[FEATURED POST] Sometimes the Biggest Risk…is Not Taking One at All.
When you think about what it takes to be strong, honest, courageous and authentic, you may or may not include vulnerable to your list. In fact, synonyms of vulnerability include: defenseless, sucker, susceptible, unsafe, weak, and in danger. Quite the contrary to anything strong and courageous!
I’m not even going to try to lie and say that now that I have my first post out there, and my biggest hurdle is behind me, that I no longer feel vulnerable. I most certainly do, -and I feel susceptible and exposed too! But that was sort of the point now wasn’t it?
As humans, we thrive through honest, vulnerable, trusting connections to others. We are born vulnerable to everything around us. If we experience love, tenderness, physical and emotional connections and safety, we grow up to be healthy, happy, functioning adults (well, most of us). Vulnerability is essential to human existence. Yet, so many of us fight it. We fight, because we don’t want others to judge us. We fight, because we’re afraid that if we open up, we’ll lose that connection and won’t be lovable. We build walls, and do whatever we can to make sure we’re protected from all things harmful. We’re scared of losing pieces of our hearts, -of ourselves, and so, we retreat, not realizing that by retreating from vulnerability (that which is essential to our connection with life), we ultimately lose the very thing we were trying to protect all along; love and connection.
Isn’t that sad? For me, realizing this was heartbreaking. Heartbreaking, because I realized that much of the pain I was feeling, I had caused by retreating. Heartbreaking, because I felt I had missed out on so many opportunities to connect, to love, and to be loved. Heartbreaking, because I knew that the only way to heal and to get over it, was to go through it, and that ultimately meant revisiting painful emotions.
In an attempt to understand vulnerability better, I started doing a little research, and found exactly what I was looking for: Dr. Brené Brown. Dr. Brown has spent the past ten years doing qualitative research on vulnerability, connection, courage, authenticity, and shame. At the 2010 TED conference, Dr. Brown discussed the importance of being vulnerable :
“Vulnerability allows us to connect with others. Connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives -it’s why we’re here. We have to be really seen to connect, which means that we have to be willing to be vulnerable with other people.”
Dr. Brown’s research shows that there are ultimately two groups of people: (1) People who have a strong sense of love and belonging, and, (2) People that struggle for it and always wonder if they’re good enough. The one variable that separates these two groups of people is that, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. The one thing that keeps us from connection is the fear that we’re not worthy of connection. Further, the people with a strong sense of worthiness shared one common theme: Courage. Interestingly, the word courage stems from the Latin word cor or heart and the original definition of cor was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”.Thus, the people who had a sense of worthiness were “wholehearted and authentic people able to embrace vulnerability. They could be deeply seen by others. They had the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others; as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. [These people] had connection as a result of authenticity; they were able to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were…these people embraced vulnerability and believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful. They believed that vulnerability was fundamental” (Brown, 2010).
How awe-inspiring and amazing is that? Is the quality of our life dictated by our ability to be vulnerable? Is happiness strongly correlated with the degree in which we practice vulnerability? Perhaps. At least, it appears so.
Many of us try to selectively numb the emotions that make us uncomfortable, that cause us pain, in an attempt to protect our hearts. I’m certainly guilty of this. The problem is that we cannot selectively numb emotions, and still feel the emotions we like! When we numb negative emotions and vulnerability, we numb joy, gratitude, love, belonging, creativity, compassion, and happiness. By numbing vulnerability, we ultimately lose. We need to surrender to vulnerability to live a life of connection and love. For some, this is easy. For others’, (AKA me), this is arduous, but I too have succumb to vulnerability. I think Dr. Brown described her battle with vulnerability best when she stated,“For me, it was a year long street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back”. I too have lost the fight, but I’m confident I’ll win my life back.
When I published my first blog post, I was terrified. Being that open is simply incongruent with who I feel I am. I’m not open. I’m not vulnerable. I don’t share my feelings. But taking that risk, being that vulnerable, created a connection with other people, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to in years. But one interaction with my brother, Justin, was particularly impactful. He and I have grown much closer over the past year as we’re both on an analogous journey towards self-awareness and vulnerability. He is certainly ahead of me on this (yes, I know it’s not a race), but I appreciate his patience and compassion with me as I make a slower progression. Back to my point…Only a few people knew I was starting a blog, and Justin was not one of them. I can only imagine he was somewhat surprised. But instead of calling or sending me a text that read, “Why didn’t you tell me?” or even just, “Cool blog”, he sent me a text with an image of a quote that read:
“When just starting out on a new journey, it’s only natural to feel vulnerable. After all, it may seem that you have much to lose. But may I remind you that never again, at any other point in your journey, will you have so much to gain as you will if you start today?”
If he was trying to get an emotional response out of me, it worked! But as tears ran down my cheeks, I smiled. He knew exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. He knew exactly how I was feeling (remember defenseless, sucker, susceptible, unsafe, weak, and in danger?). Justin understood how unbelievably vulnerable and uncertain I was feeling. Yet, he never tried to change my feelings or tell me not to feel myfeelings. He reminded me that fearing vulnerability was okay, but that there was so much more to gain by surrendering to it.