In coaching and leading group courses, I work with people frequently around the experience of vulnerability and how to process, cope with, and move through feeling vulnerable.
The word vulnerability alone can bring up feelings of discomfort. We may run from it, deny that we are susceptible to it, or even feel the desire to avoid others when they are feeling vulnerable. It is a powerful thing and it is part of the human experience.
Various definitions can be found, but Brene’ Brown has a magnificent way of wrapping words around emotions and experiences. The definition that she shares accurately describes why it feels so uncomfortable:
This definition does not exactly bring about the desire to lean into feeling this on a regular basis. It does, however, shine a light on the reason so many of us struggle with vulnerability.
From a young age, we are exposed to expectations around how to respond to feeling vulnerable and influenced in what to believe about vulnerability. Displaying emotion may be viewed as weakness and to protect ourselves, we learn to shut emotion down. We may be judged when we take a chance on connecting with other people or sharing our ideas or creations and, in response, we may attempt to completely avoid ever feeling vulnerable by simply not putting ourselves out there any longer.
The leadership and culture of our workplaces sets the tone for what is acceptable in that environment. Employees can experience strong motivation to avoid displaying any emotion or sharing what they think and feel for fear of backlash or loss of respect. Men and women can also have very different expectations modeled for each gender, affecting levels of trust overall.
The media teaches us what is acceptable through movies, shows, the actions of celebrities, and social media. Many times, what is modeled and taught is not helpful. The current culture of social media can be quick to attack from a safe and sometimes anonymous distance. If we come to believe that vulnerability is weakness, we will most likely do all we can to avoid this experience altoghether.
The belief that vulnerability is weakness is dangerous to our emotional health. Because vulnerability is at the very core of feeling, it is at the very core of everything that gives our lives meaning. It is intimately intertwined with the emotions that we want to feel and it leads to character strengths that enable purpose.
We cannot love another being, or put our creative endeavors out into the world, or bravely stand up for ourselves without taking a risk, feeling uncertain about how it will all go, or opening ourselves up. These experiences are all borne from vulnerability and courage, and they all lead to growth and strength.
If we want to have the rich experience of living into and feeling into our lives, we must resist the temptation to choose not to be vulnerable. It’s a part of the human experience. The good news is that vulnerability and courage come together and when we can bravely show up in our lives as our authentic selves, we can experience connection, belonging, and meaning.
So, this week, I invite you to explore what vulnerability is like for you. Dig in to your own beliefs around vulnerability and think back on times when you were brave to see how vulnerability played a part.
I am happy to share in your growth and bravery, so reach out if you feel you need support. I will be practicing right along with you.
Chat again soon,