“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Dr. Brené Brown
Every day, we face vulnerability: uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Our choice to engage in vulnerability and our willingness toward owning our stories will determine our depth of meaning and the clarity of our life’s purpose.
Though we may get the sense that it is weakness, vulnerability is the courage to show up and let ourselves be seen. Vulnerability, more or less, IS courage.
Consider the following examples of how vulnerability unravels in our day-to-day:
|Scenario||Not Expressing Vulnerability||Expressing Vulnerability|
|Watching your child move away from home||Foreboding joy for your child who is grown up and instead sitting in your sadness for the next few years||Expressing joy, sadness, and all other feelings that come up to them when they move away. AND expressing how you feel on phone calls.|
|Falling in love with someone||Avoiding the conversation altogether||Telling them you love them to their face|
|Getting married||Not talking about feelings of hesitation||Talk about feelings and needs with our partner and making clear requests for change|
|Becoming a parent||Falling into despair, avoiding our feelings, and letting your partner do all the work||Expressing our feelings with your partner|
|Being the only LGBTQ person in a company||Hiding gender preference, isolating and shaming oneself||Having candid conversations with coworkers about how isolation feels as an LGBTQ person|
|Experiencing loss of a friend||Going out and drinking the pain away||Talking candidly with close friends about feelings, needs, and concerns about making similar kinds of attachments|
|Being elderly in a nursing home during a pandemic||Hiding in ones room for years until the pandemic is over||Talking about mortality with patient care providers|
|Retiring from a 40+ year career||Numbing to feelings of despair||Finding a volunteer group of retirees, connecting over our feelings, and expressing ourself through service.|
|Experiencing trauma||Dividing humanity into good and bad, cutting off connection to people and new experiences||Talking to a trusted counselor about our trauma|
|Recovering from an addiction||Falling back into our addiction||Going to meetings and sharing our story|
Often our stories are messy and imperfect. And yet, no matter what, the ones who are open about their quirks, their weaknesses, and even darker emotions are striving for connection over disengagement with their lives.
This is vulnerability: an essential part of finding meaning and connection in life.
In the following section, we’ll reset our assumptions about vulnerability by exploring how it directly relates to finding meaning in our lives. On the Gist page, we’ll consider how vulnerability is defined. Then, through research, quizzes, and practices, we’ll learn some approachable strategies to become more authentic and emotionally resilient, and how to find a deeper sense of belonging.
Let’s get going!
An Overview In 3 Videos
In a few videos below, we’ll explore Vulnerability in the context of: what is vulnerability, why vulnerability is so important, and how we start dipping our toes into this murky waters of vulnerability.
In the below video, researcher Brené Brown explores her insights into the core of vulnerability – shame. She spent over 6 years uncovering the root causes of vulnerability and came to the conclusion that someone’s sense of worthiness is deeply connected.
- “Vulnerability takes courage” – Brown found that people who felt worthy shared a similar sense of courage, compassion, and connection.
- “Show up, face fear, and move forward” – The key findings of Brene’s research was “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love”. With everything we face, fear and criticism will always be there to try and steer us off course. The best thing to do is show up regardless, face it, and move forward with resilience.
- “Seek excellence, not perfection” – Perfectionism is often thought of as growth, improvement and personal achievement, but it’s really about avoidance and fear. Instead, focus on excellence – this is the best version of ourselves despite any perceived flaws we have. It’s a healthier, more inclusive way to look at ourselves and the world.
- Fear, insecurity, and doubt will never “go away” no matter what we do to hide or shield ourselves from those feelings. What we can do is build confidence in our authentic selves and know that at the end of the day, everyone is capable of using their gifts uniquely to overcome whatever challenges we face.
- “Dare to be yourself” – We must learn to embrace our mistakes and not be ashamed or embarrassed by our mistakes. Embrace strengths, skills, and beauty, as well as flaws and insecurities. In this way, we can realize our innermost strength and spirit.
The “So What?”
Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees with vulnerability. We get it. Vulnerability is risky. In the below video, we’ll be invited into a few perspectives on vulnerability and why in the end, it’s one of the most important things we can do to live a more connected and meaningful life.
- Vulnerability can be the bedrock of friendships and likeability. “We’re social creatures with a long evolutionary history that stressed the importance of not standing out in the group.”
- Vulnerability is an invitation to connect with our weaknesses, quirks, and darker emotions. If we learn to work with the shame and fear around these darker elements about ourselves, we can use them to find even deeper connections with ourselves.
- Statistically speaking, it’s pretty normal to be abnormal. So being able to share about these strange parts of ourselves allows others to feel a sense of curiosity about themselves. This level of curiosity can be a guide for us to map out a less lonely future and toward a more connected, authentic self.
The “Now What?”
There’s no better time to be more vulnerable. In the following video, we’ll learn about a few easy, initial steps to being vulnerable alongside author Simon Sinek!
- Sinek tells us the best place to start is being honest. Vulnerability isn’t about broadcasting everything. For example, with leaders, it might look like “I don’t know, but I have a vision to get there. I know I can’t do it alone. And it’s going to take all of us.”
- An easy way to dip your toes into vulnerability is by experimenting. We need people around us that can give us guidance – was this well-received, was that okay?
- Start experimenting with expressing vulnerability. Perhaps it sounds like, “I don’t know how to be vulnerable.” These can be good places to start grounding ourselves in vulnerability.
- Being strong all the time may not be healthy and true, for that matter. People are looking for guidance, and perhaps not certainty. If we can keep this in mind, in work, family, and with friends, we’re better able to sit in those uncertain spaces and emotions that come up.
Vulnerability Is Everywhere, All The Time
Vulnerability isn’t “just about deep conversations.” In fact, it touches every corner of our lives dozens of times a day, even when we’re by ourselves.
Vulnerability shows up across the entire span of our lives. It can extend to many situations in our lives, for example:
- Our partnerships
- Our friendships
- Our work
- Our bodies abilities
- When we’re alone
Writing our own wedding vows, talking about finances with our partners, or deciding we want to have a baby after all.
Talking to our child about a grandparent who just learned they have cancer and explaining the concept of mortality.
When we’re 80+, we may need diapers and someone to help us with bodily functions. How might vulnerability show up both externally and internally?
Our father, who all our lives hasn’t shown emotion, is walking us down the aisle at our wedding and shares how proud he is of us.
Moments Of Vulnerability Reflection
- In a journal, list 5 times in the past week that vulnerability has shown up.
- Next, write 5x times it’s shown up in a month, and 5x more examples in the past year.
- Then, write a sentence or two answering the following questions:
- What are some similarities in terms of when, where, and how vulnerability has come up in our lives (i.e., are they all while we’re alone? Are they all with family or a partner?)
- What do we notice about the amount of time in between these vulnerable experiences? Are we being more or less vulnerable?
- What are some other experiences where we could have been vulnerable, but weren’t?
Think Of It This Way
“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.” – Madeleine L’Engle
We are all worthy of love and belonging. We’re hard-wired for connection and because of this, we’re given the opportunity to create purpose and meaning in our lives. If we don’t have love, belonging, and connection, our lives may suffer for it.
In her studies, researcher and academic Brené Brown identified those who live their lives defined by courage, compassion, and connection as the “Wholehearted People.” We refer to this as an “Being Enough” mindset. According to Brown, the willingness to be vulnerable is one of the main catalysts to having a life defined by these qualities: feeling a sense of worthiness every day, AND finding meaning in their lives.
And yet, we so often misperceive opportunities to be vulnerable. Can you relate to any of these scenarios?
- It seems like they’re trying to draw me into talking about this. But I just don’t go there. Too deep…too complicated!
- I don’t want to talk about my feelings because it will be perceived as weakness. I’m not weak!
- If I open up about that, they’re going to think I’m crazy. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.!
In this section, we’ll unpack some of the most common misunderstandings about vulnerability, reshaping our understanding of it into a powerful skill that can open our lives and be shared with others.
How Does Vulnerability Relate To Meaning?
Vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”
We’re here because we want to know why Vulnerability provides a sense of belonging, enables us to feel empathy, and is a catalyst to finding meaning in our lives.
Take the following examples of how vulnerability relates to finding meaning in our lives:
|Scenario #1||Scenario #2||Scenario #3||How Vulnerability Relates To Meaning in Life|
|Our friend is about to give birth to their first child and we find out that they have terminal cancer.||We find out that our partner is cheating on us.||At the start of a global pandemic, we lose our job.||In moments of weakness, even if we think we’re fending off connection, these moments can potentially humanize us, and allow others to feel like they can be more vulnerable with others in their worlds.|
|Being single, they sit us down and make a life-altering request: are we willing to care of their child when they pass away.||We confide in our friends and express our feelings and needs around healthy relationships.||Because we don’t have an income, we can’t pay rent and move in with our parents who are willing to help.||There’s a certain level of vulnerability that could be the bedrock of incredibly rare relationships for each of us. If we can be truly vulnerable in these moments, we can experience a much greater sense of friendship, love, and belonging.|
|Tragically, after giving birth and undergoing radiation treatment for cancer, our friend passed away and we take care of their child.||After a year of processing the loss of our relationship, we go on a first date.||Realizing that we’re not alone in losing our jobs, we realize the power of online merchants and creative communities. We start our own business out of our parent’s basement, and realize that this occurrence actually allowed space for digging deep and expressing a more creative, authentic self through our work.||In the end, vulnerability shows us that we’re strong enough to be weak and wear our anger or sadness on our sleeves. When we do this, people around us see how we can allow them into the confusing parts of ourselves — the part of us that’s authentic..
This is the essence of being known and finding a sense of belonging to our authentic selves.
The ability to admit fear and pain, to understand and work with our darker emotions, and ask for help is how we become more engaged human beings.
With this in mind, expressing ourselves through a lens of vulnerability can help us fast-track that sense of meaning we’re all searching for in life! In essence, to live a more meaningful life, we must lean into vulnerability.
The path to greater Vulnerability may look cloudy. But it is beautiful. And over each hill waits a beautiful vista of self-empowerment.
Below is a list of all the pages you’ll find in this section.
Where To Now?
- Understanding Vulnerability – This is your essential page for understanding Vulnerability and how improve it as a skill.
- Myths About Vulnerability – Why is it so complicated? What are the common pitfalls?
- Benefits of Vulnerability – Why is it good to be vulnerable?
- Hindrances to Vulnerability – What is driving our fear of being vulnerable?
- Being Enough – Look at where self-esteem, authenticity, and other fundamentals meet at vulnerability.
- Practice and Exercises – All exercises & printouts from throughout the Vulnerability section.
- Resources – Inspiration, links, books, videos, and more, curated for your Vulnerability journey.
Through research, psychotherapy practices, and quizzes, we’ll learn about ways to combat shame, create healthy boundaries, and live by our values. Together we’ll unpack how people with an ‘Enough Mindset’ wake up in the morning and say “I am enough.” We’ll break through the armor we put on, learn how to stay emotionally safe while being vulnerable, and develop a lifelong capacity to be vulnerable.
With activities, exercises and reflection questions, we’ll be able to create a more vulnerable way of being for ourselves and those around us to enjoy.
Let’s get going!