“You are an open book. You don’t need to tell me everything,” an ex-boyfriend said after I shared an intimacy I had written in my journal.
I remember feeling hurt by his remark, thinking, why wouldn’t he want to know the true me, the real me, all that makes me tick?
I falsely believed that if I shared myself fully, he would feel safe to do the same; we’d experience an orgasmic vulnerability, a union of souls.
I searched his brown eyes for a spark of unconditional acceptance and found a blank screen staring back at me instead. Let’s just say I was young and naïve. I knew little about true vulnerability, nothing about discernment, and even less about trust.
My need for connection grew in intensity once I became a mother. I pined after deep conversations with other mothers about the shadow side of motherhood, craved vulnerable shares about our fears, our f*ck ups, and how sometimes, being a full-time mom was just damn hard and we didn’t always deserve a medal for how we showed up for our kids.
I yearned for Friday evenings with girlfriends. I’d envision a small group of us sitting around someone’s coffee table, glasses of red wine in our hands, while we shared stories about our marriages, not venting or complaining, but creating deep bonds through our experience, strength, and hope.
I felt such need to be seen that I often overshared with the wrong people, leaving them uncomfortable and desperate to lead the conversation back to less personal topics. Why is this so hard? I’d often wonder. Why are so many people afraid to let down their guard and show themselves?
Much has been said and written about this topic by Brené Brown. She defines vulnerability as: “Uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure rather than weakness. It is our most accurate measure of courage,” she says.
That’s all good and fine, but what does vulnerability mean to me? Have I been showing up vulnerably, and how do I know?
As a child, I learned to look for love outside of myself. I would measure my worth by whether or not others approved of me. I developed excellent chameleon skills, being this for one person and that for another. I’d agree with everyone in my attempt to belong, and in the process, I’d disappear into the wallpaper.
No! I say today.
Practicing vulnerability is teaching me to embrace my self-ness—to love the flaw in the stamp that makes the otherwise ordinary slip of paper unique and valuable.
Vulnerability is the building block of self-realization. It’s coming to acceptance of who I am, what I believe, who I love, what is important to me, how I choose to live my life, and what work I do (or don’t do). It is acknowledging and letting go of shame that does not belong to me.
At first, vulnerability feels like fear in my body. It’s as if I’m standing naked in front of a group of fully dressed people. I’m keenly aware of my nakedness, but something tells me that I am okay, to stand firm.
As I continue in my vulnerability, I glimpse others who are also naked. They step forward, one by one. We see each other in all our beautiful imperfections and the fear transforms into curiosity. This is the seed of connection.
In my experience of vulnerability, I discovered that it cannot exist without:
Some people don’t want connection. They want to be right. “If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm,” says Brené Brown, meaning, not everyone is deserving of my vulnerability.
Even cats and dogs show their bellies to only those they trust. It is no different for humans. If we show our soft spots to those who are not trustworthy, we may cause ourselves undue harm. Vulnerability is a gift we give to those who have proven trustworthy of holding our most tremulous truths as if they were newborn babes.
Vulnerability is the courage to enter the unknown, trusting that even though I will feel uncomfortable and maybe even terrified, I am being taken care of by forces beyond my comprehension. Courage is having faith that everything that occurs in my life is preparing me for the next step, which I cannot yet see.
Vulnerability is born of an inner voice that insists: Be who you are! Stand up for your beliefs. Make amends. It is the courage to say: I lied. I’m sorry. I disagree. I am leaving. I am staying. I was wrong. You were right.
Vulnerability is having the courage to speak my truth even if no one else agrees with me. It is having my own back, not only behind closed doors but in the face of rejection.
Vulnerability is being in touch with my fear and using it as a stepping stone to let go of people and relationships that are causing me more pain than joy.
Santosh Kalwar, a Nepalese poet, wrote: “Trust starts with truth and ends with truth.” Staying true to myself is the most challenging form of vulnerability. It is upholding my own humanity—my divine imperfection.
Vulnerability is knowing myself and accepting fully not only the parts that I am proud of, but also my shortcomings, my faults, and the wounds that are still in the process of healing. Vulnerability is having nothing to hide or fear.
When I dare to show up in vulnerability, I am offering myself to be seen, heard, and understood in all my humanness—raw and real—no tricks, no filters.
When others show up the same way with me, magic happens. All bull sh*t evaporates. Walls crumble. Energy buzzes in our chests. Connection shows up through eye contact, touch, words, and breath. Our faces soften. Tears of love, compassion, and acceptance wash away pain, blame, shame, and misunderstanding. We reach a place of belonging, where our true selves reside.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.” ~ Brené Brown