Vulnerability – it’s time to get real.
Have you ever wished that somebody you were interacting with would put down the masks that they wear for a moment and be honest with you and with themselves? Have you ever wished that maybe you too could be a little more open and honest with somebody in your life?
Why aren’t we more vulnerable?
First, it’s really important to know that you are not alone. So many people wish to be more genuine, more honest, and less afraid. And yet we all have that voice in the back of our head telling us we aren’t good enough and can’t let anybody else know. So, what are some of the things holding us all back from getting there?
1. Our society tells us vulnerability is bad.
Let’s get this out in the air – our culture and society do not tell us to be vulnerable. They tell us all that we have to be strong when times are hard, that we should be there for those in need, and that we need to ‘fake it until we make it’ if we don’t feel confident. This places a good/bad judgment on vulnerability. It says that if you aren’t strong then you are weak. If you are weak then you are bad. Everything around us implies that we have to be superman or superwoman. Even when your favorite magazine talks about the virtues of being vulnerable, it’s often surrounded by messages that you need to have your summer six-pack abs and wear the perfect clothes for your body type in order to be honest with those around you.
There is also the underlying belief that if people know you are vulnerable then they will take advantage of you. While this might be true walking home through a dark alley at night while singing “I’m scared and unable to defend myself.” it is less true when interacting with the people closest to us.
2. Being vulnerable is uncomfortable.
There is no easy way around it. Saying “I don’t know,” or “I messed that up” to your boss or co-workers is never going to be comfortable. Telling your partner that you are scared of where your life is heading and want their help in re-evaluating your goal and direction is never an easy conversation. Telling your ‘friend’ that you struggle to spend time with them because you always walk away from conversations with them feeling used up and wrung out is WAY harder than making up another excuse for why you can’t come over for dinner at their place.
Being honest and vulnerable is one of the least comfortable things we can do (at least at the beginning) because it means saying all the things that we are convinced will make people think less of us.
3. It requires that we take responsibility for ourselves.
When we boil it down, being vulnerable is about taking responsibility for our actions and advocating for our own needs. This means we have to understand ourselves well enough to know that we are scared, that we don’t think we are good enough, and that we deserve something better. It means that we are willing to stop being people-pleasers to everybody but ourselves. It means that we make choices about who we want to be and then work towards being that person, even if it isn’t comfortable.
What’s the payoff of vulnerability? Why is worth even considering?
- Confidence – Vulnerability is all about not letting fear rule you any longer. No more will the fear of what other people think of you keep you from being your true self. The more vulnerable you are, the faster you accept who you truly are, which reduces the guilt and shame that you might feel about any ‘mistakes’ you’ve made. Without guilt and shame holding you down, your confidence skyrockets.
- Deeper relationships – Being vulnerable with other humans gives them permission to do the same. When two people are being real and honest with one another there is no way to avoid deepening your understanding and care of each other. What would it be like if you were surrounded by people who not only cared, loved you, and understood you but were willing to open up when they needed help? What would it be like to have a community of people where you feel like you belong and matter?
- Your needs are met – When you are vulnerable you aren’t afraid to let people know what your needs and wants are. Letting the people around you know what you need means that you are considerably more likely to actually get those things (from them and from yourself) without sitting in the pain cave waiting for somebody to notice and take care of you. Talk about empowerment!
- Know thyself – Being vulnerable is all about honesty with yourself first. This means that you will get to know yourself in a way that is incredibly powerful. When we stop wearing the masks that keep us ‘safe’ we can create the future we want.
- You become an inspiration to others – There is something special about being the person that others look up to. The people around you want to be vulnerable too, but they are stuck in the fear of doing so just like you used to be. You being open and vulnerable gives them permission to try it on for size as well.
Great! So how do we do it?
There are innumerable ways to be vulnerable. Googling will give you lists that range from the seemingly silly to more meaningful. A few key pieces that I think are important when starting down this road:
- Know that it will be difficult. It might eventually get easier but it will probably never be easy.
- Understand that your natural tendency might be to avoid it. Like reading a book on how to swim and then avoiding the pool because you convince yourself that you don’t know enough to actually swim. The most liberating thing is to jump in the pool and sit with your fear for a bit.
- Start with yourself. Open a journal and get honest about who you are compared to who you want to be. This one step is low-risk since nobody is going to read the journal but you, and allows you to start accepting who you really are. Write about the masks that you wear. Write about the dreams that you have. Write about the pieces of you that you aren’t proud of.
- Once you start getting the hang of being vulnerable with yourself, pick at least one person that you want to deepen your relationship with. Schedule a coffee date (or wine date) with them and lay it out there. Let them know that you are trying this new thing, that it is scary, that you feel silly, and that you value them and wanted to start with them for this crazy project. Then open up about some of the things you journaled about, or about your relationship with them, or your job, or whatever as long as you are honest and not holding back.
- Start saying yes. We live in a world where it is really easy to opt out of engaging with others. So many choose Netflix over friendship because it is safe and easy. Start saying yes when people invite you over.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice with a stranger by giving them an honest compliment. Practice with your boss at your review. Practice with your kids. Everywhere you go there is an opportunity to step into this new you.