The Power of Vulnerability

Society can do a poor job of showing the benefits of vulnerability. It’s heralded as a weakness, or labeled as “dramatic” or “emotional.” Apparently it’s exactly what everyone should be straying from.

Is it though? Isn’t vulnerability, rather than the weak thing, really the harder stance to take? Think about it. When you are arguing with a loved one, or with one of your kids, or your mom, dad, friend, or co-worker, isn’t your first instinct to go on the defensive, start criticizing them, or try to show them what they did wrong? I would suggest that being defensive is being dramatic and emotional, both of which are much easier than sharing what you are really feeling beneath the surface. Being vulnerable in that moment would require being open and exposed…true to how you really feel. Vulnerability would say something like “I’m hurt because I miss you, so when you work really late and don’t tell me, I think you don’t want to spend time with me, that other things are more important.” It may come in the form of asking someone out, saying you’re sorry, or asking for support. Do we ever really pause long enough to say what we really feel– alone, unimportant, not good enough, unappreciated, disconnected, or afraid–without our protective gear of blame, criticism, or defensiveness? Usually not.

Why, you ask? The short answer is that being vulnerable is scary. People get defensive when they feel like someone doesn’t understand them or isn’t taking their feelings or viewpoint seriously. An internal alarm goes off when we feel hurt or scared, and we try desperately to change the circumstances and reclaim a sense of belonging and acceptance. So we get defensive, we walk away, or we point out the other’s flaws. Or we turn to food, alcohol, work, or medications to get our mind off of how we really feel. We have a lot of different ways to avoid being vulnerable.

So what is the benefit to all the hard work of being vulnerable? It’s where true connection lies, where true happiness is possible, where support is found. Connection is an integral part of our existence, and in order for connection to be present in a relationship we have to allow ourselves to be seen, to be known. You can only be known as deeply as you are willing to share about yourself. It feels safer to put up the defense, but it keeps people from knowing you, from understanding you, from being there for you. Maybe you’ve been hurt before and that’s why there is a wall up, an offensive strategy. The only way to truly heal from those hurts or allow another person the opportunity to act differently is to open up, be vulnerable, and tell them how you feel.

So the next time you feel like closing yourself off, when you feel like being vulnerable would give the other person the one up, it’s important to remember that vulnerability is what keeps relationships real, it keeps them alive, it keeps them connected. In order to have happy feelings we must share our hurt feelings. It’s the harder thing to do, but far more rewarding.

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