Feeling all the Feelings: Vulnerability

Photo by  Molly Belle  on  Unsplash

Photo by Molly Belle on Unsplash

Words by Jen Woodward

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity
— Brené Brown

Vulnerability. A word that denotes helplessness, passivity and sensitivity. A state in which we are exposed, perhaps even a state where harm could be done to us. All too frequently this word is used to imply weakness. Perhaps someone frail and isolated comes to mind, or a person sobbing or tearful, someone expressing emotions. It is often a word used to describe the feminine, whether that’s someone identifying as a woman or a man condemned for being ‘weak’.

For those that have a non-fearful impression of vulnerability, for those that are able to embrace it, for those that show up despite knowing they may fail - being vulnerable can change everything. Perhaps it’s time to let go of those unhelpful connotations and redefine what vulnerability means.

 I’ve mentioned the amazing Brené Brown, before, she has researched and written about vulnerability, defining it as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” She has a Ted Talk and a show on Netflix – Brené Brown: The Call To Courage, as well as several books. She is definitely worth a listen, and a read.

Vulnerability is a necessary component to achieving a deeper and more fulfilling life.

Take for example, a relationship between two people. For this relationship to go deeper, either platonically or romantically, both people need to be able to be vulnerable at times. They need to share some of their more personal thoughts and experiences, to expose themselves. This allows the other person to accept them for who they really are, despite their flaws, because of them even!

There is, of course, an element of determination needed for this. The oxford dictionary defines being vulnerable as potentially exposing yourself to harm. There is a certain degree of risk to opening yourself up. You step into the arena and you will fail sometimes, but this provides the opportunity for learning and growth. With this risk comes the opportunity to succeed too, without taking a risk it’s difficult to attain what you want. Ask yourself some questions to try and figure out areas in your life which need a little more work.

What makes you feel fearful?

Are there relationships in your life you would like to take to the next level?

Do you go through life presenting a façade, a false self, in order to protect yourself and stop people seeing the underlying vulnerability?

What areas of your life feel stuck or closed off?

Are you feeling lost? 

With those areas of your life in mind that may need some extra work, here are four things we can learn from Brené Brown.

1. Vulnerability is not a weakness, in fact it’s a measure of courage

To expose ourselves takes a huge amount of bravery. In everything we do, fear and criticism will always be there. Fear is a restrictive force, it prevents us from stepping out of our comfort zone. Because fear and criticism will always be there, it’s necessary to show up anyway and move forward. And that takes some nerve.

2. Reflect on your emotions

Most of us have been taught our emotions are too much for others to bear. However, keeping our emotions in causes us pain and stress. Showing our feelings might be regarded as vulnerable but actually it takes true strength and courage to show others what we are feeling.

When we bottle up sadness or hurt it will burst out when we least want it to - in anger or panic attacks. Or, we internalise those emotions and they can begin to affect our self-esteem and even our physical health. Being vulnerable, showing and feeling those emotions will help you to move forward.

3. Making mistakes is ok

Don’t seek perfectionism, if we live and act perfectly we avoid pain, blame and shame. Being faultless is not about growth, improvement and personal achievement, it’s about avoidance. It’s important to make mistakes, this is where real learning comes from. The best we can do is to seek to be the best version of ourselves, despite our flaws. In turn, we can choose to only care about the opinions of those that love us, because of our flaws. You need to show those flaws to others to figure out who those people are. Embrace imperfection, firstly in yourself, and then in others.

4. Dare to be yourself

Many of us have been taught to shun our true selves, to hide or conform to what others and society expect from us. It takes courage and vulnerability to expose our thoughts, opinions and self to others. There may be judgement from some, but you will also have a much easier time finding your tribe. Brené Brown says “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness”.

Things are changing, our society is beginning to understand and appreciate authenticity and individuality.

Your ability to be vulnerable can have immeasurable benefits, most of all, revealing elements of yourself that you may not be completely comfortable with allows other people to also share and expose themselves. This connection between people is, in my opinion, one of the biggest benefits of being vulnerable. Next time you’re talking to someone, share a little more than you normally would and see what happens.

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Jen Woodward is a psychodynamic therapist who works in London. You can find out more about Jen and her work over on her website.

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