Vulnerability is scary. But it’s also a powerful and authentic way to live. According to author Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW, in her latest book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Think about the vulnerability it takes to love someone – whether it’s your parents, siblings, spouse or close friends. Love is filled with uncertainties and risks. As Brown notes, the person you love might or might not love you back. They might be in your life for a long time or they might not. They might be terrifically loyal or they might stab you in the back.
Think about the vulnerability it takes to share your ideas with the world, not knowing how your work will be perceived. You might be appreciated, laughed at or downright skewered.
Vulnerability is hard. But what can make it even harder — needlessly so — are the inaccurate assumptions we hold about it.
Brown shatters the following three myths in Daring Greatly.
1. Vulnerability is weakness.
According to Brown, the funny thing about vulnerability is that we love when others are open and honest with us. But when it comes time for us to share, we sort of freak out. Suddenly, our vulnerability is a sign of weakness.
Brown describes vulnerability as the core of all emotions. “To feel is to be vulnerable,” she says. So when we consider vulnerability to be a weakness, we consider feeling one’s emotions to be so, too, she says. But being vulnerable connects us with others. It opens us up to love, joy, creativity and empathy, she says.
Plus, when we look at what makes up vulnerability, we quickly start to see the opposite of weak. In the book Brown shares the various responses she received after asking her research participants to finish this sentence: “Vulnerability is ________.”
These were just some of the replies: starting my own business; calling a friend whose child just passed away; trying something new; getting pregnant after having three miscarriages; admitting I’m afraid; having faith.
As Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”
2. Some of us don’t experience vulnerability.
Many people have told Brown that they simply “don’t do vulnerability.” But, actually, everyone does vulnerability. “Life is vulnerable,” Brown writes.
Being vulnerable isn’t the choice we have to make, she says. Rather, the choice is how we respond when the elements of vulnerability greet us: uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.
Many of us respond by avoiding vulnerability. But when we do, Brown writes, we typically turn to behaviors that don’t align with who we want to be. For instance, one of the ways we shield ourselves from vulnerability is with what Brown calls “foreboding joy.”
When things are going well in your life, have you felt a pang of horror that something bad will happen? For instance, you just got a promotion at work. You’re excited and happy. But then, bam, a wave of holy crap, I’m going to do something to screw this up washes over you. Or it’s oh, no! what if the company goes bankrupt? That’s foreboding joy. Brown describes it as “the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness.”
(In the book Brown describes several other ways we try to shield ourselves and offers valuable strategies for taking off our ineffective armor.)
3. Vulnerability means spilling your secrets.
Some of us automatically balk at vulnerability because we assume that being vulnerable means wearing our secrets on our sleeves. We assume that being vulnerable means spilling our hearts to strangers, and as Brown puts it, “letting it all hang out.”
But vulnerability embraces boundaries and trust, she says. “Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”
Being vulnerable takes courage. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to be ourselves, to connect to others. I worry when I put my writing – and thereby myself – out into the world. What will readers think? Is that sentence stupid? No, I don’t think so. OK. Maybe. Will they like the article? Will they hate it? Hate me?
But for me to stop writing– and sharing my writing — would mean losing a pivotal part of myself. So I’ll continue to put my words, my ideas, myself, out into the world.
I love what Brown concludes about daring greatly.
And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.
What are your thoughts on vulnerability? Did you previously view the above myths as facts?