means we can truly enjoy the process without fearing the outcome.
Protect your play and rest
The world is full of messages that equate self-worth with net worth. We preach productivity like it’s some kind of gospel, but aspiring to be a robot is not a wholehearted move.
“Living and loving with our whole hearts requires us to respect our bodies’ need for renewal,” Brown writes.
If you struggle to find time for rest and play, Brown suggests making a list of the conditions that are in place when everything is going really well in your life.
Are you sleeping in on the weekends? Playing Scrabble? Goofing off with your kids or friends? Treat those practices as sacred, the way you do your other obligations.
Don’t fear calm and stillness
Calm people are not anxiety-free; they’re anxiety-aware, Brown explains. “When I think about calm people,” she writes, “I think about people who can bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting.”
It’s taking the pause. Thinking through emotions before acting on them. Often, answers can be found in a moment of stillness.
Pursue meaningful work
Brown discovered early in her research that people on a wholehearted journey feel like their work has purpose and meaning, no matter how simple or complicated it is.
Developing our talents involves overcoming the gremlins of self-doubt, so she recommends simply writing down what those gremlins have to say. Then investigate whether their excessive cautions and warnings are really worth heeding.
“They’re like toddlers,” she writes, “If you ignore them, they get louder.”
In the end, living wholeheartedly is truly the essence of vulnerability.
So, embrace vulnerability, live wholeheartedly, and love the body you stand in.
“Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: it’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.” ~ Brené Brown