When you think of vulnerability, which thoughts automatically come to mind? Do you think of being defenseless or distressingly exposed?
Whenever I make those associations, there’s always a negative connotation to the emotion. But what about the good and more beneficial kind of vulnerability? What about the kind where you share yourself for the potential to forge a connection with those around you?
I tend to think that expressing a vulnerable state doesn’t necessarily require disclosing very personal information right away.
I do believe, however, that by showing people who you are (flaws, quirks and all), and ‘letting them in,’ you’re demonstrating vulnerability in a positive light. You’re asking to be seen.
Brene Brown, a social worker who studies human connections, was featured on a 2010 video that gave great insight into the power of vulnerability. “Connection is why we’re here,” she said. “It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
She interviewed two different groups of people: those who had a strong sense of love and belonging, and those who really struggled with that mindset. What were the distinguishing factors between these two groups? The people who internalized a sense of love and belonging believed they were worthy of love and belonging. Worthiness was the key. Now, what do the individuals in that group have in common? This is where it got interesting.
The people who felt worthy of love and belonging all demonstrated courage, compassion and connection. “They had a connection as a result of authenticity,” Brown said. “They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were.”
Vulnerability was another common denominator in the group. They fully embraced the notion that what made them vulnerable also made them beautiful. “They talked about it being necessary; they talked about the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first; they talked about the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees.”
Brown proceeded through the discussion candidly, talking about her internal struggle with her newly-researched discovery. (She actually had to see a therapist of her own to work through it.) She used to lament how vulnerability was always the birthplace of shame and fear, but she now realizes that it also fuels joy, creativity, belonging and love.
A recent post on Tinybuddha.com offered a similar theme. Contributor Sahil Dhingra underwent a heavy period of isolation and despair when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011.
“I felt scared to let people in,” he said. “The few relatives who knew what I was going through told me to think positive, that everything would be okay, and not to worry or be afraid. They told me to take my mind away from it, cheer up, and to stay busy.”
While he appreciated their suggestions, he realized that by setting his true feelings aside, he wasn’t allowing himself to just be. Once he decided to contact the people he cared about, he felt overwhelmed by all the love he received in return. “The people in my life during this challenging time were invaluable; by reaching out and feeling vulnerable, and letting others in, I felt more connected and confident that I would get through this.”
In May 2012, Sahil’s neurologist gave him the incredible news that the mass in his brain hadn’t continued to grow — in other words, it no longer qualified as cancer.
“Today I still have an olive-sized mass in the right side of my brain,” he stated. “But it is no longer my foe. Rather, it has become the greatest blessing I could have asked for. Sometimes, all it takes to connect with someone else is sharing our vulnerable story, lending an ear or a shoulder, and just being present for them.”
We often tend to dismiss the admirable components of vulnerability (where it can manifest in love and happiness), but in reality, being vulnerable is necessary in order to establish relationships with others. When going through something stifling, sharing your experience can also spawn connection as well.