What is Vulnerability? According to Vocabulary.com Vulnerability comes from the Latin word for “wound”, vulnus. Usually it is defined as being exposed or at risk to injury or attack. This may show up as fears as shown in the following examples.
Leslie is terrified of getting older, of her children leaving home, of being alone. These feelings scare her so much, she invents ways not to face her fears. Mostly, she lashes out at others for “making” her feel bad. She wonders why she has so few friends and can’t find a mate.
Tom doesn’t walk, he swaggers. He doesn’t talk, he commands. When his children and friends head for the exit, he figures they just don’t have the guts to handle such a big man. But he has an ulcer and he can’t sleep. Lately, he’s been having nightmares about being trapped. Deep, deep down, he’s afraid he’s really a little man after all.
It hurts to admit we are vulnerable. For so many of us, it means we are weak, helpless and open to attack by others or by whatever life throws at us. Our culture demands that we be strong, so we try our best to hide our fears and cover up our weak spots. We don’t want to be seen as failures.
However, I like to think of vulnerability as the quality of being exposed to possibility. There can be beauty in vulnerability and value in exploring so-called weaknesses. By exploring our “dark” side, we can turn our fears and vulnerabilities into strengths. To paraphrase author Matthew Fox, “Our demons aren’t in the way; they are the way!”
Often, we believe that keeping a stiff upper lip will keep us strong. We hold a tight lid on our fears and pain, but in doing so, we also cover up and lose touch with our feelings. This, in turn, shields our hearts and separates us from our connection to humanity. We do not want to lose our heart connection through shielding.
Instead, imagine the worst thing that can happen and explore your fears. It is often helpful to work with a therapist or a coach to face what it is you believe you are defending yourself against, and then to help you understand, accept and let go. This is a journey that can be long, but it’s only by facing our vulnerable places—not covering them up or running from them—that we come out the other side.
Being vulnerable is empowerment. We all have a wound, and when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we accept that wound and then we can move forward. Our wound is our blessing.
Being vulnerable hasn’t been very popular in our society, but this is changing. Words such as “humility” and “gratitude” and “forgiveness” are being used more frequently. They are terms that show a cultural shift towards accepting all human traits, negative and positive, strong and weak.
Author and therapist Beth Miller takes this one step further. In her book, Resilience: 12 Qualities to Cultivate, she calls vulnerability “falling apart” and urges that “it is time to bring falling apart into fashion.”
Brene Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. She says that to be human is to be in vulnerability. “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Brown states that, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
Being a student of life means being vulnerable—open to life, to learning, to experiences, to yourself and to emotions. Most of all, it means being willing to accept things as they are. And then open to changing things when you want to do so.
Being vulnerable comes easier to some than others. Here are some ways to explore being vulnerable:
- Be honest with yourself.
- Look for deeper reasons or motives for your own behaviour. Take responsibility for your behaviour.
- Take a risk. Start by letting someone you trust know your weak places.
- Be willing to listen to honest feedback.
- Accept the fact that you have anger, and find words to talk about it.
- Let go of guilt and resentment. The past is past. Make amends if needed.
- Accept that you make mistakes. That’s part of being human.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications