I have been exposed to the word “vulnerability” quite a lot lately. It’s an interesting word and one that often triggers uncomfortable feelings in most of us. The more I explore the meaning of this word, the more I realize that there's actually more strength than weakness to being vulnerable.
I battled to find a definition that defined vulnerability in the way I've learned to see it. For most of my life, being vulnerable meant showing one’s weakness. It meant being open to abuse, either physically or emotionally. Then I found Brene Brown!
"Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage."
- Brene Brown
In the last few years, I've been shown that being vulnerable actually means that one has tremendous, inner strength. It means letting your true SELF be seen by all, no matter who it is. It means having enough faith and trust in yourself to put yourself out there.
How to Recognize Vulnerability
The world is a cruel place and vulnerability in one can trigger fears of weakness in another. I believe this is often what causes a bully to behave the way they do – someone else’s vulnerability triggers their own vulnerable self.
Throughout their life, a bully has been told by either a parent figure, a teacher, or another bully that to be vulnerable is to be weak. How do they handle that trigger? They lash out at those who are strong enough (or naïve enough) to show the world their own vulnerability.
The result? Many of us learn to hide our vulnerability even if we know, deep down, that it's not something to be ashamed of.
Why Do We Hide Our Vulnerability?
Vulnerability triggers uncomfortable feelings. Hands up if you fear this kind of feeling! We all do, one way or another, so you're not alone. When we let others see our vulnerability, we're giving them "permission" to hurt us if that's what they choose. Knowing this means we're can expect to feel some uncomfortable and at times, downright painful feelings.
When we don't believe we have the courage or strength to share our vulnerability, we hide it. We hide it because we fear the feelings associated with being vulnerable. And, this fear tells us we have something to be ashamed of. Or, do we? Isn't it just our conditioning telling us otherwise?
Shame is one of those most feared emotions and for many, vulnerability triggers this most awful feeling. Shame highlights your inadequacy, your lack of self-worth, and believing you're not good enough.
Brene Brown's book, "Rising Strong: How The Ability To Reset Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" is a powerful and empowering read while encouraging the conversation around "...courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness."
When to Be Vulnerable
I encourage others to allow their vulnerability to shine through but only when they're strong enough to trust it. This means going deep inside and exploring one’s SELF. It means slowly chipping away at all the “dis”-beliefs you've created about yourself.
It can also mean being willing to break down the numerous walls you've built up over many years as a way of creating barriers from the outside world. Often, in fact always, behind these walls live people who are unique, special, and have so much to offer the world.
It's essential to understand your own needs at any given time in your life and decide whether being vulnerable or not is a good idea. Vulnerability isn't something that you keep out there forever and ever. Some days, you feel you can be vulnerable and other days, well, you simply can't do it.
When you choose to be vulnerable, your following needs are being met:
Connection (spiritually and physically)
Displaying your strength
When you consciously choose to NOT be vulnerable, it's because you need the following:
Peace and relief while facing a difficult time
Compassion for self when life feels tough
A sense of safety and security when you're not feeling too strong
When you understand your most basic needs, you have the free will to choose when to be vulnerable.
How to Be Vulnerable
Vulnerability takes courage. The courage to know one’s SELF. The courage to be true to one’s SELF. It can be a scary place but a liberating one. It takes huge courage to put yourself out there and say “This is Me. Take it or leave it”.
Vulnerability takes love. Love for one’s SELF. And, love for all others.
Vulnerability takes faith and trust. Faith and trust in one’s SELF. And, faith and trust in all others.
Vulnerability means forgiving yourself and others.
When you choose to be vulnerable, you're taking back your personal power. You're now controlling how you choose to respond to all your fears. It's all about changing the way you view the word "vulnerability." When you identify it with strength rather than with weakness, you're changing your perspective on what it means to be vulnerable.
When you're ready to be vulnerable to the world, you're sending out a message that says, loud and clear, “I am Me. Take it or leave it. I am love. I am empathy. I am forgiveness. And, I am trusting. But, do not underestimate my courage nor my strength."
Another excellent read from Brene Brown is her book, "Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead."
Why You Need to Embrace Vulnerability
If your spiritual path is essential for your existence then embracing your vulnerability will connect you deeply with your spirituality. Being vulnerable allows you to connect with All That Is. When you're being vulnerable you're allowing yourself to connect AND to take emotional risks.
But, how can you connect if you're not willing to open yourself up emotionally? Therin lies the challenge of embracing vulnerability, warts, and all! While vulnerability means living with uncertainty, it also means you'll have a deeper and more meaningful life experience.
You and I entered this world as vulnerable beings (show me a baby who isn't wholly and completely, beautifully vulnerable?). The more vulnerable you were as a child is indicated by how well you connected with others and God. The same applies now, as an adult.
A deep connection, both physically and spiritually, is not possible if you don't embrace vulnerability. Claiming that you're an "open book" means very little when you only share snippets of yourself. That's NOT embracing vulnerability.
It's through allowing yourself to be vulnerable that you learn some of the most painful life lessons. When you're hurt emotionally, only then do you:
Gain a deeper insight and understanding of yourself and others
Appreciate the joy (and sorrow) of intimate connections
Build and develop crucial life skills
Vulnerability grows you psychologically and you need to be vulnerable in order to reach emotional maturity. Only then can you become a compassionate and truly empathetic person. And, you'll understand the importance of having healthy emotional needs that should be met, loved, and taken care of.
By embracing vulnerability you're given yourself the gift of inner (and outer) freedom. Only then can you be true to yourself. When you give yourself permission to sit in the discomfort that comes with being vulnerable, only then do you face your fears face-on.
Being vulnerable allows you to understand others with a deeper empathy. It allows you to be gentle. It gives you a kind of wisdom that only comes from somewhere deep down inside of your SELF.
Vulnerability, when treated with love, courage, faith, trust, and forgiveness can bring you harmony. It allows you to drop the resistance and break down those walls of shame, anger, and resentment that have held you back for so long in isolation.
Be true to yourself and discover your own strength through your vulnerability. Let your light shine through.
PS: I LOVE this T-shirt (for all the wrong reasons I'm sure!)
This post was originally published on April 23rd, 2021, and updated on August 3rd, 2022.
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