The dictionary definition of vulnerability is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally,” and Brene Brown defines it as “the feeling we get during times of uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure.” On the surface, these definitions are quite similar, but I’d like to look at how they are different. The dictionary definition, which is the one that many of us grew up with, is characterized by its negative consequences – being attacked or harmed. The idea of exposing ourselves willingly to such negative outcomes seems crazy, right?! Is it any wonder that most of us have traditionally viewed vulnerability as dangerous and/or negative?
But if we look at the Brene Brown definition, which I tend to believe is the more accurate one, we see something different. The focus here is that vulnerability is simply a FEELING that we have. And what makes this so interesting is that it speaks to one of life’s great truths. Almost everything we experience in life is experienced as a feeling we have. What many of us may NOT realize is that our feelings are simply the natural result of our thoughts…and our thoughts are something that we ALWAYS have control over.
So what does this have to do with vulnerability? Well, it means that vulnerability only has to feel uncomfortable if we choose to have thoughts that make it so. And if we decide to put a positive spin on it? We can make that happen as well!
I am someone who possesses the ability to speak openly about vulnerable topics. In some ways, I see it as part of my job as a coach. After all, if I am going to ask my clients and my community to be willing to expose their vulnerabilities to me, shouldn’t I be willing to do the same to a degree? Plus, I feel like our willingness to be vulnerable is the crux of connection; by allowing others to truly see me, I am better able to form relationships with them. But I was not always someone who defaulted to exposing myself to others, and it definitely wasn’t my comfort zone.
So what changed? I realized that the REWARDS of being vulnerable with others FAR outweighed the risks. I discovered that even those people who didn’t respond well to my vulnerability could only hurt me if I allowed them to. I came to understand that my uncertainties and fears around being vulnerable were not mine alone but rather something I shared with those around me. I decided that my role would be to try to be a role model for vulnerability bravery rather than vulnerability avoidance.
So when you think about the risks and rewards of vulnerability, what comes up for you? Is there a fear that’s holding you back? Is there a reward that helps you to become more brave? Take some time this week to think about these things!
And since I truly do believe that all deep connection requires vulnerability, I encourage you to reflect on this as well: Where in your life have your relationships been strengthened through your willingness to be vulnerable with others?