March 7, 2012

Embracing Vulnerability

"Any sign of weakness or vulnerability is unthinkable. If others discover we are weak, they will have power over us and this knowledge will be used against us." ~from Shelter from the Storm
Life can sometimes feel like a battlefield. We become like warriors, constantly striving to guard ourselves from being wounded or hurt. In fact, by definition, being vulnerable means to be capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt! Is it any wonder that we resist vulnerability with such adamant force?!

Many of us have experienced very real moments when our weakness, naivety, lack of control or power were fully used against us. Once we escaped the experience, we became determined to never be used in such a way again. In addition, we lost all sense of safety and security, which needs to be present in order to embrace vulnerability. In an effort to regain a sense of safety and security, we typically abandon vulnerability and instead take up our swords of control. Same song, different day, right?

Our need to control outcomes drives so many of our behaviors. This, however, is where we make the greatest error. Control only provides a false sense of security – an illusion! Whereas, through the openness and sensitivity that vulnerability requires, we develop deeper and stronger connections that can be relied upon and trusted.

Besides, what a false belief it is to think that we are not vulnerable? All of us, no matter what we do, are capable of being physically or emotionally wounded. There is no escaping vulnerability, so we might as well embrace it and use it to our own benefit.

But how?

First, we need to identify and challenge the false beliefs that we have developed around vulnerability. You can start by answering these questions:

If I am vulnerable, it means that…
When I consider being vulnerable, I think or feel…

Next, to be exposed (vulnerable) means to be open and susceptible to harm. But, it also means that we will be open and susceptible to many wonderful things as well! What are the good things you become open to or gain access to by being vulnerable?

I am not advocating that we let down the drawbridge for just anyone, but I am asking that we at least remove the rusted chains and locks so that we can invite others in when the time comes in order to experience these things.

Thirdly, it is important that we consider who and what we are opening ourselves up to! Many of our fears of being vulnerable (e.g. our belief that to need another person means to be powerless) have been reinforced by our own bad choices. Now, we do not need to feel guilty or ashamed about that, but we do need to take responsibility for the fact that openness and vulnerability may not actually be the culprits here. The real problem may be who or what we are choosing to be open to!  

A new skill to develop then is the ability to control for the risks involved, which I want to distinguish from “being controlling.” The former involves evaluating a situation and others and considering how we might manage for or reduce the risk. The latter involves trying to manipulate or change a person or circumstances so as to eliminate all risk. Essentially, it is the difference between being “in control” and “being controlling.”   

Finally, we need to understand, I mean really understand, that there is always a risk involved in everything we do and in every relationship. But, without risk, there is no reward. Check out this additional definition of vulnerability in the context of a bridge game:
“liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge” ~Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I love that! To be vulnerable in this card game means that you will likely experience penalties but you are also promised increased bonuses after winning. In the game of life that we are playing, to be vulnerable means that we will likely experience disappointments and hurts – there is a risk – but we are also entitled to payoffs. These include intimacy, connection, adventure, authenticity, joy, and independence – lots of bonuses!

I encourage you to pick out an area of life where you are over-controlling. What would it be like to give up some control and instead embrace vulnerability? What steps would you need to take to let down your drawbridge?

For an additional perspective on vulnerability, watch “The Power of Vulnerability.”  

  • How have you avoided being vulnerable and instead used control to gain a sense of safety and security in your relationships? (Example: I always want to decide what we are going to do and when.)
  • What is the impact on you or others as a result of avoiding vulnerability and instead trying to control? (Example: There is tension, distrust, and a lack of connection.)
  • What choices have you been making, risks have you been taking that reinforce your false beliefs about vulnerability?

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