Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Beauty in Vulnerability

What does it mean to be vulnerable? Most people think of vulnerability as the state of being susceptible to harm, or appearing as if you are. This could be emotional, like when sharing one's feelings with someone who might reject them; or it might be of a more physical or literal nature, like a cyclist's risk of being struck by a car, or the vulnerability of a soccer goal that is not protected by a strong defense.

Whatever form it takes, it can feel scary. Very scary. So why would we allow ourselves to be vulnerable if we could protect ourselves? Why would we let our guard down, if we knew we might get hurt?

I recently heard a story that brought this dilemma to light. It involved a friend of mine who lost his long-time girlfriend. This was someone he adored, someone whom everyone thought was his soul mate and perfect match. Because of his guarded personality, his friends and family worried that he wouldn't be able to commit; and sure enough, when it came down to taking the leap of faith, he pulled away and watched his lover walk out of his life. He chose the safety of solitude and self-reliance over the gamble of love, partnership, and creating a new family.

Vulnerability as an Asset

Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, writes, "Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experience." Yes, vulnerability is about having heart, and daring to ride that precarious line between experiencing the raw exhilaration of human life, and managing the risk of getting hurt. And this is a serious concern, because if we are too vulnerable, we could sustain an injury that sets us back, or even threatens to destroy us. Bottom line: vulnerability is not for the faint of heart---but neither is human life, and we signed up for it anyway.

People tend to associate vulnerability with weakness, but the truth is that when we take a risk, knowing we could get hurt or rejected, we are demonstrating extraordinary courage. It's one thing for a toddler to jump out of his crib, not knowing he could get injured, but it's truly heroic for an adult whose heart has been broken, to dare to trust love again.

From an emotional standpoint, vulnerability is about being seen for who we really are. It's about revealing our secrets and insecurities, and exposing ourselves to potential criticism. It asks us to give of ourselves in ways that may or may not be attractive to others. And if we do this, and are rejected, it can result in a deep blow.

I remember a teacher I had in middle school. He had become very passionate about a political issue, so one day he went on the radio and expressed his deepest feelings about it. For a while after that, he seemed angry and guarded, but months later, he reported, "That was an important turning point in my life. The day I went public with my deepest opinions, I lost some friends---but, you know what? I ended up gaining even more friends." I never forgot that.

Where's Does Your Vulnerability Live?

What are you afraid of? Public speaking? Failure? Rejection? Injury? Unrequited love? Being seen as weak or different? Losing control? Whatever it is, it is the center point of your greatest potential growth. It holds the key to your healing or success. Being willing to face your fear and be vulnerable in this area, is your ticket to a richer, more meaningful and authentic life.

Is there something you need to do or say to someone, that makes you feel vulnerable? Maybe you're compelled to share your thoughts or feelings, or stand up for yourself or what you believe in. Maybe your vulnerability is about being willing to show up in all your glory, or about allowing yourself to be loved, knowing that it might not last forever. Whatever your soul is asking of you (in the form of vulnerable feelings) is probably not going to let you rest until you've ventured out of your comfort zone.

That said, taking emotional risks hold no guarantees. I can still feel the sting of being turned down after spending weeks gathering my courage to ask a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance in high school. It was humiliating at the time, but am I sorry I did it? No way. It made me stronger. It was one of many stepping stones to a more courageous and authentic life---a life where I would connect with people who truly loved me for who I was.

This week, I ask you to consider your relationship with vulnerability and authenticity. If your life feels flat or limited in any area, your soul might be nudging you to put yourself out there in some important way. Feeling safe is important, but it can also be a trap. It can hold you back from the joy and success of a fully lived life. Taking reasonable emotional risks, on the other hand, can open the door to deeper love and connection, with yourself and others.