In the book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Brené says that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.
Vulnerability is something that should be strived for in our meaningful relationships. Allowing ourselves to be genuinely seen for who we are can be meaningful, freeing and bonding. However, determining what, when, how, and with whom to share our vulnerabilities can be challenging. Many well-meaning individuals have shared vulnerable parts of themselves at times, in ways, or with other individuals which were not conducive to to these positive outcomes (meaning, freeing, bonding). Let me share a few examples to illustrate.
The Rejected Dater
In college, a talented, beautiful, and kind friend of mine would find herself continually feeling rejected after being vulnerable. She would meet a guy–they would hit it off and go on a date. As the date would progress and go well, she would feel chemistry or a genuine connection, and feel comfortable sharing some more defining or traumatic experiences from her past. She would come home from the date feeling deeply connected to this guy, and then be devastated when he did not follow-up. She concluded that these guys did not accept her or want her because of her past; this led to her feeling utterly unworthy and rejected with no hope of having a romantic relationship, as she could not change her past.
However, it was not her past that was the issue, it was what, when and how she was sharing it that created issues. She was not following a natural progression of vulnerability where as relationships are built, we steadily share more and more about ourselves.
By following a more natural progression of vulnerability, we can gain more confidence that the relationship is a safe place to share those vulnerabilities, and the person with whom your sharing is worthy to hear it. This is not to say that you should hide aspects about yourself, only that you do not have to share your deepest vulnerabilities with everyone in order to connect. There are many ways to connect and some vulnerabilities can be saved for the most meaningful and trusting relationships.
Even with these guidelines, it is important to understand that not everyone will respond in the way we hope. In those cases, I urge you to consider that others reactions to our vulnerabilities often says more about them than it does about us. You–with all of your vulnerabilities and imperfections–are strong, beautiful and worthy!
The Woman Whose Identity was Her Trauma
A client I worked with in residential treatment center had been thriving in her treatment, and able to return home for a week long visit. When discussing her travels, she elaborated on a “great conversation” she had with a man sitting next to her on the plane. She spent two hours sharing with him an extensive trauma history, including her past sexual and physical abuse, drug addiction, and suicide attempts. When I asked her why she chose to share that information with a stranger, she replied, “It’s the only thing that makes me interesting.” While there is no doubt that her story was captivating and shaped her in many ways, it was not the only thing that made her interesting nor the only thing that defined her.
While our past trauma is truly some of our greatest–and possible most meaningful–vulnerabilities, sharing your trauma is not the only way to be vulnerable. Practicing vulnerability may include reaching out to others, sharing memories–positive or negative, trying something new, laughing at yourself, or embracing and imperfection.
Vulnerability is an amazing tool you can use to bring positivity into your life, so go use it and use it in the ways that will help bring about the best results.