Vulnerability is a weakness. I hear this assumption over and over again from the clients I am privileged to work with. They don’t always say it outright and honestly, many probably don’t even realize they believe it. But it is apparent in how they think and how they act.
In fact, I even caught myself acting out of this belief the other day. One of my clinicians was chatting with me in the hallway on my way out of the office for the day. We were having a bit of a rough day organizationally that day, and she says, “you look like you could use a hug.” What would someone who is 100% owning their vulnerability and who doesn’t see vulnerability as a weakness say and do? Well, its not what I did. I kind of shrugged it off and said something like, “well, we’ll get through it. God’s in control.” And I didn’t go in for the hug.
Now, on the surface, that sounds like a great response! One of faith and confidence in our Lord. And while I believe that statement 100%, what I really did (after I left and reflected back on the exchange) was notice my feelings of emotional vulnerability and choose to ignore them and redirect my attention to the positive so that I didn’t shed another tear. I was solely avoiding an emotionally messy moment. It was a moment where my colleague was making a bid for connection at work, offering her compassion, and because I didn’t want to feel icky for a moment, I responded reactively and denied her attempt.
I think we all act out of this sometimes conscious or unconscious belief at some point. Some of us more than others…. 😬😬
Dr. Brene Brown has an excellent question to pose for anyone who will consciously endorses this human assumption to be true. The question is
Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Can you give me a single example of courage that you’ve witnessed in another soldier or experienced in your own life that did not require experiencing vulnerability?
What is your answer to this question? Her experience in her research has not uncovered a single person able to provide examples of where courage didn’t come with vulnerability. And when you think about courage in others, doesn’t it lead you to admire them? To see them as strong and amazing? Then why would you feel differently about that same characteristic in yourself? Its quite puzzling how our belief system about others can be so drastically different than our belief system about ourselves. Its as if there are two different measuring sticks in life. It’s kind of like we measure the world in the Metric System (you know, meters) but we only measure ourselves in the English system (i.e. feet, etc). When we have two different systems, we are always going to feel like we don’t fit and when we constantly have to do a conversion between how we measure up ourselves to others, the emotional and mental work that goes in to that just seems too much so we give up and just choose to believe that we must not measure up.
I’ll bet this resonates with most of you because this just seems to be the human condition. Must have been a byproduct of the “fall”. Thanks Adam and Eve! So instead of beating yourself up about showing (or even just feeling) vulnerability, remind yourself that feeling as if vulnerability is a weakness is probably part of the typical life experience but having that feeling doesn’t mean you have to act on it. In fact, courage by definition is acting contrary to the fear and emotions (fight or flight responses) you are experiencing. You have choices, you’ve got this!!!