“Don’t be a cry-baby!”
“Suck it up!”
“What are you afraid of?”
Amongst the chaos of our modern world, there’s not much space for vulnerability. Fear, worry, shame, and anxiety are seen as wholly negative emotional states. Strength, empowerment, giving zero fucks on the other hand… we’re supposed to aspire to feel like badasses all the time. But how realistic [and/or healthy] is it focus on one set of emotions whilst suppressing another?
In our hurry to accentuate the positive, we’re minimising, or even avoiding our human experience of a whole palate of feelings. We may even be running away from the sensation of feeling altogether, numbing ourselves in order to evade the intrusion of potential negative thoughts. According to Brené Brown, the master of vulnerability herself, “to feel is to be vulnerable”. If we close ourselves off to the feelings we find uncomfortable, we may well be closing ourselves off to feelings on the other end of the spectrum.
In Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she expands the definition of vulnerability to include both the uncomfortable and the beneficial. Vulnerability, according to Brown, “sounds like truth and feels like courage.” We’ve all been there: faced with a choice to do something scary or to run in the other direction. What many of us forget, however, is that strength can be born of vulnerability.
My own personal experiences of vulnerability have been plentiful, with depression and sexual harassment on one end of the spectrum, and even just starting a conversation with a stranger on the other. We will all face different challenges and deal with them in different ways, but feeling vulnerable doesn’t have to foretell an impending emotional disaster – vulnerability can just as soon precede a moment of real strength and growth.
In my experience, vulnerability can be positive as much as it can be negative. Being ready and willing to encounter uncomfortable truths, to stand out, speak up, be real and honest, accept challenges and sometime just put one foot in front of the other can be exercises in empowerment too.
Vulnerability, to my mind, is the opposite of weakness. Vulnerability is acknowledging that difficulty lies ahead, but resolving to meet it face on. And when we share our vulnerability with others, we can forge real human connections and face our fears together.
To string together a very lame and tenuous fairy tale analogy, vulnerability is not the big bad wolf, but running away from it could just result in it eating us alive.
Side note… Why do all fairy tales end with female characters being eaten, poisoned, cast out, condemned to a bewitched sleep, almost cooked, locked up in a tower or otherwise doomed? #Patriarchy.