Let’s face it, vulnerability is scary.
And it’s a natural human experience. It’s that lump in your throat. Sweaty palms and a racing heart. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. And life is full of these (often very pivotal) moments where we are met with a choice to be courageous in the face of fear. And when we make it out alive, it feels damn good. We feel proud of ourselves for saying what we needed to say, standing up for ourselves, or taking the leap. It’s clarity. It’s our truth. It’s real and raw. And it’s this beauty on the other side that makes vulnerability the ultimate path to true joy and growth in life.
Being vulnerable is scary because we we live in a culture of scarcity where most of us are wired to think we will never be good enough, perfect enough, thin enough, powerful enough, smart enough, and the list goes on. This “never enough” problem perpetuates us in a vicious cycle of shame, comparison, and disengagement when what we really crave is connection.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” She also debunks four myths about what vulnerability isn’t.
Myth #1: Vulnerability is Weakness
Some basic examples of vulnerability are: standing up for yourself, asking for help, saying no, starting your own business, getting fired, falling in love, trying something new, admitting you’re afraid, asking for forgiveness, and having faith. It is getting knocked down seven times and standing up eight. It is choosing to courageously stay open in the face of overwhelming uncertainty.
Do any of the above examples of vulnerability sound like weakness? NO!
Vulnerability means feeling. What is dangerous is when we start to associate feeling with weakness. It is never weak to feel and experience life. It may be extremely uncomfortable, but it is not weakness. Allowing ourselves to feel is one of our basic human needs. It goes right along with our need for belonging and safety. Willingness to show up and be courageous is never weakness.
Myth #2: “I Don’t Do Vulnerability”
Choosing to opt out of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure is just not realistic. Life is vulnerable. Just take a look back at that brief list of examples. If you find yourself operating from the belief that you “don’t do vulnerability,” Brown suggests asking yourself these three questions: 1) What do I do when I feel emotionally exposed? 2) How do I behave when I’m feeling very uncomfortable and uncertain? and 3) How willing am I to take emotional risks? If you truly don’t know the answers, ask someone you are close to.
This process helps because regardless of our willingness to “do vulnerability,” it does us. Attempting to avoid vulnerability causes us to engage in behaviors that are often inconsistent with who we want to be. May as well understand it, accept it, and embrace it.
Myth #3: Vulnerability is Letting it All Hang Out
“Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.” -Brené Brown
Next time you’re about to share something with someone (or a lot of people), take a moment to check your motive. Who are you sharing this with? Have you processed the experience on your own already? Do you have a clear understanding of it? We don’t share our deepest struggle with someone the moment we meet them. Check your motive. Are you craving attention? Are you feeling bad about yourself? Allow yourself time to process your own experiences first. Next, share them with people you trust when you are ready. Then, after even more time has passed, it may be the right time to share them with the world.
Myth #4: We Can Go it Alone
Our culture places high value on individualism. If you’re like me, you tend to think you’re Superwoman and can solve everything by yourself. Reality is, that’s just not realistic. If we want to be vulnerable and experience a life of joy and connection, we have to accept support.
“We need folks who will let us try on new ways of being without judging us. We need a hand to pull us up off the ground when we get kicked down in the arena (and if we live a courageous life, that will happen).” -Brené Brown
Most of us are great at giving help, but we also need to ask for help, too, and practice allowing ourselves to be supported. This all comes back our self-worth. When we know our worth, we take good care of ourselves. This often means asking for help and taking support when needed.
Bottom line: anytime we put ourselves out there, we risk being criticized or feeling hurt. This is the heart of vulnerability.
Back to the scarcity epidemic: it’s important to understand that the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. The answer isn’t to go from “never enough” to “more than enough.” We need to go from “never enough” to simply “enough,” a concept Brené Brown has coined Wholeheartedness, which “at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
When our self-worth is high, potential criticism and worries of feeling hurt have a lot less power over us. This is the direction we want to go. But, how?
Self care practices strengthen self-worth
The biggest thing we can do to embrace vulnerability is practice self-love. Notice how the scarcity mindset takes form in your own life. Work on your self-worth by taking care of yourself. You belong here. You have a purpose. You are enough. Just the way you are. Know that you were wired into this predicament and it’s going to take practice, patience, and lots of compassion with yourself to learn a new way of being. You are WORTH IT. Don’t give up.
On an energetic level, worthiness and self-love have to do with the root & sacral chakras. Learn ways to balance these chakras in my posts titled “Six Ways to Balance Your Root Chakra” and “All About the Sacral Chakra.” To learn more about the chakra system, check out my post titled “Getting to Know Your Chakras.”
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone. Brown’s TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 30 million views.