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Vulnerability: The Biggest Risk, The Greatest Reward

Vulnerability: The Biggest Risk, The Greatest Reward

What’s the big deal about vulnerability?

Have you ever seen the movie “What Women Want” starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson? There is a moment at the end of the movie (after a rollercoaster-ride romance) where Mel Gibson’s character says that he needs to be rescued, and that he needs Helen Hunt’s character to help him do it.

I felt a sense of uneasiness when I first watched that scene because of the depth of vulnerability that Mel Gibson’s character expresses.  Since then, as I’ve grown as a person, a therapist, a couple’s counselor, and a life coach, I’ve come to feel respect and admiration for his vulnerability… and how much strength it takes to go there.

What is vulnerability? Vulnerability means opening yourself up to another person, which means risking being hurt by them. Vulnerability is difficult and often does not come naturally, however it is an essential part of healthy relationships.

Why Being Vulnerable Feels So Hard

I’ve noticed that oftentimes there is a fear of vulnerability within relationships that is coupled with shame. Brené Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”  Has shame ever kept you from expressing your deeper thoughts and emotions to someone you care about?

Although it is difficult, allowing yourself to push past you shame and open yourself up to another being often results in a more fulfilling relationship.

Three Reasons Why Vulnerability is Essential:

  • Vulnerability Fosters Connection: We are made for connection with each other. If we weren’t, we would never experience loneliness. Vulnerability allows our relationships to be more fulfilling because it allows for more depth. Even though it feels uncomfortable at first, a relationship that is safe allows room for vulnerability that deepens our connection to each other.

 

  • Vulnerability Leads to Opportunity: When we are vulnerable, we get to share our lives with another person as well as give them the opportunity to share their life with us. Vulnerability is risky, however, it is often a risk worth taking as it allows us to experience community with others in a way that goes far beyond the surface level.

 

  • Vulnerability Brings Healing: Lastly, vulnerability is often associated with healing. When we are able to let someone else into our dark and hidden places, and have them let us into theirs — and feel loved in spite of our flaws — something wonderful happens. All of a sudden, those dark and hidden places don’t seem so bad, and our shame can be replaced with joy. We are able to experience a sense of freedom and deeper intimacy with someone we care deeply about, all because we took a risk and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

I hope these ideas help you cultivate the power of vulnerability into your life, and your relationships.

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFT-C

PS: For even more inspiration on the importance of authentic vulnerability, check out this Ted Talk by the thought-leader on this subject: Brene Brown.

The Power of Vulnerability: Ted Talk | Brene Brown

 

Vulnerability: The Price of Admission To a Happy Life

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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