It was almost like it happened yesterday. I stood outside the window watching Jennie, my good friend, having the time of her life. It was a special occasion — her Sweet 16 — and she left me off the guest list!
We had been close friends since elementary school when my parents purchased the house next to hers. I thought we were inseparable, and it literally shocked me not to be included in the birthday festivities.
But a sudden realization rose to the surface: No one liked me, not even Jennie. Upon closer inspection, she probably put up with me because of our physical proximity to each other.
But when I summoned the courage a week later to ask her why I had not been invited to the party, she did not mince words:
She said something to this effect:
“You’re boring, too deep, and no one wants to be around someone who is so vulnerable, uncomfortable in her own skin.”
The only reaction I had was the cascade of tears streaming down my face. I made a sudden about-turn and just ran nonstop from the school back to my house — one of the longest 5 minutes runs I’ve ever experienced.
Here was proof that my awkwardness around others made me a social pariah. And my emotional vulnerability only undermined my social development for years, in my vain attempts to establish any meaningful social circle.
Simply, I did not think I was good enough — not for others, not for myself.
Dating was out of the question, as I thought no one would want damaged goods with enough emotional baggage to last a lifetime. Moreover, being vulnerable in a relationship with an unsympathetic partner scared me.
My parents blamed themselves for my lack of self-regard. They encouraged me to seek therapy and do the inner work required for self-growth.
Through the support of talented clinicians, my strong sense of introspection, and my steadfast determination to improve my psyche, my mental health has improved dramatically since those dark days.
But is being vulnerable good?
Consider What Vulnerability Does to Self
Technically, vulnerability is the state of feeling susceptible to physical and, in this context, emotional harm.
But when I went away to college, I realized I did not have to hide this quality away. There would be people who would accept me, even like me, because of my “down-to-earth vulnerability.”
Vulnerability is the willingness to be uniquely you, even though it means being more open to attack, rejection, hurt, loss or betrayal. Vulnerability is the quality of being transparent.
It’s the willingness to lay it all out on the table — your failures, shortcomings, hopes, and fears. Fearless vulnerability is courage in action.
It’s going past your comfort zone and realizing that boundaries and self-perceived limitations can expand.
Let me give you an example,
The more I teach how to speak in public, the more I see people are surprised when I admit to being nervous when giving talks. Come on, you think, all the brilliant speakers are confident?
The best business leaders are smooth and assured in front of an audience, right?
Well, maybe. But what I’ve found is that many prominent leaders are nervous in front of an audience too. And that’s a good thing because it means they are authentic — just like us!
Speakers who pretend to be confident when they do not raise suspicions about their sincerity. They may seem in control, but they don’t create trust with the audience.
My vulnerability, and my honest admissions, enable me to do things I never thought myself capable of doing.
Consider What it Does to Your Social Relationships
When I’m vulnerable, I gain the ability to interact with those around me more effectively. I’m able to take criticism better, trust people more, have deeper relationships, and connect closer with other people.
Functioning at a high level requires being comfortable, and being completely open about who I am.
So vulnerability is so important for communication, leadership, starting conversations, building intimacy, networking effectively, and handling rejection well.
Others can still love me, despite my flaws, perhaps even because of my flaws.
As I actively allow myself to experience vulnerability, I remove the mask of who I think people want me to be. And as I remove this mask, I connect more deeply with those around me.
I feel more love and connection with those who know the “real me.” And those around me become loyal companions with whom I can grow and learn, as we share our unique gifts.
Does it Help with Compassion?
In order to be vulnerable, one must feel emotionally exposed and possibly even a little raw. This experience can be powerful and healing.
The person providing the support is showing a willingness to understand what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. The receiver is allowing themselves to be seen, heard, and genuinely cared about at that moment.
The vulnerability allows all parties to become more compassionate, sensitive, and understanding.
I feel deeply when I see someone struggling with self-identity, overwhelmed by others, and unsure about their place in this world.
My vulnerability allows me to relate deeply with that other vulnerable person. I can clearly understand.
And I can show unrelenting compassion, knowing this is how I want others to treat me in my intense periods of vulnerability.
Does it Fine-Tune Your Social Circle?
If you read about the lives of great saints or scholars — Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa — you will notice they all acknowledge their own weaknesses and limitations with an astonishingly honest openness.
When I’ve been able to be honest about my weaknesses and limitations with others, a very curious thing happens. The other person’s defenses come down, creating the opportunity for closeness.
Yes, others have criticized my vulnerability. Some have scoffed at me, made fun of me, teased me, and relegated me as worthless because of it.
But that has helped me to create an amazing social circle (sometimes a bubble, if you will).
I have an unbelievable collection of kindred spirits who are like-minded, vulnerable souls.
They are drawn to my emotional vulnerability as I am drawn to theirs.
This does not mean that we want to wallow all the time, discussing and sharing our feelings of vulnerability.
It just means we can interrelate without worrying about judgment or condemnation.
This is freeing and empowering!
And I’ll keep an arm’s distance from those who feel vulnerability is a weakness or those who possess a low emotional quotient.
I’m confident I’ll find others to walk in the rain with me, trying to come to grips with the thunderstorms in life.
Perhaps storyteller Brene Brown is right: [Vulnerability] “is the first thing I look for in you.”Brene Brown
Consider What it Does to Your Accountability
When we’re confronted with our mistakes, we stick to the biases and rationalizations we rely on. The end result: we choose to stay in an unhealthy situation and project blame onto other people and factors for our problems — all the while avoiding the fact that we contributed to those problems.
By sharing my mistakes, vulnerabilities, and emotions with others, I can identify them and learn from them.
I can move forward!
When you discover your inner critic, you can uncover your deepest fears, desires, and motivations. Your inner critic may be a voice that makes you feel inadequate, self-conscious, or inferior.
It may also hurt others with its harsh words and feelings of unworthiness.
But by becoming more attuned to my inner voice, including that echo of emotional vulnerability, I can better question my perspectives, become more self-accountable, and act more constructively.
Does it empower you?
I have been through a lot in my life. I have been abandoned, betrayed, and brokenhearted.
Sorry for being so vulnerable in front of you, but the truth is, I am a powerful person. The wounds I have received in my past can never stop me from loving myself and others, no matter how hard it gets.
When you are vulnerable, you will face hard times. Yet when you feel deeply and think with an open heart, you open yourself up to many feats of self-revelation.
You learn how to forgive yourself and reassure yourself that although bad things seem impossible to overcome at the moment, your strength can power through with your defenses down.
Being vulnerable means being honest with myself, no matter how confronting or uncomfortable it is. It means listening to my fears and pausing, facing the truth of the moment and not turning away from it.
My vulnerability has lessened the fear of facing challenges straight through and straight on.
Appreciate your vulnerability, and learn to love that aspect within you. You will feel freer because of it. You will allow yourself to approach the world with more courage and more openness toward self-growth.
Emotional vulnerability is a sign of authenticity, an emotionally attuned brain, and an open heart
It is not a weakness.
It is courage and self-acceptance exponential!
This is the paradox of vulnerability.
We conventionally describe it as a limitation or weakness. But as I’ve hopefully shown in this post, it is a source of strength unparalleled.
To be vulnerable is to be human, because being human means being fallible. The drive for idealism is truly the higher state of being, but only if the idealism doesn’t come at the cost of your humanity.
Fallibility is ultimately what allows you to experience that genuine form of love — between you and another person.
But fallibility and emotional vulnerability allow us to experience the most important love of all: Self-love!
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