Everyone struggles with vulnerability. And potentially vulnerable moments are around us all the time. Here are some common examples that I’m sure you’ve experienced:
- Inviting a new acquaintance to do something with you. (And opening yourself up to rejection, if they do not want to get closer to you).
- Allowing anyone to see / read / hear something that you have created. (And opening yourself up to their judgment).
- Coming to your partner with a genuine need for comfort, for acceptance, or for cooperation. (And risking their refusal: “No, I don’t love you enough to be inconvenienced by your needs.”)
- Following your dreams, and doing your very best every day to make them happen. (And risking not just failure, but the loss of the dream itself).
- Loving another person intensely. (And risking the loss of your “irreplaceable other.”)
These moments are scary. It is really so much easier to hide.
To be unseen and unknown is safer. To not try your best brings comfort in the idea that you could have done better, if you’d truly applied yourself. To sail through the world in a sea of acquaintances who don’t really know you protects you from rejection. To keep your creative work safely hidden in your mind shelters it from the judgment of the world. To blame your partner for your feelings rescues you from having to show your irreplaceable other how important they are to you, and humbly ask for their help.
Every time I put myself out there in a big way, I have to cope with a “vulnerability hangover” as Brene Brown calls it. It’s the most unpleasant feeling— sort of a mix of embarrassment, shame, and anticipation of rejection. Yuck.
It shows up for me when I try new things that I’m not good at, or when I open myself up to other people who I don’t feel entirely safe with yet. This is especially true with my writing.
Any good art requires the creator to expose the contents of their mind or heart to others. Our art is therefore an extension of ourselves. Whether we smear our emotional innards on canvas, or heave them out onto digitized paper, or stitch them together to be worn on our bodies, we’re saying: “Look. See who I am.” And then we stand on the stage, simmering in the broth of apprehension, and wait for the audience to pass their judgment: Lame, Boring, Weird, Irrelevant…. Or Not Worth Our Attention At All.
Sometimes it makes me feel like not even trying. Or getting “virtuously busy” so that I don’t really have any time to extend myself anyway. And I know you can relate.
It’s an emotional echo to being fourteen years old. Do you remember? I do– I remember so vividly the effort I would put in to my appearance: Meticulously shredded jeans, angsty black tee-shirt, dark lipstick. The uniform of my tribe, down to the shoelaces and pins. I was frozen in the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, so I generally just glared at the world through lashes stiff with mascara. My crunchy hair turned with my head like a helmet. My facade was bullet proof, and no-one had any idea of who I was (least of all, me).
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I became real through the years, after I started taking risks and opening myself up to love. Like everyone, I still struggle with fears of rejection and failure. But if I wasn’t okay with saying stupid things that alienate people sometimes, I would never get the chance to say something wise that might be be meaningful or helpful to someone else. It’s a mixed bag, but here it is. I’ll leave you to sort through and pick out the good parts.
It takes an enormous amount of strength to be vulnerable. To be fully engaged with the world, and with other people, means that you will have to cope with pain, with rejection, with failure, and with loss. But what are your choices?
To not engage at all means depriving yourself of:
- True love and deep connection, and the chance to be truly known and cherished by others.
- Being genuinely successful, and taking the chance to manifest your dreams instead of settling.
- Creating authentic happiness in your life through living in line with your values, and highest purpose.
Being vulnerable to the world, to others, and to love is the price of admission to this carnival that we call life. You pay your way by accepting and coping with fear. The prizes are feeling the excitement and joy of doing interesting things, feeling the love that’s so intense it’s scary, experiencing the satisfaction of success, and having the fullness of a life rich with strong connections.
But you don’t have to. You can stand with your fingers curled in the chain link fence, watching others take the ride of their life, and keep your heart deep inside. Where it’s safe.
When are the moments that you feel most vulnerable? How do you cope with the fear of failure or rejection? I’ll look for your answers in the comments. — Lisa
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