Vulnerability: Recognizing its Importance
*Originally published March 29, 2019*
As I mentioned before, there are plenty of negative connotations tied to the idea of being vulnerable. In Brene’ Brown’s most notable Ted Talk, she discusses the power of vulnerability and how it is meant to allow us to have functioning health and relationships.
Vulnerability Allows us to (Truly) Connect
As Brene Brown states in her Ted Talk, the concept of connection is what gives us purpose and meaning in our lives. Even on a scientific level, a connection is how we are wired. She briefly goes over the concept of ‘shame’ which essentially comes down to the fear of disconnection. Shame tells us that “there is something about me, that if people know it or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection anymore”. Shame more or less is what keeps people from being able to embrace the idea of vulnerability. We are so concerned that the people closest to us, the people who mean the most, will be repulsed by what they see.
People will gradually create more barriers and resist vulnerability to avoid disappointment and shame.
Essentially, if all of our interactions are shallow and surface level, we miss the opportunity to develop true connections with others because we’re too overwhelmed by our shame. Everyone is susceptible to this, but personally, I feel like it could be even more challenging with people who are more in the spotlight: namely celebrities, TV personalities, or major influencers on social media. A lot of times, when a celebrity commits suicide, it's usually someone who has created a huge impact. It’s even more upsetting when it’s someone who was known for spreading joy or laughter such as Robin Williams; or a big pop star like Kim Jonghyun of the boy group SHINee. Jonghyun was quite accomplished before his suicide. He was praised not just for his work as a member of SHINee for nearly 10 years, but also for his producing, songwriting, solo projects, writing, and overall fun and inviting personality. However, as evidenced by his final text message to his older sister, he passed away thinking he was not good enough. A shocking number of people are, unfortunately, living with the same mindset Jonghyun had before his passing. They live their life buried in this idea of shame, this idea that they cannot truly allow themselves to be seen or that who they are and what they’ve done is not ‘enough’. Vulnerability allows us to feel worthy.
Vulnerability and Worthiness
Someone with a low sense of worth may convince themselves that they are not worthy of belonging, love, or forgiveness
Worth and Shame are tied very closely to each other. More often than not, a person’s sense of shame will determine how they feel when it comes to their ‘worthiness’. In her six years studying these concepts, Brown realized a commonality between people who felt worthy and people who did not. It was surprisingly simple: people who feel worthy are people who truly believe they are worthy. These people had the courage to let go of the image of what they thought they were supposed to be and embraced who they actually are. But an even bigger variable between these two groups was their overall viewpoint of being vulnerable. The people who were able to identify as ‘worthy’ acknowledge vulnerability as being necessary for their overall growth and wellness. People who are able to feel genuinely worthy don’t focus on the difficulty of being vulnerable because they understand that it will benefit them in the long run, even if it means being extremely uncomfortable in that moment.
People who feel a sense of worth understand that the positives of vulnerability drastically outweigh the negatives. It is very true that vulnerability is tied to negative feelings such as fear and shame. However, it is also the birth place of love, belonging, purpose, meaning, creativity, etc.
We Can’t Numb Ourselves
In a previous post, I expressed how there was a time period in which I was completely shutting myself out to people. Rather than dealing with my negative emotions head on, I preferred to just direct my focus somewhere else. If I was upset about something or particularly depressed, I would try to write it away, work it away, socialize it away, etc. This is a common practice called ‘numbing’. Numbing says: I don’t like these feelings so I’m going to try and not feel them. However, what Brown makes completely clear is that we cannot selectively numb our emotions; when we numb one thing, we inadvertently numb everything else with it. Hearing that, I found that it completely made sense. Thinking on it, when I’m feeling those negative emotions I tend to convince myself that I can just ignore them. But now that I reflect, I realize that during those times that I was hiding the negative it’s not as if I truly felt happy either.
As much as we think it will make things easier, our emotions don’t run like a light switch.
The definition to numb something is to “deprive of feeling or responsiveness”. In other words, when we numb ourselves we are not healing. We are simply just making an attempt to desensitize; the pain hasn’t left us, we are just trying to act like it isn’t there. A lot of us have taken up different methods to numb, all of which are unhealthy and don’t allow healing to happen. Maybe you drink or smoke, maybe you fill your calendar with a bunch of events to attend, or maybe you engage in more sexual activity than normal. For me personally, my numbing is tied to my eating habits. While this hasn’t been too much of a problem lately, I found that I had a tendency to numb through overeating. And it fell into a cycle: become upset/depressed about something, don’t create a space where I can be vulnerable with someone to discuss the topic, order more food than I need, and binge. This led to me feeling ill, and lethargic, having acne breakouts, and inconsistent weight. But as I was doing this numbing, did it just automatically make me tune into more positive emotions? Not at all. I was working so hard not to feel what I didn’t want to feel, I didn’t realize it was just as hard for me to feel (genuine) joy or happiness.
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, when we allow ourselves to share those feelings and acknowledge them as real, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to “let ourselves be seen”. We give ourselves the opportunity to begin to act like the people mentioned in the Ted talk: beginning to believe that vulnerability is what will help us not only to heal but to be able to create a deeper connection among each other.
Not Good, Not Bad, But Necessary
Please note that I’m not trying to romanticize vulnerability and say that it will become easy and comfortable. The reality of the matter is the act of vulnerability can (and most often times will) be very uncomfortable. For a lot of us, it never necessarily becomes “easy” to do. And I can imagine it’s never going to be something that we enjoy doing either. Rather, we will have less of a problem with being vulnerable when we reach the understanding that we need it to connect, we need it to make a change, and we need it to grow ourselves and others.
There are many situations in which someone can feel vulnerable; it might not always be monumental. Sometimes allowing yourself to be vulnerable means calling the other person first, being the first willing to apologize, being willing to admit to a mistake, etc. Vulnerability does not guarantee that everything is going to work out the way that we want them to, but it does allow us to keep acknowledging the fact that we all have the right to feel worthy of love or belonging.
For some people, it could be a struggle to get started with this practice. For me it started with asking myself some questions regarding why I wasn’t allowing myself to be vulnerable, what exactly I was afraid of, and what I was thinking would happen should I choose to open up more. Because, unfortunately, there is a right and wrong way to go about being vulnerable. Next week I want to go into the question of how we can practice vulnerability effectively, and with whom we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Stay tuned <3