When we are being vulnerable, does it really mean we are open to being hurt, attacked, and abused?
Or does vulnerability actually mean we are strong enough to let down our guard and just be who we are, without fear?
I suppose it’s both.
It’s really just a shift in perspective and in our emotional choices that takes us from one type of vulnerability, where we are living in fear, to the other, where we are living in confidence.
In recent months I’ve been feeling extremely vulnerable. Or so I thought. I’ve felt overwhelmed, distracted, upset. I’ve had grief over my mother wash over me, anxiety over the world situation, stress over things going on at home and around me. All of this caused me to feel weak, exposed, unsafe. Vulnerable.
Except, I found, I wasn’t being vulnerable. Not really. I was feeling weak and afraid, yes. But this didn’t mean I was actually vulnerable. There weren’t others actually attacking me, or if they were, the reality is that in my life I am relatively safe.
I was fragile, yes, but not necessarily vulnerable. And that fragility can cause us to put ourselves into a vulnerable position, even if we hadn’t been before.
When we are coming from a place of fear and anxiety, it causes us to close up and build walls so high that not only can no one get in, we end up being unable to get out.
We find ourselves stuck in the center of our nightmares, our minds revisiting every negative thing over and over. Walls of our own creation are literally closing in around us, and it can cause us to feel as if we can’t breathe.
We say we’re feeling vulnerable, but what we’re really feeling is scared.
We are in flight or fight mode, and are doing all we can to avoid any feelings of vulnerability whatsoever.
Ironically it is when we are in this state that we actually are weakening ourselves to the point of really being vulnerable, even if we hadn’t been before.
We move into that sort of vulnerability where your defenses are simply not enough. The running away that we do doesn’t take us away from our anxieties, it only makes them worse. And the fighting we do only serves to make us feel guilty as we find ourselves making bad choices and lashing out at those who may be trying to help.
But as I began to work through my fears, to address my anxieties, and to manage my stress, a funny thing happened. I found myself opening up. I started to feel more solid within. And I began to recognize what true vulnerability is. The kind that makes you better, not bitter. The one that is based in being strong, not weak.
I found that True Vulnerability is the one that is capable of making you impervious.
I could feel my center strengthening, the core of who I am coming back into balance. With it I found my confidence and sense of security return. And as they did, I felt a sense of expansion as love began to filter through my system. With this, I found myself able to open up to those around me. To, in essence, be vulnerable with them.
…Even when that vulnerability meant asking forgiveness. Or offering myself to the potential of being hurt. I could do it, because the secure knowledge of who I am anchored me. I knew even if I was wounded, I would survive. I’d be OK.
I could trust myself again, you see. So I didn’t have to worry about trusting them.
It’s a funny thing about this kind of vulnerability – it takes a lot of courage.
Like a warrior who chooses to end the battle by walking up with nothing but a flag of truce and the knowledge they are right to do so. We’ve been taught to see this as a weakness, when in reality it takes a tremendous amount of strength and fortitude to do the right thing in the face of potential great harm or even death. To try to gain peace even at the sake of their own lives.
This is the greatest warrior of all – the one that seeks peace in the midst of battle. The one that knows their own strength, knows they could even win the fight should they keep going, but chooses to raise a white flag and approach with bare, open arms, ready to negotiate.
In relationships as well, it is when we are able to open up and be vulnerable with each other that we have the greatest chance of being hurt – but we also have the greatest chance of becoming closer.
When I am in my place of strength and courage, I have nothing to hide, and so I hide nothing.
I am open. I am vulnerable. And I am confident. I am secure. And this confidence allows me to be able to expose who I am knowing I am also going to protect myself, even should I get hurt, because I know I will be OK.
I know, in the long run, I will have spoken and acted in truth and honor. I know the risk I am taking is worth the reward because the risk of potentially losing that relationship is worth the reward of finding myself.
Within the context of that vulnerability, I found myself able to create boundaries without building walls. To give myself that safe space without imprisoning myself.
From this place of inner strength and confidence, we can think clearly. We can act with awareness. We can trust others because we can trust ourselves to know whether or not the other is worthy of our trust, and act accordingly.
We protect ourselves naturally. There is no need to fight or flee – we know we will do so if necessary, but not out of fear, instead from a place of quiet inner strength and knowing.
If we fight, we will do so deliberately, without anger or fear, but only to protect ourselves or others. And if we flee, we will do so calmly, our steps certain, the way we head determined by the quiet decisions in our mind, without regret or anxiety but simple determination.
Most of the time, however, we find we have to do neither of these things. Because we are in a space of awareness so clear and open that we are able to see potential problems far in advance and avoid them. Or we are able to negotiate them in a manner that eases us past them quickly.
We listen to our inner voice, our gut, we trust it, and we are guided away from those things that may otherwise try to harm us, in a way that is healthy for everyone concerned.
This is the kind of vulnerability – of openness – that creates character. This is the kind of vulnerable I want to be. I can’t say I’m completely there yet. Still working on it. But I have found some steps to getting there.
So what are some characteristics of being truly vulnerable in a healthy way?
Let’s call them the “ABC’s of Being Vulnerable.” The building blocks, as it were.
The ABC’s of Being Vulnerable
First, VALUE yourself.
This is the first step to, well, everything really. Every kind of self improvement you want to make begins with this – really feeling your own value and worth.
Say this to yourself as many times as it takes to sink in; “I am worth this.”
Eventually you’ll begin to believe it. And that sense of value will free you from your fears.
As you Value yourself, you will then begin to UNDERSTAND yourself. You’ll see why you act as you do and behave as you do and feel as you do.
LOVE yourself, and you will find that love extending outward to everything and everyone around you. Don’t confuse valuing yourself and loving yourself as the same – these are two separate issues within us, and both are necessary.
That Love will cause you to NURTURE yourself. To take care of yourself as a mother does her child, and to have compassion for that child within you.
In turn, this Nurturing takes you into EMPATHY with your own emotions and the emotions of those around you. That compassion created from the nurturing ripples out to all with whom you come into contact in a wave of Empathy.
And that Empathy leads you into REASONABLE AWARENESS of not only who you are, but who they are as well.
This, in turn, brings you into BALANCE.
From this place of Balance you now have the ability to think clearly. You will find yourself LEARNING more about not just who you are, but who everyone around you is, and about the world in general.
And that is when you find yourself in the best place of all… that is when you find yourself ENGAGED with Life. Excited about it. Enthusiastic about it. Even Entertained by it.
The Basic ABC’s of Being Vulnerable:
These are the things we give to ourselves when we are being Truly Vulnerable.
They are also the things we are giving to others when we are being Truly Vulnerable. And to the world.
And with them you’ll find yourself able to tear down the walls that were built up by fear, and replace them with boundaries that are set down with love.
The Sacred Pause
Here is what you do in that Sacred Pause, you literally stop, you stop what you are about to do…
By JEANETTE DUBOIS
Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks. She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends. She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.
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