The Power of Vulnerability: “It’s where courage meets fear”

Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Try to think about the last time that you felt vulnerable.  What were the circumstances?  Do you remember what it felt like?  How would you describe that feeling?  How did the feeling show up in your body?

Was it akin to: feeling open and naked, wondering if you are going to fall off that very high limb that you just put yourself out on?  Out of control?  Free-falling?  Terrifying?  Exposed?  These all might be words to describe the feeling of vulnerability — among many others.  I’m currently engrossed in Dr. Brene Brown‘s newest book: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead in which Dr. Brown spends a lot of time uncovering different facets of vulnerability and tells her own story with this concept that many of us seem to avoid.

Dr. Brown’s definition of vulnerability invited me to pause and truly reflect on my own relationship with being vulnerable.  She describes it as:

“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”

Reading that might cause a ripple of anxiety go up and down your spine.  Our society today has adopted a kind of fear mentality that breeds anxiety and avoids vulnerability.  We have been through so much in the past decade — war, violence, loss, recession — that we feel we must protect ourselves.  But what Dr. Brown asserts, and what many of us might now know, is that being vulnerable comes from a place of power.  “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, creativity, belonging, joy, courage, and empathy.  It is the source of hope, accountability, and authenticity.  If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path,” asserts Dr. Brown.

In short, vulnerability is feeling and feeling is connection to our life’s purpose.

In perusing this, I reflected on my own life story and the character that vulnerability has played.  What has it taught me?  How has it helped me grow?  In exploring this, I am able to help my clients find their own empowerment through vulnerability (while holding space for fear of exploring this topic).

Here are some things that I have done that have made me vulnerable:

  • started my own business
  • explored my own emotions, feelings, and dark spots
  • chosen recovery and didn’t look back
  • fell in love
  • used my voice and asserted myself with risk of losing a relationship
  • pushed myself to take risks that I hadn’t done before

And this is how I felt: naked, somewhat raw, but also solid.  Dr. Brown surveyed many people with this same question — what did you do to be vulnerable and how did it feel? — and the most common response was “naked”.  Naked is what we are when we were born and despite all of the layers we put on throughout the years of our lives, naked vulnerability is the place where we find the inner peace we’re looking for.  Why?  Because we are expressing ourselves honestly, directly, and wholeheartedly, a light shining from our true selves.  When we are our true, open self, we are in touch with emotions that make us human — all shades of emotions, from “dark” ones to “light” ones.  And if we can offer acceptance and not judgement to our wide range of emotions, then we are able to overcome challenges and build resiliency.

Dr. Brown suggests that we shy away from vulnerability because we feel we need a “shield” in a society that constantly tells us that we “don’t have enough” or that we “aren’t enough”.  This passage, taken from the book The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, really struck me:

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.”  The next one is “I don’t have enough time”.  Whether true or not, that thought of “not enough” occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it.  We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. . . Before we even sit up in bed, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something.  This internal condition of scarcity lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, our arguments with life. . . “

What if we embraced that we are enough just as we are today?  We don’t need to do anything else?  Would that make being vulnerable less scary?  What change might happen if we were to embrace vulnerability?  And what if being vulnerable was the vehicle for the change that you’re yearning for?

As we continue to explore the complexities of vulnerability and its relationship to shame and other emotions, please take a look at Dr. Brown’s talk about the power of vulnerability — a video that has touched people around the world.

How can you “dare greatly” today?