A Look At Vulnerability
One of the greatest lessons learned on the self-improvement journey is that being vulnerable allows you to grow the most.
Vulnerability is a misunderstood concept. In fact, if you find it in a thesaurus and look at the synonyms, you will see there is a reason it is so misunderstood. Weakness. Danger. Exposure. Well, no wonder we find it such a terrifying prospect, the idea of what vulnerability is or means is baked into our language. This abiding challenge is something you may have reflected on from time to time over the years, wondering what it really means or looks like in action.
How much do you open up? How much trust do you give? What do you show? And to who?
It’s not easy but being vulnerable allows you to grow the most. It’s equal parts scary and liberating. But why?
Probably because with vulnerability comes uncertainty, there is a risk in being vulnerable because you are trusting someone as you expose your emotions and innermost thoughts.
I want you to think about it differently. Think about the people you love, whether it’s your parents and siblings, your partner and children, or your friends. Think about the energy it takes to love others unconditionally and the vulnerability you extend to those people without a second thought.
Love is everything that vulnerability is, it’s teeming with risk, it’s brimming with uncertainty. While your family may be less likely to drop you and walk away, there is a risk in maintaining vulnerable platonic and romantic relationships. As much as you love someone, there is always the risk that they won’t love you back, that they won’t love you as passionately as you love them, or that they will walk away.
You have likely experienced loss in your life, whether it was the cancellation of a friendship or a romantic breakup. You were so close to that person and yet it fell down around you, whether they stabbed you in the back or the separation was tamer than that. It can be heartrending.
There is an element of vulnerability to creative people putting their work on display. Whether it’s posting a poem on social media, releasing your first book, playing a song, or showing your artwork. You don’t know how people will react. They might laugh. They might not like it. They might talk about you behind your back. You cannot predict how others will perceive you and your creative body of work. No wonder creative types are so shy about sharing their work, with even the people closest to them.
There’s a reason that so many people work so hard to create a mask. So many of us work hard to maintain a deadpan face that we maintain no matter what someone says or suggests to us. We tell ourselves that it’s professional, we make excuses that it’s a benefit, but while you may wear a poker face the anxiety is still churning internally.
What we need more of in this world is people brave enough to share their story, warts, and all. No one is perfect and the idea that anyone can be is ridiculous. Unfortunately, we hold people to the standard of perfection and tear them down when they fail to maintain it.
Of course, we wouldn’t hold them to this standard if we could stop ourselves from elevating people to pedestals. We build others up and then tear ourselves down for not maintaining the standard that the elevated person hasn’t even achieved. A vicious cycle that stunts growth and prevents us from being vulnerable with others.
Before you can be vulnerable with others, you need to develop an innate compassion for yourself, then for others, and use that to build a strong, authentic connection with others. You cannot achieve that if you are not being authentic. Think of those friendships and loves you lost. Were you your authentic self in those situations?
There’s a good chance you kept parts of you hidden or misrepresented who you were just so that someone would like you. Why? Because, deep down, we are all afraid of being rejected for who we really are. So, it becomes easier to paint a different picture of who we are and present that as fact. You can’t wear the mask forever.
You can choose to go out of your way to be a vulnerable person. Or you can choose to embrace it fully.
What makes you vulnerable is what makes you beautiful. Chasing perfectionism, attempting to be a stronger person, those are excuses we hide behind in an attempt to avoid vulnerability.
Perhaps the biggest issue we have with vulnerability is our inability to numb particular emotions. When you try to shove fear, disappointment, or anxiety down and stuff it away, you also do the same with happiness, joy, and gratitude.
There is this idea we all had as children that those were our most vulnerable moments and by the time, we’d reach adulthood that vulnerability would fade to black. The reality of the matter is that vulnerability is a natural part of life. It’s part of the human experience.
The Myths Of Vulnerability
For the last two decades, research professor Dr. Brene Brown has been studying vulnerability, empathy, shame, and courage. She has written bestselling books on the subject and even has a Netflix special, but more importantly, she has identified certain myths of vulnerability and they’re an important piece of the puzzle (ref.).
It’s A Weakness
We kind of already addressed this, but it’s important enough to touch on again. Whatever you have believed in the past, whatever people try to tell you now, being vulnerable is not a weakness. It’s human. Here’s the thing. When someone else opens up to you, how do you feel? Pretty amazing, right?
It feels great to know that someone trusts you enough to share a piece of themselves with you. It feels wonderful to know they can be open and honest with you. Yet, when it’s your turn you start to freak out. You don’t see their vulnerability as a weakness, you only see it as a weakness for yourself.
You send yourself a very clear message by doing so, a message that suggests your emotions make you weak. Vulnerability is what connects you to the people in your life. It might involve strong emotions, but those strong emotions include empathy, love, happiness, and joy. It’s time to start reframing how you see vulnerability and what it means to you.
It’s Not Natural
A lot of people have convinced themselves that not everyone experiences vulnerability. They just don’t engage with it. They either aren’t wired that way or refuse to engage. Either way, that’s just false. We all do vulnerability. Human life in and of itself is vulnerable. It isn’t a choice we actively make, the choice we actively make is how we react and respond when faced with moments of vulnerability. It’s how you respond when uncertainty creeps in. It’s how you respond when faced with risk. It’s how you respond when dealing with emotional exposure.
A lot of us respond by avoiding it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not natural nor does it mean we’re not wired that way. What it does mean, however, is that you are very good at avoiding your emotions and convincing yourself it’s because you’re invulnerable.
It’s About Spilling Secrets
We all have secrets and the idea that we have to open up and share them? Oh, no. That’s not what vulnerability is. It isn’t a case of spilling your secrets or wearing them on your sleeve. You’re not walking around with your secrets hanging out telling your business to every stranger you encounter. It’s sharing your experiences, sharing your feelings, and doing so with the people who deserve to hear them.
It’s the people who have earned the right to listen to those things because they have been vulnerable with you and they have your trust. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s courage in action and it’s worth it. It’s worth it for personal growth and it’s worth it to deepen the connection you have with others.
Vulnerability In Action
You might believe that your imperfections undercut you. However, they can enhance you and help you grow. If you think about it, life is a bit of an experiment. We don’t get an instruction manual on day one, so it should be expected that we have shortcomings and make mistakes. When you embrace that it creates a healthy environment for others to do the exact same.
Without vulnerability, where would we be? There would be no creativity. There would be little to no innovation. It’s the core of all of us. You can’t opt-out of uncertainty. You can’t opt-out of emotional exposure. You can’t opt-out of risk. Even though you may try. If you are convinced that you’re not capable of vulnerability, or that you can simply disengage from it, then there’s a good chance it’s in control and not in a healthy way. Being vulnerable is natural, it’s part of being human. The best leaders and role models aren’t afraid to show that. The strongest people aren’t afraid to let people in and show others who they are.
Where did your idea of vulnerability come from? Was it instilled in you by society? Or did it start in family life? A lot of parents instill in their children the idea that the world should see only your best bits. That you need to just get on with it. That the wider world isn’t interested in seeing your dark parts or getting to know your vulnerabilities. Life will, if it hasn’t already, show you otherwise.
The coping wall you spent a lifetime building is just one major life event away from breaking down. Sometimes that’s what it takes, or a series of minor events, to allow you the strength to show your vulnerability to others. Perhaps you will find your vulnerability in allowing those around you to find theirs.
It’s easy to doubt yourself, especially when you are putting yourself out there. You aren’t showing weakness by putting it on the line, you’re showing the world your true self and that is as courageous as anything you can do.
What Makes Being Vulnerable Easier
In order to be truly vulnerable, you first have to learn to accept yourself as you are. All of you.
That’s probably the biggest challenge. It isn’t just showing off the shiny bits, it’s showing all of you and it’s difficult to do that when you’re deeply uncomfortable with your flaws or imperfections. Before we can highlight the action steps to being more vulnerable, we need to talk about what’s going to make it easier.
It’s Easier When You Love Yourself
There is something deeply comforting in John Legend’s song All of Me. The message in it is that “all of me loves all of you” and that sums vulnerability up so much better than most people can manage. In it, he highlights some of those imperfections and essentially explains that he accepts them. Then, when he hits the bridge it says everything “cards on the table, we’re both showing hearts.
Risking it all, though it’s hard”. There is no better way to explain vulnerability than this. Vulnerability, true vulnerability, is a two-way street and before you can navigate it you have to come to terms with self-acceptance and self-love.
Think about the dark parts of you, the parts that you don’t like so much. The more you dislike them the more difficult it is to share them with others and the less vulnerable you make yourself to the people who love and care about you. It gets to the point where it feels like there’s a gap so big it might as well be the Grand Canyon. You can’t imagine ever bridging that gap, but at some point, you have to accept yourself for who you are and take the leap of faith.
When you learn to accept yourself and love yourself, all of yourself, then you stop worrying so much about what others think of you. When you truly love yourself, you become much less terrified of rejection. That makes a place of openness much easier to step into.
It Takes Practice
Here’s the thing about vulnerability, it isn’t a case of doing it once and then flying free. It isn’t a case of one and done. You won’t make yourself vulnerable once and then suddenly find it easy to open up to everyone about everything. There are still going to be moments where it’s a struggle, what’s important to remember is that it takes practice so don’t give up.
The Benefits Of Vulnerability
What we all crave are conversations that are deep, meaningful, and honest. Vulnerability provides the basis for those types of conversations with the people in your life which means your connections become more honest, including the connection you have with yourself.
No Pressure For Perfection
People who strive for perfection try to sell it as an attempt to be self-disciplined or incredibly organized. The reality of the matter, though, is that it stems from fear. The fear of failure, or the shame that comes from slipping up. Perfectionism is the myth and vulnerability is the buster that allows you the space to learn that no one is perfect and mistakes are normal and okay to make.
You Become An Inspiration
When you choose to open yourself up and be vulnerable by sharing yourself with others you become a role model, you become an inspiration. We’re always so busy dealing with our own things we rarely stop to think about how many other people are going through the same things. Your vulnerability makes space for others to be vulnerable and you move into a position of role model.
You Find Yourself
This is a two-fold benefit. First, vulnerability allows you to grow into your uniqueness and discover more of it for yourself. When you start to talk about your accomplishments, feelings, challenges, and dreams with others it’s a healthy way to self-reflect. It’s a healthy way to get to grips with your personality traits. Those characteristics that you may have not realized before you possessed are part of who you are.
Getting to know those traits can help you become the person you truly are. They can help you become your authentic self. In overcoming shame, fear, and embracing vulnerability you realize just how strong you are and that helps you build confidence.
The second part of this is that all of this facilitates your ability to be who you are and to do so unapologetically. As you grew up you probably spent a lot of time trying to fit into the expectations of others. You fell in line with what you thought other people wanted you to do, whether it was your parents, your friends, or even your teachers. You didn’t follow your dreams.
At some point, you lost sight of them and instead decided to conform. Vulnerability allows you to find your authentic self and it allows you the space to explore yourself and become who you were always meant to be.
When you open yourself up and show your authentic self to the people in your life, you will experience immeasurable rewards. When you’re open, people tend to meet you there. And when you meet people in the middle, in a place of vulnerability, the connection you form can only grow.
There is nothing the two of you cannot accomplish. Vulnerability builds true connections. Vulnerability builds true self-love. Vulnerability attracts vulnerable people who are inspired by how open you are.
It isn’t easy and you might be surprised by just how powerful the connections you make will be when you are vulnerable. But showing your complexity helps build trust.
Accept Your Worthiness
If you want to be okay with being vulnerable then you first need to accept that you are worthy of receiving both positive responses and vulnerability in return. If you open up to someone you must believe that you warrant that respect and love in return. If you are striving for a dream or chasing a goal you must believe that you possess the motivation and skills to make it happen. You won’t get far if you don’t believe you deserve the result.
Start by loving yourself, start by appreciating yourself. The rest will follow.
Identify Your Issues With Fears Of Being Vulnerable
It’s natural that you should want to shield yourself from pain in order to avoid it. The problem is it isn’t possible, at least not all of the time. It may work briefly, but you’re just putting it off. When you block out that pain, or at least try to, all you accomplish is blocking out the light. Despite your best efforts, the boundaries you build in an attempt to protect your heart from hurt are only serving to hurt you. Effectively you have drawn yourself into a corner and trapped yourself in an unhealthy place. You may successfully block out the discomfort for a time, but you also block out your propensity for passion, joy, and love.
It is only when you embrace your true self that you become able to embrace your inner strength to find the courage to be vulnerable with others. You block your feelings off entirely when you try to block your heart or guard it too carefully.
Why are you so scared of being vulnerable? The only way to overcome those fears is to identify those fears. You don’t have to build walls to be strong. You don’t have to erect boundaries around yourself to be powerful. There is power and strength in vulnerability.
Your feelings are there to teach you something. They teach you more about yourself and your desires. You cannot access those feelings or those lessons until you drop your walls.
You might have had a good reason to build those walls in the first place, you may have protected yourself from harm thus far because of those walls, but you are fueling a dysfunctional way of life. It prevents you from enjoying happiness and joy because even when you experience those feelings you are too guarded to truly enjoy them. You’re not being strong by doing so.
You can’t continue moving through life believing that vulnerability is a weakness. It’s a state of courage and from it, everything is possible.
How much do you keep to yourself? Are there reactions, feelings, or opinions that you hide and keep to yourself? Do you have a constant narration streaming through your mind and you wonder about judgment, a lack of understanding, people thinking you’re weird, or just a total fear of putting yourself out there? You’re not alone. That’s generally what holds most people back from being truly vulnerable. It wouldn’t be difficult to write out a list of worries ten pages long if you wanted to.
However, the experiences that life hands you should change that. The more experience in life you gain, the more you should recognize the power of vulnerability and the benefits vulnerability bring. If your goal is to surround yourself with people who understand you and whom you also understand, then you first must understand yourself.
If you are going to say what you feel and think, then the people around you are going to be close enough to see who you are. And as a result, they will reciprocate. You will get a chance to see who they are.
You may have allowed fear to win for a long time, but it’s time to close the chapter on fear and open the door to vulnerability. There are four key things you can work on to improve your vulnerability.
- Gaining Awareness
- Improving Honesty
- Breaking Free
Fight Your Tendencies, But Stop Resisting
When faced with an opportunity to embrace vulnerability, you will have an equal opportunity to flee. That reaction is often knee-jerk. The problem is when you follow that reaction you will only regret it.
Get in tune with yourself and the feelings you get when you tend to run and train yourself to overcome those urges. It will take time and some trial and error to become familiar with such an intense feeling that comes on quickly, but practice will help you get to grips with it.
A journal is a good way to keep track of your emotions and pay attention to how you feel in the moment. When you’re aware of those signals and the triggers you can stop them in their tracks.
Do not clench when you feel a moment of vulnerability approach. Do not erect the wall and hide behind it. Give yourself permission to experience the feelings that come, regardless of whether they are positive or negative.
You may be faced with an intimate moment, it might be that you have to share a hard truth, something embarrassing, or even resisting the impulse to exaggerate a story to make yourself look better. Those are all vulnerable moments and ones we navigate often. While those emotions and feelings may be uncomfortable, they are ones that we have to get used to.
Know that no matter the outcome you are strong enough to deal with it. If you share yourself with someone and you are met with indifference or rejection, know that while it may hurt you are strong enough to overcome it. The consequence will be a varying level of pain or hurt. It isn’t ideal, of course it isn’t, but you are strong enough to pick yourself up and go again.
You can handle a war wound because your vulnerability is making you stronger, either way. That understanding is how you give yourself permission and embrace the freedom of vulnerability. Knowing that no matter what happens when you open up that you are strong enough to walk through it and make it to the other side.
Share Your Hurt
Imagine you make yourself vulnerable and it results in pain or hurt. If you struggle with being vulnerable then you may give in to the instinct to run and cope with your feelings and the fallout by yourself. That would be a mistake. Share your hurt and do it often.
You have someone who can offer comfort as you deal with those emotions and you have an opportunity to practice being vulnerable. When you rely on someone else to soothe you in a moment of vulnerability you are opening yourself to that person and increasing your feelings of vulnerability.
Bring it back full circle to worthiness. When you shun vulnerability, you give away power. When you open yourself up and show vulnerability you are making a conscious decision to show others that you (and they) are worthy. You show a belief that you can accept and be accepted by extending yourself to them.
When you close yourself off you erect barriers that put you at the mercy of everything and everyone around you. You aren’t protecting yourself, you’re giving your power away. You make yourself a victim of circumstance and internalize feelings of unworthiness. That only gives others the power to harm you.
You may believe that avoiding vulnerability helps you protect yourself, but in reality, it’s harming you and ensuring you remain in a state of disappointment. You grow sad that you didn’t allow an emotionally charged conversation to play out.
You feel disappointed that you allowed a good opportunity to pass by because you were too afraid to fail or get laughed at. You are frustrated that you didn’t try to improve your situation. All of that is a result of not being vulnerable. Had you made yourself vulnerable, what was the worst that would have happened? Certainly, nothing as bad as the feeling you are experiencing now as a result of avoiding vulnerability.
Most important, being vulnerable allows you to grow the most. On the self-improvement journey, vulnerability improves opportunities for growth and allows you to take the steps to gain that growth.
It’s scary, yes, but the alternative is even more terrifying. You’re not protecting yourself by running from vulnerability. You’re setting yourself up for a world of pain. Vulnerability is not weakness, it takes courage. The vulnerability we’re suggesting is all-encompassing. It subsumes both who you are and what you can do.
It’s about earning, building, reinforcing, and demonstrating trust to the people closest to you. While there are other ways to begin building trust, such as honoring your commitments, following through, being consistent, being respectful, and being supportive, there can be no greater way to engender trust than through vulnerability.
Those other steps are well and good, but they only get you so far. Trust driven by vulnerability makes you confident and comfortable to share your feelings, mistakes, concerns, failures, and concerns.
The things that you bottle up aren’t serving you, releasing them isn’t a weakness, you are enough as you are. It’s time to open up, you never know what could happen, for all you know you will find contentment on the other side.
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