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“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
As the saying goes, you can’t swing a cat around without hearing the phase, “be vulnerable” or something close to it.
Otherwise, we might risk the life we are desperately wanting to have: free, open, honest, liberating, and full of self-actualization.
I’m not here to dis Brené Brown or other vulnerability researchers; in fact, I am a fan.
I am merely pulling the curtain back to expose the whole truth, and the limitations, of the—be vulnerable—campaign.
The uncompromising reality is that vulnerability quite often backfires, often forcing us backward into an austere, convent-esque, solemn life.
No one wants to hear that.
So I am pursuing with kid gloves on, but countless times clients have gallantly sauntered into the great, wide-open, breaking free of the shackles and internal prison systems to pursue raw vulnerability—proclaiming authentic lives.
Awesome. Amazing! But…
Some have made it across the sea with safe passage to rest with ease and freedom on other shores. Sushi-grade rawness and carefree worries.
But many are left traumatized, immobilized, and duped—asking why didn’t this work? Why do I feel more alone and isolated now? I shared my story and no cavalry came.
Reason being: countless times, we are harmed by the exact people we thought would support and love us. They were the exact people who were supposed to care and hold us.
Instead, the rough reality transpires. Backs were turned, noses were snuffed, and throats were scoffed.
They have set us up to fail. They can’t hold our suffering.
What is this paradoxical outcome?
Have we just coached an unskillful archer onto an Olympic battlefield woefully unprepared, untrained, and uncertain of how to use her weapons with any sense of confidence or strength? Not many of us can be Katniss from Hunger Games right out of the gate.
Are we conflating vulnerability with relief?
Why doesn’t vulnerability work in these instances?
Well, because quite frankly, we still live in a world full of judgement and harsh criticism; it would be naïve to think otherwise.
By 12:05 p.m. the judgment is palpable in the church courtyard, merely five minutes upon dismissal. Phone calls are exchanged with tribal members moments after you’ve decided to tell all to an entrusted friend. Accounts are deleted microseconds after you bare your soul.
“Dude she/he is a mess.”
“I know, I thought she/he had her stuff together.”
Some might walk tall and proud and pretend those people didn’t matter anyway, but the truth of the matter is, it still hurts and lays yet another crack in a fragile foundation.
Some stories just don’t need to be told to everyone from a megaphone. Unless you are 100 percent certain you will receive the support you need. Before exposing greatly, consider pausing.
There is power in the pause. Always.
Recently, I ran a three-day compassion meditation workshop (pre-COVID-19) and one woman felt brave and candid enough to share a tremendous story with the group. It was a big story to handle for even the trained passengers, but many behind the scenes reported feeling triggered and traumatized and uncertain how to respond.
One person’s vulnerability has potential to cause catastrophic waves in the pond. There is a seismic shift in the atmosphere.
During another recent experience, I was participating in a professional online training. In one of our morning breakouts, a bold and firmly resolved young woman thought the containment of the Brady Bunch squares of international strangers was a safe zone to disclose the play-by-play of her current menstrual cycle.
I am all for sharing a story—all in for authenticity—but tack on the added benefit of using discernment.
Know the group you are in. Ask if they can handle it.
>> Can they hold the weight of it? Is it a story for them?
>> Is this the right place?
>> Is this the right time?
>> Is this the right person or group of people?
Or are you sharing just for you? Perhaps, it’s for some unknown subconscious reason, because we lack impulse control. Maybe we’re doing it in public without compunction for who sees it—some sort of abhorrent self-promotion, that no matter what, you’ll prove how bold, courageous, and greatly daring you are.
This fire energy can start forest fires. And any trained firefighter would advise you to make sure your campfire is completely burnt out before you leave the campsite.
Have you checked and done this courteous and compassionate step?
What do you hope to gain?
And what if no gains come of it? Now what?
There are times to show vulnerability—but let’s not forget confidence and the adult skillset to choose to refrain.
Do we have the underlying confident foundation to be vulnerable with unflappability? Can we handle the gale-force winds if they come from an unexpected direction?
I am not saying we can’t be vulnerable, but we have to have strength, confidence, and the wisdom of discernment on our side first.
We can’t cunningly catch people off-guard with our chest out, blunt with buffed boldness. “Watch my authenticity roar!”
This is manipulative and quite maladaptive, even if it is implicit and sincere in nature. Even on a golf course, we are taught to yell “Fore!”
Two words: empathic concern.
Before you force-feed an audience your chronicle, check if all systems are running.
Reflect on if there is a way to convey your story to help you resolve your interpersonal difficulties with integrity and grace—without setting potential tsunamis in motion.
I find it remarkable and indemnifying that some of the oldest, most established self-help programs in the world, that have supported countless individuals in healing and recovery, remain bound and entrusted in the capsulated morality and ethicality of anonymity.
This is the foundational cement of why it works.
Individuals can spend time cultivating the ground under their feet, gaining strength and confidence in their recovery, and only disseminating public amends to others when it will not cause harm to self or others.
Never has it been about extensively broadcasting and promulgating our flaws, our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our cracks, our pain, and limitations as though sowing seeds.
This time capsule of proven methodologies, we still have much to learn about its effective measures in our healing. It might just be the antidote I am seeking in this exploration of vulnerability being cracked wide-open.
Privacy may just be the best policy; further exploration is obligatory.
Some people reflexively taut, “I don’t care what others think!” And that sounds idealistic but without thinking of others, imagine what the world would look like.
With Oprah chanting, “You get to be vulnerable. And, you get to be vulnerable!” what do we win? A few hearts on Instagram in a post that is now besieged by exclamations of “authenticity,” “rawness,” and “truth” and your post is now—gone—or below viewers conscious awareness anyway.
You sang from the bell towers, you Paul Revere’d your suffering, cascading it across the internet. Now, in this moment, do you feel the support, compassion, and nonjudgement you absolutely need and require?
Our words can be great instruments of healing, but within intimate context and conversations.
As a therapist, I am subject to individuals’ most private and intimate fears. We handle acclivity of pain with the gentlest touch. Never in these human moments would I suggest or proclaim, “Now go out, and scatter your pain widely.”
With discernment, a robust life can be lived.
Not everyone needs to know all of your story. One thing I have learned as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and Trauma Therapist is that we actually don’t need to tell the story to heal from the trauma.
The story in many ways complicates things and incites wounds to fester. The story is not always clearheaded and looking out from a polished lens.
As we come to a close here, one helpful piece I learned from a wise man decades ago is:
“I reserve the right to be superficial, because I have earned it.”
If we were raw. and open, and vulnerable with everyone all of the time we would be burnt to a crisp—scorched hellfire-and-brimstone-style. Why?
Because the world is not supportive in the way you might have thought. Judgments don’t come from unforeseen forces; those who judge us are right in front of our eyes.
Being vulnerable doesn’t equate support and love and care and safety—quite the contrary.
In a world of rapid-cycling social media and ticker tape, we demonstratively show people’s fragility with unemotional coldness. Moral Machiavellians.
We can engage in the therapeutic exercise of discernment; this can be known as compassion with wisdom.
When someone is woefully unprepared, not expecting it, these warriors, like my snap-on grandmother, would not say, “Here, catch!” and toss their hottest potato into your hands essentially branding it with their pain. That seems a ridiculous thing to do.
Rest assuredly that God or Source or Lightness of Being will put the people in front of you that are solid and stable at the right time. Those are the ones who can hold all of you and your story.
Those are the people that will listen, provide support, and love you unconditionally. And maybe, ironically, those are the ones who will also hold your story in the vault. It is not for them to share. It is yours and belongs preciously to you.
Discernment perks up our ears, so we can listen out for the supportive, non-judgmental ones.
Discernment knows with somatic confidence when they have arrived.
Live with valor, honor, and dignity. Share your story if you feel it will help others.
Use discernment in sharing with the ones who will support and not judge you. Know that the choice is yours. But be prepared with forthright wisdom that if you choose to share your story it might not make a dent in your healing path.
Tread wisely, my friend. Be vulnerable, but please use discernment—it’s good for you.