By Joe Bouchard
Vulnerability is an essential ingredient in connecting with the people in my life that I love. It has allowed others to understand my point of view, identify my intent, and provide support. In my own personal and professional interactions, I have found that there is a great amount of patience and understanding afforded to me when I am as open and vulnerable as possible. The more open I am, the more often people will share meaningful moments. It is in these moments of vulnerability that connection is born.
When vulnerability is looked at through the lens of emotion and communication, it becomes the purest definition of a paradox. Vulnerability in fact is not a weakness - it is a strength.
I've always had a love of words and their arrangement. A paradox, in my eyes, is one of many literary functions that provide a memorable moment to a reader. Professor and Writer Brene Brown has written and lectured prolifically on the topic of emotional vulnerability. She shares three key ideas about how to embrace the power of vulnerability.
1. Shame is a universal experience
An overwhelming majority of people on this planet feel shame. They’ve regretted decisions, “gotten away” with something, or let someone down. That shame, and negative self opinion, tends to lock down our ability to communicate and process shame into something resembling acceptance.
2. Courage and self-compassion allow us to embrace vulnerability.
It takes courage to share meaningful parts of your human experience, to other humans. Our shame is a force that we only imagine is opposing us, and it takes flat out courage to expose that shame for what it really is - a lack of compassion for yourself. Acceptance, love, and support are deployed when we feel true concern for someone else. If you are self compassionate then you are more likely to open your emotions in a vulnerable and honest way.
3. Vulnerability leads to joy and meaningful connections with others.
Brene Brown’s research shows that before you can be vulnerable, you will need to know what can get in the way. Head amongst them is “numbing your emotions”, described by Brown as habits like overeating, drinking, and other harmful tendencies. The problem with this is that you cannot “selectively numb”. You can’t take grief, fear, shame, disappointment, and choose to not feel them, without also numbing the other emotions. Unintentionally, we numb joy, gratitude and happiness and therefore struggle. You can feel miserable, begin to search for purpose, find yourself feeling vulnerable or unsure, and start numbing again.
I often question my ability to afford empathy to others, and as I listened to Brown, it made perfect sense that it is because I am always downplaying my achievements, big or small. Always overly critical of my own talents and their assessment by others. How can I offer acceptance to more people in my life without possessing the gift in the first place? In her research, Brown shares stories of people who live with acceptance, authenticity, and love for others without any guarantee, describing them as “wholehearted”. Someone who is wholehearted practices moments of gratitude and lean into joy even in moments of fear. They do not stop and dwell on what terrible things could happen and how it might hurt. Brown asserts, “we stop screaming and we start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”
In my eyes, the heart of the topic beats from courage. Every bit of self-doubt and fear is something to be conquered. You are enough and you have enough courage to defeat the fear of being vulnerable.