Before I get too entrenched in sharing the seemingly never-ending terrifying challenge that is “being vulnerable,” it might do us all some good to clarify exactly what I’m talking about. First off, I define vulnerability as something that is powerful. It’s a definition that runs counter to mainstream culture’s great misconception about the word — that vulnerability is synonymous with frail, flawed, and weak. The actual opposites of vulnerability are not strength nor power but less inviting concepts like fake, inauthentic, hiding, and pretending.
When I speak of vulnerability, I’m talking about letting people see us at both our best and our worst.
It feels almost equally scary for me to be observed in a state of greatness as it does to be seen in the darkness of my full-on beast who cries and shits and sleeps too long and forgets to renew my license plate tags.
To me, the expression of vulnerability is the very act of being a human. But if it’s so central to my humanity then why is it so damn difficult? Why does the thought of sharing my honest truth leave me with a sensation of burning in my chest and shortness of breath? Those are the sensations I feel when I’m scared and anxious! That’s how my body usually tells me, “It’s time to run, dude. Things aren’t kosher here.”
How could telling the truth about my thoughts and feelings could cause such a dramatic physiological response?
Because, at our core, we have evolved a highly-attuned social attachment system which we rely on to keep ourselves connected to community, and it, in turn, keeps us alive and safe. If I were to deviate too much from my tribe’s cultural expectations, I would risk rejection, ostracism, isolation, and consequently a shrinking of my access to community resources.
This burning I feel in my chest is my very own evolutionary biology warning me away from danger. In fact, it’s screaming at me in the clearest language my body and mind understand — deeply uncomfortable feelings.
I could stop the journey of vulnerability right here. Together, you and I can throw our computers right into the trash and go to sleep.
“Uncomfortable feelings from evolution!?” You might think to yourself, “Well, that’s reason enough for me to shut this down!”
But we’re not doing that. You didn’t start reading this to just to abandon the concept of being authentic half-way through. Similarly, I didn’t write it just to leave us both grasping the same old neurological programming that keeps us distant from our deepest desires of love, acceptance, and connection.
I invite you: Go deeper with me.
You might wonder, though. Of all the scary, boundary-pushing things to focus on, of all the alarming possibilities that trigger an anxiety response, why am I so enamored with vulnerability? Well, I consider it an act of bravery to honor both my desires and my truth in a world that has its own expectations for how I should live.
Second, frankly it’s because I suck at it and I think it’s important not to suck at, so I want to get better. It’s important to me not to suck because revealing myself vulnerably is, at its very essence, what it means to be a human.
Vulnerability is an act of truth and humanity.
Said in a slightly more colorful way, vulnerability is being in this circus-of-a-world and walking the high-wire, only you’re doing it without a net. The risk here is real and your life actually might be at stake.
Vulnerability is what makes life feel alive.
It is one of the primary energies that surges through this game we play on Earth together.
When we are vulnerable, we take on the task of working out our passions and vision in front of everyone.
The vulnerability paradox: It’s the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I want you to see in me.
Vulnerability is required to be truly loved. It is in showing all of ourselves, revealing both our talents and our tactlessness — our songs and our sorrows that we open to true love. This very opening is what enables another person to accept us completely and love us fully.
If we don’t show up “warts and all” in the context of relationship, the only parts of us that have a chance of being loved is our performance of “being a good person”. That’s just not real and, as a result, not deeply attractive.
Embracing our vulnerabilities may be risky, but in my estimation, it’s not nearly as dangerous as giving up on what is available — being accepted, having a sense of deep belonging and relaxing into joyful comfort.
Our vulnerable nature is one of our deepest human truths.
Think about it. We are all subject, at any moment, to forces which could abolish our existence in a fraction of a second.
An asteroid could fall from the sky, crashing into your home. A car could run a red light and end your life on the spot. Even the safest people are still subject to the historically curious phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion.
With a few exceptional religious narratives aside, the act of being alive is by definition to be vulnerable to death.
Yet, for the most part, we continue to hide behind our green velvet curtains, projecting a god-like persona into the world, flanked by captivating fireballs (or snapchat filters), and hoping against hope that Dorothy’s little dog Toto doesn’t grab at a corner of the drapery and pull it back to reveal our very ordinary looking “wizardry”.
Vulnerability is a vote of confidence in our ability to handle consequences.
When you are no longer hiding behind excuses, pretending you don’t have desires or hoping no one sees the things you consider imperfect, you do risk real-life consequences.
This is the reason more people do not risk sharing their truth in the world — they are afraid of what is going to happen next.
I won’t tell you that rejection is unlikely. I have no idea how cruel your friends are. What I can say is that once you face whatever consequences there are, you increase your ability to face those consequences again.
Being honest about your truth and heart’s desires will give you an opportunity to practice strength, bravery, resilience, and self-respect in the face of any reactions that arise.
One could even say, we’re not actually that afraid of being rejected, but we are afraid that we don’t have the coping skills and emotional intelligence to handle it.
Vulnerability is an act of power.
Put simply, when you put your weakness on display, it can be so jarring, such pattern-interrupting behavior, that it silently signals to others that you are either a fool or someone with deep unseen strength. Someone not to fuck with.
“To show your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”
Vulnerability is an act of reclaiming our energy.
We all expend a tremendous amount of time and energy hiding parts of ourselves from others. In fact, there’s a good chance that you are completely unaware that you are even doing it. Hiding from others has become such a native way-of-being for so many of us, that it is hard to clearly separate it from the truth about who we are. We call it “being polite”, or “appropriate” or “professional”.
These are all thinly veiled synonyms for the excuses we hide behind when we exert time and energy lying about what we really think. But why do we do it? Because we are afraid we are unequipped to handle the consequences.
What is the benefit of telling people that you’re being vulnerable? Doesn’t that just make you a showboat?
Maybe? Probably? Who cares.
I’m not concerned with boat showmanship, I’m concerned with relationship. The world needs leaders who are willing to stand up and put themselves on the line and be visible examples of vulnerability, the consequences of it and the reactions to it. Yes, you absolutely risk people from your past calling your motives or integrity into question. You will garner new projections from people who feel comforted or disquieted by your sharing. Still, in other cases, folks will be inspired to follow you. None of these things are about you.
I publicly put myself on the line for the sake of practicing vulnerability with integrity and inspiring others to do the same.
I choose to declare my journey toward vulnerability publically for the same reason I declare anything publically — it’s a stand of leadership. I am committed to inspiring those who want to expand into more truth and honesty. I publically put myself on the line for the sake of practicing vulnerability with integrity and inspiring others to do the same.
Being vulnerable publically is an act of leadership that invites others to follow. As my friend Zedrick Clark say, “Anything I do or don’t do gives others permission to do the same.” I concur.
So, if at the end of your day, leading others does not appeal to you; if honesty and authenticity do not inspire you toward sharing yourself; and if you do not care to signal your hidden power to others, then consider stepping into vulnerability simply because it scares you. By taking on such tasks, we expanding our way-of-being into that which is uncomfortable initially. Once acclimated to that discomfort, the very thing that triggered the anxious, fearful responses now barely warrants a single shallow breath. It has been reprogrammed.
It is this expansion of being that inspires me. The ability to choose anything at any moment. For me, the ability to be vulnerable and honest without hesitation is a deeply worthwhile skill set to move into my comfort zone and I hope you find that to be true as well.