Vulnerability: Too Much, Not Enough, or Just Right


Thanks to Dr. Brene Brown's 2010 TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, there is a movement in our culture to embrace vulnerability, "whole-heartedly," as Brene would say.  Her talk is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world.  Brene is a brilliant researcher and author of many bestselling books.  She has the unique ability to synthesize and share her research findings in a way that is relatable and empowering.  Despite her undeniable talent, it's my belief that what makes her talk so popular, is our desperate need and hunger for her core message:  "Vulnerability is not weakness.  And that myth is profoundly dangerous.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change." 

I declared 2016 my year for transformation and vulnerability.  Desiring and promising myself to be intentionally in the committed action of expanding and stretching myself to edges formerly unknown to me.  Initially, I was not particularly interested in this endeavor.  A working mother of three young children, I mostly function in survival mode; as in, I can barely get through the day as it is, let alone embrace some lofty, likely unattainable goal of transformation and vulnerability.  However, God, the Universe, or the birds that sing to me outside my kitchen window as I wash the never-ending pile of dishes each day, continued their plea like a toddler pulling at their mother's skirt, seeking undivided attention, as the New Year approached.  "Expand your reach," the soft whisper swirled around in my head and heart, increasingly gaining momentum.

I found myself annoyed by this voice, thinking things like:  "Expand my reach, what the hell does that even mean?   I'm spread thin enough, now leave me alone dammit!" Apparently, whoever is in charge of delivering the whispers that come to us when we get quiet enough to hear them, was uninterested in my vote.   Meditation, prayer, and many long walks with my golden retriever, Mosley, helped me gain clarity on this 'expand your reach' thing - I was being beckoned to write to you.

A little backstory:  Years ago I had another calling, to be a therapist specializing in eating disorder treatment.  I suffered and recovered from an eating disorder, and had one hell of a time finding a therapist to guide me through this terrifying and unknown process.   Even if my contribution was like mere drops in the ocean, I made a quiet promise that I would offer my unique expertise as a recovered professional in the field.  Ten years into this work, and hundreds of clients later (my best vulnerability teachers, by the way), I thought my mission was being accomplished, but apparently, there is more. 
I am called to expand my reach through writing to the person that is silently suffering with an eating disorder, and encourage them to get help, or to stay in treatment despite the messiness of recovery, or to stand firmly rooted in recovery once you are well on your way.  So four months ago I got vulnerable (sharing what I write feels like the ultimate form of vulnerability for me), took action and started writing the book that's writing itself in my head.   

I began in the most simple way I knew how, by "putting my ass where my heart wants to be," as Steven Pressfield instructs.  With immense discomfort, I started a blog (even though I hate the word blog and sometimes even just the concept) to get into the rhythm of writing routinely and then releasing what I write into the universe.  Part of the reason this is so terrifying for me, is I’ve learned to be vulnerable around people that I’ve come to trust.  With writing and releasing, you have to rely on yourself; your intuitive wisdom and your belief that your words will serve those who need it and ignore the rest.

Overall, things were going pretty well; writing was serving my soul and appeared to be positively impacting my readers.  Several months in I had my first taste of what the writing world is infamous for - rejection.   Now, it wasn't exactly Random House sending me a rejection letter; it was far closer to home.  When I got out of freak out mode, I realized it wasn’t rejection at all, it was feedback.  Feedback and rejection are two very different things, yet my reactive brain is unable to tell the difference initially. 

The reason feedback got misconstrued as rejection is because once upon a time I hard-core did not do vulnerable.  I was masked up like a clown hiding in my eating disorder and all the gunk that was driving those behaviors.  My lack of vulnerability decreased my likelihood, or my perception at least, of being judged by others.  The downside of having a mask is that you’re never truly known.   

I paused.  I reflected and came to this:  Vulnerability is a great teacher.  It stretches you.  It requires you to lay down your armor and be real – with yourself and others.  Acts of vulnerability are not always fully embraced and that’s ok.  I’ve concluded that the people that are less interested in your vulnerability are those incapable of their own.

 What I know to be true is that in times where I’ve had the courage to dig deep into vulnerability, if I’m in the company of someone who is going to be significantly valued in my life, they will often say, ‘me too,’ and then a real relationship, or a deeper connection is born.  If there isn’t a deeper connection born out of vulnerability, and the reaction is more, ‘gosh, that’s too bad,’ with sort of an awkward pause, then I know that person is likely not my person.

 Vulnerability resides on a continuum.  The extreme ends of this continuum are being  fully masked-up and offering very little of your true-self, or you’re stark naked, exposing everything.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to fully undress before someone without having a history of taking off my mask and revealing my face first.  I’m not saying I’ve never done it, but it’s not my preference.
Here a couple of key things to considering increasing your vulnerability:

  1. Know in advance that this is an ongoing experiment.As with any experiment, you’re collecting data.How do you feel afterwards?How did the other person respond?
  2. Have discretion with who you open yourself up to.Do you feel you know them well enough to offer up your most authentic self?If not, wade into acts of vulnerability – think of it as a seven course meal.
  3. No personalizing or beating yourself up!If it’s a miss, just consider it that.Don’t make yourself a horrible, awful, no good person who retreats back behind the mask.Instead, if it doesn’t go well, just note it as part of the data you are gathering.

So, to be vulnerable is to take the risk of being the most authentic version of yourself.  You will grow deeper in connection with the people that have the ability to ‘go there’ with you, or you will edit and revise the role of some of the people currently in your life.  My request is that you consider your stance on vulnerability.  To get you started, let’s look at a couple of different definitions of vulnerability:

Webster's definition of vulnerability:
-easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
-open to attack, harm, or damage;

or Brene's:
"Most people believe vulnerability is weakness.  But really, vulnerability is courage.  We must ask ourselves...are we willing to show up and be seen?"

Which definition fits for you?

Love + Light,