Thanks to Brené Brown and the steady rise of awareness around mental health, the word vulnerability is everywhere. After a recent conversation with a friend where we were throwing around the word vulnerability and insecurity, I got curious and decided to look up the actual definitions for these words.
When I did I made a shocking discovery.
Insecurity is defined as: “the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection.”
Vulnerability is defined as: “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”
Are you seeing what I’m seeing?!
The similarities are shocking, and the differences are subtle but powerful. There is a defenselessness in both words; a potential for exposure to pain whether physical or emotional. What helps us understand the major difference between them is the word “possibility” found in the definition for vulnerability.
With insecurity you are actively feeling exposed to something threatening. Whereas with vulnerability, you are painfully aware of the possibility you could be exposed to something harmful. Hidden in the idea of vulnerability is the possibility that you may be harmed in some way, but you haven’t experienced that harm yet. With vulnerability you’re standing on the precipice, whereas with insecurity you’ve made the leap and you’re right at the center of feeling exposed or “harmed” in some way.
When we’ve been vulnerable and it wasn’t received well, or we didn’t get the response we hoped for, we usually feel insecure. This shows us that the relationship between these two words are much stronger than we realized.
Brené Brown in her famous research on shame, talks about the relationship between vulnerability and shame. She calls it the shame-resilience research. She shares her discoveries about how there is a high potential for us to feel shame as a result of having been vulnerable (aka vulnerability hangover).
She also discovered that the most powerful antidote to shame is vulnerability. Although vulnerability presents a risk for feeling shame, it also provides a powerful way out of shame. I wonder if insecurity and vulnerability hold a similar relationship?
What I said that day with my friend was that insecurity is insatiable. I had said that many times before but when I saw how much it resonated with her I wondered if there was more to it then I had previously thought. When I started digging into the meaning of vulnerability and insecurity, I realized that if vulnerability says, “hey, if you say or do this it will be RISKY”–aka, it could lead to feeling insecure, then the way out of insecurity could be to access vulnerability again.”
If vulnerability and insecurity present the risk of feeling shame if things don’t go “to plan”, couldn’t it also present the opportunity to experience freedom even after things haven’t turned out the way we had hoped?
If we take the courageous step to be vulnerable with someone we deem safe in the midst of our insecurity, we could diffuse its power in our lives.
So we could say that insecurity is only insatiable as long as we avoid vulnerability.
We remain in the grip of insecurity if we pledge allegiance to our pride and mask our true thoughts and feelings. What we hide keeps us hidden. However, the grip of insecurity loosens when we take another risk and express what we need to feel safe and secure again.
Since insecurity has an insatiable nature, no kind and reassuring words from another person can really make the difference. We are the only one who can make the decision to be vulnerable, no one can do that for us. It’s in the act of taking ownership of our feelings of insecurity, and leaning into the power of vulnerability, that we find freedom from insecurity.