I hate being vulnerable. It feels terrifying – like fighting a bear with a pool noodle or the nightmare where you show up to school in your underwear and have to give a presentation in front of the class kind of terrifying. I don’t like it.
The definition of vulnerability is “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon.” So it’s no surprise that I hate it and try to avoid it whenever possible. In situations in which I am made to feel vulnerable, I tend to get anxious and fidgety and look for the quickest way out. Our culture often encourages us in our avoidance of vulnerability because it views vulnerability as a weakness. The “ideal person” seems to be one that has no vulnerabilities, no limits or needs. He or she is capable of working long hours perpetually. The ideal person is “always on” and equipped for every challenge. He or she has no weaknesses, no limits, no needs. The ideal person is invulnerable. However, if I deny that I am vulnerable, am I also denying that I am human?
To be human is to have limits, whether we like it or not. Our society is constantly creating new ways to increase our capabilities via technology and innovation. This increase in capability, however, is not matched by a proportionate increase in human capacity. Is there a point at which we are getting pulled behind the wheel we just invented? We often act as though we are people of unlimited capacity, but at what cost? Could it be possible that when we portray ourselves as limitless and without need, we then isolate ourselves from those around us who are aware of their own limits and needs?
Our upbringing and social environments influence our view of vulnerability. If we grow up in an environment in which being vulnerable is viewed as a sign of immaturity, we may hide areas of insufficiency or hurt. We may not admit to those around us that we are lacking what is needed which could cause harm to ourselves or for the community as a whole. We may hide a previous hurt associated with a situation, only to have the wound constantly prodded because others are unaware. If we grow up in a culture in which vulnerability is portrayed as negative, then it will seem logical for us to view it as a weakness and something to be avoided.
I would invite you to consider viewing vulnerability not as merely a state of immaturity or weakness, but as a possible path to freedom for a healthy adult.
When we choose vulnerability and embrace our limits or wounds, we open ourselves up to experience growth, healing and relationship. When we are vulnerable about our limitations or emotional and physical needs, we exercise our humanity. When we exercise our humanity, we invite in the dynamic experiences and resources of community.
This community must be a safe place in which our vulnerability is respected and encouraged. Our community is often a place of competition instead of complementation and growth. If within our community we feel threatened by either competition or exploitation, our self-preservation response may activate and shut off our humanity.
A healthy community acknowledges that we are humans with needs and limits. As we move towards self care, we must cultivate communities in which vulnerability can flourish. Communities in which our weaknesses are met with grace and developed with sincere truth. Communities in which we can be people in process.
I am learning not to fear vulnerability. I am not necessarily running towards it with arms wide open, but I am dipping my toes in the waters. If you would like to learn more about vulnerability and cultivating a healthy community, I would suggest the following resources:
Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection
Kelly McGonigal’s talk How to Make Stress Your Friend
Brene Brown’s video The Power of Vulnerability
Grace & Peace,