When we talk about being vulnerable in our relationships, we are talking about the extent to which a person is willing or able to present their true, authentic self to the world. When you are vulnerable, your innermost being is exposed and you leave yourself open to the risk of rejection. Shame researcher Brené Brown, whose viral Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability”
was for many viewers their first foray into what it means to live authentically, puts it this way: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” Vulnerability takes courage. It’s how we are able to form meaningful connections
with the people around us and is a necessary component of any health relationship, but depending on the context in which you first learned the word—and especially depending on any formative experiences you may have had with rejection in your past—the idea of being vulnerable as a means for connection may not fill you with warm fuzzies. And you wouldn’t be alone
. Likely, vulnerability is one of those big bad buzzwords that brings up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings from your past: shame, insecurity, unresolved trauma. This is because vulnerability is not yet valued in our culture. Not really. And most certainly it is not yet understood.
Think for a moment about the images and feelings that arise when you envision yourself as a vulnerable being, open to attack and capable of being deeply hurt and wounded. I’m sure these feelings bring up memories of failure, heartache, betrayal and your own weakness. The human brain processes feelings of rejection along the same neural pathways
that it processes physical pain, so it is natural that this is something we would try to avoid at all costs. Our desire to protect ourselves from pain, both physically and emotionally, runs deep. But what if I were to tell you that your ability and willingness to be vulnerable can actually your greatest strength? The nexus of your life’s force?
Whether you may realize it or not, you already practice being vulnerable every day. Every time you step out into the world, you make yourself available to critique, hurt, loss, betrayal or rejection. At the same time, you’re also making yourself available to praise, healing, abundance and acceptance. You can’t open your heart to joy without accepting the risk of pain. You can’t open yourself to praise without accepting the risk of critique. You can’t reap the benefits of abundance without accepting the risk of loss. And you can’t showcase your strength without accepting the risk of vulnerability. Being vulnerable requires you to go deep inside your innermost being to connect with who you truly are at your core. It requires that you ask yourself tough questions, explore any false foundations of identity and challenge your unconscious biases. It demands courage to become the person you are supposed to be and then even more courage to share that person with the world and always with the risk of experiencing rejection. Because here’s the thing: If you aren’t open to accepting flat out rejection of who you are, then you aren’t really open to being fully loved for who you are either.
A quick note on critics: If you spend your life trying to anticipate how others might react to what you say, do or feel, then you are wasting your energy on acting out someone else’s desires, thoughts and interests. You are essentially missing out on life as the best person ever… Yourself! Why be anyone else when you could be you? And being the most authentic, most vulnerable, most courageous version of yourself is one of the greatest things in life that you can do! Because being vulnerable forces you to explore your limits, figure out what you value and listen to the innermost messages of your soul.
Brené Brown illustrates this in her book Daring Greatly by borrowing from Teddy Roosevelt himself
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena… who spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of his high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
So listen to your big, bold, wild, beautiful, heart. Be brave in the expression of yourself. Be fearless in sharing the type of magic that only you can bring to the world. And while you’re at it, be vulnerable! Because the world needs you to be you and nobody else. Only in accepting and embracing the vulnerability of who you are can you let the light of your most authentic self shine through.