By Kimberly Wint
Yes, vulnerability. That feeling of being exposed, unprotected, and at risk of attack. While that feeling is more powerful than you think, it isn’t the only part of being vulnerable. It’s also the shame we tell ourselves that we will feel when we share this ‘weakness’ or ‘defect’ with others that makes being vulnerable seem like such a bad thing. Therefore, what we feel isn’t really vulnerability exactly, but shame. A shame that has manifested not from others around us, but from the mere expectation that what we are hiding is something abhorrent and should be kept secret. That shame leads us to think that vulnerability itself is something abhorrent and shows weakness.
Vulnerability may be caused by stressors and shock. The act of holding on to the secret abuse, trauma, mental illness just to save face – to appear as a normal part of society – may do more harm than good. It is, ultimately, meaningless. No one in society has it all together. With different cultures come different mental states and approaches to life. Plus, no one culture, religion, or school of thought is going to be right for everyone; definitely not all aspects of them either. So why is it so important to appear ‘normal’, unaffected, or cold as part of our usual self?
This desire to ‘keep up appearances’ is opposite to what reality regularly reveals. More people are ‘defected’ than we would like to admit. Stress affects us all in different ways, but it has its function in how we have survived. The problem isn’t so much the stress as it is the lack of acknowledgment of these effects or even the reason that we are stressed, that can cause more, avoidable problems in the future.
Just like stress, vulnerability is and has been necessary for human development as it determines the types of relationships we have and the importance of people in our lives. Going back to a previous post, people need to know where they stand in each others’ lives; that intimacy is needed.
Just like self-esteem, the shame associated with vulnerability can come from your own mind. The things we assume people would think have not been proven by them or others and therefore have no basis. We create those criteria for a test that was never set. We really are our biggest supporter and critic all at once.
What is even more unfathomable is that there is somehow a feeling of satisfaction when someone else is unable to suck it up and move on. They are seen as too emotional or weak since they cannot remain stoic and unphased by a change or stressful situation. Feeling and vulnerability go hand-in-hand and the dismissal of one means the dismissal of both.
Our feelings are important and can help us, as well as others, understand each other better while giving us space to find the tools to overcome our stress more efficiently. We want to be understood, right? Then why shut ourselves off from the rest of the world?
No one wants to be hurt and that is understandable, but there is nothing that can tell which person has good or nefarious intentions. On the other hand, being open and learning about others while still practicing caution can build stronger, more lasting relationships, (again, something all humans need).
By the way, you can’t opt out vulnerability either. Everything we do has some level of vulnerability to it. From applying for a job or deciding on which college to attend, to deciding what to wear or how to talk with someone. There is a level of exposure, an amount of risk we all face when having to make certain decisions or attempting new activities.
Furthermore, being vulnerable isn’t an act of oversharing, like most people (myself included), seem to think. That caution we all put into getting to know a person helps us in determining how much we can trust them, as well as to determine where the boundaries are in the relationship. There is too much involved for vulnerability to be seen as just oversharing. What we share is also much more a part of us than just our name or age.
According to Brené Brown, Ph.D., we should all – adults and children – have courage. We are in a world that is dominated by the feeling of fear and shame. Vulnerability is seen as disruptive, maybe even uncomfortable. But, says Brown, “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.”
Honestly, just writing these articles is a form of vulnerability for me, too. These aren’t just random articles but also my own way of identifying, understanding and overcoming some of my own fears and shortcomings. If we keep hiding from ourselves, we may never be the person we dream of becoming. Don’t worry about being taken for granted; people can do that without any information about you. Worry more about you; your comfort, your peace of mind, your path. You can never make a mistake if everything you do is for your own personal growth and development.
This article was originally published on Witted Roots.