As a society, we tend to hide from being vulnerable. We are taught from an early age to be strong, be confident, to be anything but vulnerable. This thinking, however, is flawed. Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage. It is not weakness.
When we are vulnerable, we are showing courage. We are thinking with our brains while also using our intuition. We are creating change and learning to adapt. We are, in the best sense, living. So, if we are afraid of being vulnerable, are we afraid of truly living?
In my years of practice, I have found that being vulnerable is also rooted in shame. Opening up ourselves to express ideas shouldn’t be shameful. Further, thinking that expressing our feelings makes us vulnerable for criticism and not growth is a twisted way of looking at things, but it doesn’t stop us from doing so. Carl Jung calls shame “the swampland of the soul.” Shame drives us to think that we are not good enough for something or that we have done something bad. Self-expression and shame, along with vulnerability, is a matter of culture and perspective in our minds, which is why I believe so many people have a hard time addressing the root of these issues.
What if we were to think about shame and vulnerability differently. What if we were brave enough to use our own vulnerability to move us toward success in life, business and with personal relationships? Changing our cultural upbringing by changing our thoughts on shame and vulnerability can and will change our perception and our approach.
For example, say you are battling drug addiction. No one aspires to be a drug addict. Our culture looks down upon addiction. There is shame around addiction. Thus, admitting you need help to treat addiction makes you vulnerable. You are fessing up to having a problem that carries community shame and judgment.
But what happens when you drop the cultural assumptions about drug addiction? What happens when you put the shame away and associate vulnerability with bravery? Then, your addiction becomes something you have to defeat. You are gearing up for battle and you’re assembling a team for help in doing so. You are openly facing your problem head on. You are an inspiration. You are someone who is fighting for his or her life. You are in control of the direction of your life and ready to succeed.
We don’t have to meet the expectation of being bulletproof in life. We are all human. No one is bulletproof. Being vulnerable allows us to take the hit and then get back up. It doesn’t mean we have to sit on the sidelines of life because we’ve been hit. A study at Boston College recently looked at shame and vulnerability. The study examined what people need to do to conform to female/male norms: nice, thin, modest, appearance for women; emotional control, work, status, violence for men. The study boiled down to our sense of connection and being worthy of love and acceptance.
Life offers us no guarantees. The fighting chance we have to not only surviving life, but thriving during our lifetime, is to understand that our cultural thinking around shame and vulnerability is not a hindrance. These are tools to help us. Once we realize that there is no shame in asking for or needing help and that our shortcomings don’t mean there is something wrong with us, we can really start to change our perception and thus change our lives for the better!