We come into this world completely vulnerable. We are at the mercy of the people we are born to, and our very survival depends on their care and love. Over time, as we become autonomous, the concept of vulnerability seems scary.
We learn to avoid situations in which we are at risk of harm, whether physically or emotionally. In this way, vulnerability avoidance is a type of survival mechanism.
When we are avoidant of all vulnerability, however, we become emotionally stagnant. We get backed into a corner in which we are constantly striving for control and can’t allow ourselves to show any weakness or admit to internal pain.
In Brene Brown’s TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability, she speaks about her research and personal journey into the subject. She explains the differences between what she calls “wholehearted” people (who allow for vulnerability; who grow and expand from it) and those who cannot tolerate it. Brown brilliantly illustrates the ways in which shame is linked to the avoidance of vulnerability. She weaves her own experiences into her research and uses herself as an example. Brown exposes her internal resistance to vulnerability to show us our own patterns; the way she mirrors our humanity is powerful and poignant.
When we decide to be vulnerable with one another, we are surrendering power. We leave ourselves open to criticism, rejection and embarrassment. As Brown teaches us in her talk, the very experience of vulnerability creates a strength and resilience that can only be accessed through this surrender.
Vulnerability is the ultimate risk-taking behavior.
We spend so much time avoiding vulnerability that it seems counterintuitive to leap into it, hoping for growth and strength on the other side. Being vulnerable is a giant leap of faith. Whether you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable at work, expressing areas in which you are struggling, or being vulnerable with a partner in your personal life; it is a worthy pursuit.
Being vulnerable taps into our most genuine selves; it lets people in on a little secret about us; we are human, make mistakes, are unsure of ourselves, and sometimes, we fail. An ability to acknowledge our humanness with one another only brings us closer.
Creating Space For Vulnerability In A Competitive World
In our competitive world we are often forced into avoiding vulnerability by default. Perhaps we are waiting for other people to expose their perceived weaknesses before we are willing to share our own. It is easier to stay guarded and wear the poker-face of complete control, even though it is a façade.
When it comes to vulnerability, you may need to be the first to jump into the pool. While a terrifying and lonely leap initially, you will likely find yourself liberated by this ability to be fully yourself. This resonates powerfully with other people, who will also be more inclined to share their vulnerabilities and meet yours with support.
Being open and vulnerable allows for real conversation to take place. If you are allowing yourself to be open with a partner, you are expressing an implicit trust in them to honor it with compassion. Allowing for vulnerability in a work setting uncovers your professional veneer and allows it to be lifted for a moment. It enables your colleagues to acknowledge and support your growth.
Vulnerability that is met with vulnerability facilitates connection.
The risk-taking aspect of openness is the knowledge that vulnerability can be met with derision. Situations like this can leave us feeling severely risk-avoidant. When vulnerability is met with hostility, it swiftly depletes a basic trust in that relationship that can influence our ability to trust others. Rejection in the face of vulnerability says more about the other person than about you, however.
We tend to generalize information across situations as part of self defense and survival. If we have experienced negativity in response to being vulnerable with others, it makes sense that we would anticipate this risk in other relationships we encounter. It is important to keep this in check, since it can poison us against being genuine and open with others.
The power of vulnerability lies in what it does for oneself. The fact that it facilitates connection with others is a secondary gain. The true power is the liberation it offers. The risk of a mishandled vulnerability is well worth the final prize of authenticity and being fully and unapologetically human.
Regardless of how anyone responds to you, no one can take that away. As you explore vulnerability as a way of being present in the world, you will notice a higher capacity for self-compassion and tolerance for yourself and others.
Ways To Incorporate Vulnerability Into Your Life
Practice being vulnerable with others. Take a few small risks to try it out and then work toward larger themes as your tolerance increases.
Ask for feedback:
In a work setting, ask for feedback on a project you’ve recently completed. Ask others to share their thoughts on your process and areas for improvement. In an interpersonal relationship, ask for feedback on your communication and openness and how you could help the other person feel more supported.
Admit a fear:
Fear is as intrinsic to the human experience as every other emotion. Open up about a fear regarding your work or interpersonal life with someone you trust. Allow yourself to settle into the discomfort of this admission and trust the process of being vulnerable.
Express appreciation and admiration:
A truly positive way to express vulnerability is to acknowledge others. Let a coworker know how much you value their expertise; tell a friend or family member what their presence means in your life. Say the things that need to be said, not even knowing whether you will get a favorable response to your openness.
The power of vulnerability lies in the gift of authenticity. The liberation of your genuine self is self-perpetuating. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and authentic, you’ll never want to go back.