The Many Shades of Vulnerability

Somehow the word vulnerability has become a trendy “buzz word” over the past few years, and it’s actually fascinating when you consider that the definition is: “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”

I would imagine that if you’re anything like me, the notion of vulnerability is both attractive and terrifying all at the same time. We all have parts of our hearts or stories that feel “vulnerable”, and we often spend a lot of time and energy shielding and protecting those areas from being exposed for fear of further hurt or rejection.

As a counselor even though I talk a lot with clients about the importance of vulnerability, it wasn’t until I was having a conversation about something completely different with two new friends over Mexican that I realized something about vulnerability I had never seen.

This new friend asked me about some of the most important qualities I’m attracted to in a guy. The first thing that came to mind was kindness. My friend smiled and said, “well, sure, but kindness can look really different from person to person, and kindness to me may not look like kindness to you.” She went on, “so, what does kindness look like to you?”

–INSERT LIGHTBULB MOMENT–

I realized then that kindness, just like vulnerability, has very specific implications depending on the person. For instance, when a guy goes out of his way to notice the outsider and bring them into the group, that to me is kindness.

So, what about this idea of vulnerability? What if the experience of being vulnerable may look vastly different from person to person, accompanied by varying challenges, weaknesses, and strengths?

For those enneagram lovers out there, you’ll know that as an enneagram type 2w3 (“the helper/achiever”), type 2’s are known to have a difficult time with vulnerability. When I first read that I was like, “Oh no way, I feel like I’m ok with being vulnerable.” But it wasn’t until I was in a work training and began panicking inside when I felt tears come bubbling to the surface that it dawned on me–the aspect of vulnerability I struggle with is when being vulnerable means showing weakness.

I can share my heart freely, I can receive the most difficult stories from others with an open heart, I can love deeply, freely, and quickly. But what I can’t do easily AT ALL? Allow myself to show weakness to another…to be human, flawed, and imperfect. THAT is the hard stuff for me.

So, I realized that vulnerability, as is kindness and every other attribute, is nuanced.

Meaning there are parts of an attribute we will be strong in and others we may have inherent weakness in that needs a little work. It doesn’t mean you’re good or bad at vulnerability or kindness, or fill in the blank…rather, it means that certain aspects of an attribute may come easily and some may come with a fight.

After leaving that work training and being painfully aware of how insanely uncomfortable I was with even the slight possibility of crying in front of my colleague, I went on a personal journey to explore what that meant for me.

I’ve spent a lot of energy being strong for others because yes, I find joy in helping and caring for those around me, but also because it’s a more comfortable posture for me to take, and a heck of a lot less risky. I’m discovering what it looks like for me to embrace THIS aspect of vulnerability-the part that asks me to be weak when I need to be, to allow myself to be imperfect, and that by doing this it doesn’t discredit who I am.

Brené Brown says, “it’s powerful when we can fully embrace the notion that what makes us vulnerable also makes us beautiful.”

The lie I bought somewhere along the line was that what makes me vulnerable DOES NOT make me beautiful, it makes me unworthy, and discredits the person I bring to the table. But what if showing others my weakness, my tears, my fears, and my humanity is EXACTLY what they need? What if by showing them only my strength they lose heart in the things they battle, feeling that if perfection is the goal they’ll never make it?

So, what aspect of vulnerability is hard for you? And what matchless and unique beauty could be seen in your life by the things that make you feel vulnerable?

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