Vulnerability is often inaccurately equated with weakness. Many individuals, not wanting to appear "weak," spend their lives avoiding and protecting themselves from feeling vulnerable or being perceived as too emotional. That fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism. However, vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is the core of emotions and feelings. If we prevent ourselves from being vulnerable, we foreclose on experiencing our emotions. Our attempts to prevent shame, embarrassment, and sadness also prevent us from experiencing love, belonging, joy, and empathy.
If we confuse feelings with a sense of failing and view emotions as liabilities, then vulnerability does appear to be a weakness. However, vulnerability is the opposite. It is about uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Below are some responses to "Vulnerability is _______."
- Asking for help
- Saying no
- Trying something new
- Falling in love
- Admitting I'm afraid
- Being accountable for mistakes
Vulnerability is uncomfortable, but taking risks, accepting responsibility, being honest, expressing empathy, and facing uncertainty are not weaknesses. Vulnerability is the about acknowledging truth and showing courage. We often respond with awe when we see others be raw and vulnerable. However, we are afraid that what we have to offer isn't good enough, perfect enough, or valuable enough. Ask yourself the following questions, or ask someone with whom you are close, to examine your relationship with vulnerability.
- What do I do when I feel emotionally exposed?
- How do I behave when I'm feeling very uncomfortable and uncertain?
- How willing am I to take emotional risks?
If we convince ourselves that we "don't do vulnerability", we end up engaging in behaviors that are inconsistent with who we want to be. We don't choose to be vulnerable. We choose how we respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Also, vulnerability isn't about saying whatever we want and oversharing indiscriminately. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and integral in the process of building trust in relationships. You build relationships with others and increase vulnerability by choosing to share. People demonstrate they are trustworthy by keeping your secrets, telling you their secrets, paying attentions to details of your life, asking you how you are doing, or whatever else demonstrates that they deserve your vulnerability. There is no way to predict whether or not someone will respond positively to you, until you face the fear and uncertainty of being emotionally vulnerable. You won't truly know how someone will respond to a boundary, an assertive request, or an emotional disclosure until you take that risk.
Trying to shield yourself from being vulnerable has many costs. That shield you carry or mask you wear, keeps others from seeing the real you. Those walls you build to prevent imagined dangers from finding you or previous injuries from happening again, isolate you from others and prevent the joyful and meaningful aspects of life from getting in. Don't waste your energy defining your worth based on the real and imagined criticisms of others. Invest your time and energy into being genuine and spending time with those individuals who stand with you and deserve your attention.