~ Art by guest artist: Rick Orobko ~
Vulnerability is often thought of as a weakness. According to the more commonly accepted definition of vulnerability it is the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment (Wikipedia). Merriam-Webster defines vulnerability as the quality or state of having little resistance to some outside agent; and, the state of being left without shelter or protection against something harmful. Synonyms include: defenselessness, weakness, helplessness, powerlessness, passiveness, passivity, feebleness, frailness, frailty, openness, proneness, sensitivity, receptiveness, receptivity, easiness, gullibility, naïveté.
While some of those related words seem to be negative traits to have, others like openness and receptivity are actually quite positive traits to possess. So, why is it that most do not want to be vulnerable. Mostly, because they do not want to be hurt or feel like they are not in control. Here is the thing, though, while vulnerability is the core of shame and fear, a struggle for worthiness, it is also the birthplace and foundation of joy, of creativity, of belonging, and of love. (Brené Brown).
Dr. Brown studied vulnerability and why people struggle with it. This is a summary of what she stated in her TED talk. People numb vulnerability (with addictions). She asked, “What makes you feel vulnerable?” She got responses like: “Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; Initiating sex with my husband; Initiating sex with my wife; Being turned down; Asking someone out; Waiting for the doctor to call back; Getting laid off; Laying off people…” And the way people cope with vulnerability is to numb it.”
Dr. Brown stated, “And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. I don’t want to feel these….You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
Dr. Brown continued, “One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn’t just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong…. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. We perfect. If there’s anyone who wants their life to look like this (a perfect gift package with a bow on top), it would be me, but it doesn’t work.”
“And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, ‘Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade.’ That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today. We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate — whether it’s a bailout, an oil spill, a recall — we pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge impact on other people. I would say to companies, this is not our first rodeo, people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, ‘We’re sorry. We’ll fix it.’ “
Here is the wisdom in Dr. Brown’s TED talk: “But there’s another way, and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say ‘I am just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’ And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”
In summary, we can consider the following in our challenge with being vulnerable: 1. Let ourselves be seen; 2. To love with our whole heart; 3. Practice gratitude and joy; 4. To believe WE are ENOUGH! (good enough, smart enough, etc.). As we embrace our vulnerability then we can be open, more loving and kinder with others.