Maybe you’re one too? Before you dismiss the idea, consider the following:
- When you’re honest, do you want to choose what people think about you?
- Do you avoid learning new things for fear of looking foolish?
If you answered YES to either of the above — you might want to keep reading. And if you sometimes feel like an outsider in your own life, this may be the reason.
In my opinion, control is the most commonly used antidote for vulnerability, or letting yourself be truly open and seen. Control certainly was my drug of choice for this reason.
For years, I ran from even the idea of being vulnerable. I saw it as weak and dangerous. It brought back painful childhood memories of a time when I couldn’t protect myself.
In the dictionary, antonyms to the word “vulnerable” are: guarded, protected, closed. That pretty much summed up my behavior during those years. I’ve come to realize, it wasn’t just me. This is a common theme in the lives of many women I work with.
At the time, I wanted to control everything and everyone around me. I thought this made me strong. Looking back, I was like a child. If I couldn’t control a situation then I wasn’t going to be a part of if.
This behavior didn’t feel good. Instead, it left me feeling like an outsider looking in.
It’s because life without vulnerability feels one-dimensional. Vulnerability is the pathway to connection with those around us. Vulnerability’s the place where our humanity intertwines with others. [<--Click to tweet!]
How Vulnerability Limits You
In my experience, lack of vulnerability didn’t just feel bad, it was crippling.
I have memories of watching fellow students voicing their confusion over proofs in calculus class. As a result, they got individual attention and went on to understand them. I remained guarded and silent and barely squeaked through with a passing grade.
I remember being awful at hitting the ball in softball. No one ever taught me how to do it — so of course I wouldn’t know how. But instead of admitting I needed help, and maybe looking a little foolish, I just never played softball.
And those are just a few of the many examples I could share…
This was an ongoing pattern in my life. I felt pangs of jealousy for the connection I saw among others as they became vulnerable with each other — but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Luckily things have changed. This week was a perfect example. I’m currently in a class with an active forum. Students post their work to the forum and receive feedback. Over the past few weeks I’ve posted a handful of assignments. Some have gotten kudos and likes and some have received criticism. Early this week, what I posted wasn’t liked at all. It wasn’t pretty.
Part of me wanted to hide. But I didn’t retreat.
I knew even before I posted that it wasn’t my best work. They weren’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. I reminded myself to see their responses for what they were: feedback. Opinions.
Their opinions happened to echo what I already knew deep down. But regardless of my feelings about my work, their responses alone had no power to hurt me. My thoughts about them would determine their effect. And I kept my thoughts centered around the fact that it was only feedback. I admitted I needed help and opened to letting them give it to me.
I listened to their ideas. Because I knew my work needed something — but I wasn’t quite sure what, I leaned on them. I collected the suggestions that resonated with me and went back to the drawing board. 24 hours later I had something I was finally proud of.
If I hadn’t allowed myself to be vulnerable I would have never received the help of my classmates. Thanks to them, I was able to get to a depth in my work that I may not have gotten to otherwise. Plus, I felt a connection with the women who helped me.
Embracing vulnerability takes many forms. It can be:
- accepting that you can’t control what others think about you, but showing up anyway
- keeping a loving dialogue open even when you don’t agree with the words being spoken
- admitting you can’t do it all
3 Steps to Leaning Into Vulnerability
If you’re ready to test the waters, try the following:
1. Remember that your thoughts matter, a lot. For example: Let’s say someone offers an opinion that differs from yours. Your thoughts about it will determine if you simply acknowledge that their opinion conflicts with yours. Or, if you spin off to a dark place where you believe terrible things about yourself or the other person because of your differences. Aim to keep your thoughts in a neutral place.
2. Fear of being vulnerable can be a indicator of an overall feeling of a lack of security in life. If you think this might be an issue for you, amp up that feeling of security wherever possible. Ask yourself: “What makes me feel safe?” Maybe it’s being around people you trust. Perhaps it’s making sure your insurance is up-to-date. Or maybe it’s just curling up on the couch with your favorite furry friend. Take action to increase feelings of security and then check in with yourself to see how it feels.
I bet you’re more familiar with this concept than you realize. Think back to when you were 14 years old and wanted to call that boy you liked. Alone it seemed terrifying. But with a group of friends — you suddenly felt courageous. It’s because they helped you feel more secure.
3. Practice self-acceptance and self-love. Be gentle with yourself. Admit that this may be scary. Remind yourself why you’re choosing to do it. Feel the feelings that come up and let them move through you. Remember that your opinions of yourself are what really matter. And don’t forget — this takes time. Keep that in mind to avoid feeling discouraged.
It’s an ongoing process. I know. I’m right there with you — practicing it every day.
Sending lots of love,