The Vulnerability Myth

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Horace the philosopher

The ancient Roman philosopher, Horace, wrote that “It is the false shame of fools to try to conceal wounds that have not healed.”

If I advertised a seminar titled How to Forgive and Forget, or How to Move Past Painful Problems from the Past, or How to Overcome Shame and Guilt, how many people do you think would be clamoring to come to such a public gathering? Because it would be like admitting that issues such as these are current life obstacles, I think not very many would come.

I posed that question to my friends on Facebook and was actually quite surprised at the response. Virtually all the respondents said they’d come and bring their friends. However, those who would be too embarrassed to come to such a seminar would be unlikely to share that fact on Facebook.

Few people are willing to admit to struggles with forgiveness, or that various kinds of fear are keeping them trapped in yesterday’s patterns, or that they are paralyzed by shame. But that’s not saying much. An unwillingness to step out of the shadows of shame and other such debilitating preoccupations is one of the things that keep people right where they are!

Perhaps most of us have such a tough time admitting to personal struggles because most of us happen to believe the destructive myth that vulnerability is synonymous with weakness. The truth of the matter is that the opposite is the case. Vulnerability, according to Ph.D. and University of Houston research professor, Brené Brown, “is emotional risk, exposure, and uncertainty…” and “… our most accurate measurement of courage.”

Brene Brown, a researcher on vulnerability.

Here’s another myth: the idea that things like fear, pain, guilt, and shame can be hidden. They can’t. Evidences of those obstacles to a better life leak out in various ways in almost all of our human interactions. No, most of the people we interact with are not experts in reading body language and the nuances of voice and facial strain, but you know what I’m saying here is true.

It’s that lurking fear of exposure that distracts many of us while in the midst of even in the most mundane conversation. How do I keep myself from being discovered? Can they tell how broken I am? I’ve got to appear competent.

If I am describing you, I invite you to refuse to continue to play the game. It is simply too stressful and unproductive. Because the effort to hide is often more conspicuous than we are aware of, in the effort itself we’re giving off all kinds of evidence we’re hiding something… which tends to defeat the purpose of hiding! The result is that we’re not really hiding; we’re acting. And while the act certainly fools some of the people some of the time, it does not fool all of the people all of the time. So stop doing it.

If you are willing to reject the myth that you are able to successfully hide your fears and insecurities – embracing the fact that you’re every bit as human as the rest of us – then do the logical thing: reject the other myth; the lie that vulnerability is weakness.

Being vulnerable isn’t weak. It is an admirable exhibition of strength. To risk exposure (of what exactly?), or rejection (by who exactly?), or failure (how exactly?), is an act of courage. To be willing to acknowledge the existence of scars rather than continuing to try to conceal them is to give permission to another person that, with you, they are safe in doing the same thing. And that is not only an act of courage. It is an act of pure beauty.

So, tread softly. This is sacred ground we’re talking about. When someone voluntarily pulls back their curtain, do not violate the honor you’ve been paid. And if you are the one contemplating being vulnerable with another, simply announce the difficulty of what you’re about to share, that it feels risky, but that you believe the person you are about to reveal yourself to has earned the honor of being given at least some insight into the real you.

Then go for it.

Albert Camus

Nobel Prize winning author, Albert Camus, famously wrote, “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

Today’s post isn’t about How to Forgive and Forget, or How to Move Past Painful Problems from the Past, or How to Overcome Shame and Guilt. It’s about how to create the emotional atmosphere whereby you will attract the kind of quality relationships needed in order to cope with life’s issues: be transparent. Be vulnerable.

If you accept this invitation, you may never be a Nobel Prize winner, but you will certainly win prized, rewarding relationships that will, then, help make it possible for you to overcome virtually any obstacle in your way.  The old cliché is true: “Joy shared is doubled and sorrow shared is halved.”

Start by embracing the myth-busting fact that vulnerability is not weakness. It is, as Brené Brown says, “our most accurate measurement of courage.”

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