Vulnerability: Strength or Weakness?
One of the great debates right now is whether vulnerability is strength or a weakness. This isn’t a debate that often takes place over casual dinner talk or at a local pub. It’s a debate that takes place inside our minds and hearts, a constant struggle around whether to choose to be vulnerable or not. A battle around choosing to be seen only for our light, or for all our darkness as well.
Why is it such a debate? I would like to suggest that people want to be open, honest and vulnerable, however most are afraid. We have a fear of being judged, laughed at, seen as a sissy or even worse, having people turn their backs on us and run the other way. It certainly happens. It’s happened to me and it happens to so many of us. We find ourselves in a situation where we choose to be vulnerable. Maybe it’s with a new friend or in a budding romantic relationship. Maybe it comes up when choosing to have a conversation with a co-worker who said hurtful words or a parent who has been absent for years. Regardless of the way it comes up, vulnerability is difficult for many of us. We ask the question – when we choose into being vulnerable, are we acting from a place of strength or weakness?
In my life, I have experienced both sides of the coin. I’ll start with the side where I viewed it as a weakness. When we choose to be vulnerable we open ourselves up to ridicule or unacceptance. We step into a place of becoming very uncomfortable at times and leaving ourselves exposed. This can make us feel very weak, especially if the person receiving our vulnerability takes advantage or shuns us. I have been vulnerable in the past and I have felt extremely weak. Notice, I said that it ‘makes us feel weak’ when we don’t get the response we desire. Where does that feeling come from? It comes from the way we choose to feel about someone else’s reaction. Their reaction determines how we feel. Is that right? Is that what we want? Do we want to live our lives based on what other people think of us? Why do we care? Why did I care? Now, on the flip side, I know why I did – because I didn’t love myself. I looked outside of myself for reassurance and confirmation that I was doing it all right and if I got a ‘thumbs up’ I felt good. If I got over 100 likes, I was enough. If people saw me as strong and capable, I was accepted. I certainly didn’t want anyone to see my darkness, believing they might give the thumbs down and I would feel bad. Was that a smart way to live? At the time, I didn’t know any different, however once I understood what I was doing, I made a choice that changed my life. It may help to change yours too.
How is vulnerability a strength? Brené Brown puts it this way in her book Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” Vulnerability does leave us exposed to many things that may hurt us. It requires openness to whatever comes our way. Often, it can make us feel very unsafe and unsure. So when we choose to become vulnerable, how is it a strength? It’s a strength because it takes a strong person to choose into it. It takes someone who desires to live out their purpose so much that they are willing to put aside others’ opinions and really be seen. It takes guts to be able to open ourselves up to other people’s possible judgments and condemnation. It takes a lot of heart and soul to say, “I am choosing to be exposed and show who I truly am, and I’m satisfied with the way things turn out”. It takes a strong mind to understand that when people don’t respond in a positive way, it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with them. The truth is, some people are so uncomfortable with vulnerability that they will walk away, simply because they can’t be vulnerable themselves. That says nothing about us and everything about them. This was a huge realization for me.
I struggled with vulnerability for many years because I didn’t want people to see me. I wanted to hide who I was and appear put together so that people would like me. I didn’t want to expose myself and all my flaws and be open to ridicule, and even worse, face people choosing to leave me. I played it safe and I suffered for it. I never felt comfortable with myself. I didn’t take risks, so I never played full out. I shied away from opportunities because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I missed out on many great friendships and relationships because I would rather push people away then have them see me. I didn’t know it at the time, but this all came from a place of weakness. It was born from a place of not good enough, less than and believing lies about what people would do if they really knew me.
One transformational day I finally saw what I was doing and decided to choose into vulnerability. I was scared and chose into it on purpose because I knew I couldn’t stay in my self-made shell anymore. I was in physical pain because I was holding so much in, so I let go and let God. I opened myself up to the universe and decided that if people turned their back on me I would deal with it and I would be okay. If someone chose out, I would survive. It came from a place of strength. It came from a heart that was full already so I didn’t need to rely on others to fill me up. I learned to love myself enough so I could handle what came my way. I began to take risks, lean in, love deeper, surrender fully and let who I was on the inside shine. Was it always easy? No. Am I stronger for it? Absolutely. I have never been so strong! And you know what’s interesting – nobody left. In fact, the opposite happened – my relationships deepened. My pain went from a 9/10 every day to a 3/10. My body, mind and soul felt free. I went for it and saw amazing results in my life – results that I would never have seen if I stayed in my shell and protected myself.
So the choice is yours. Are you going to hide in a cocoon or are you going to break out and fly? Are you going to love yourself enough to let people really see you or are you going to play it safe so you don’t get hurt? At the end of your life do you want to say you played full out or you missed opportunities? It’s your choice – it always is!