Vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” And many of us have been taught to believe that being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. To protect ourselves against the perils of vulnerability, we employ emotional armor, which guards us against shame, hurt, scarcity, fear, and anxiety.
“Yes, being vulnerable is scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?” asks Brown.
The very nature of love means opening ourselves to being vulnerable. With love comes the potential for hurt, grief, and loss. But a life without love is lonely, empty, and unfulfilling so we take the risk to love and be loved.
Also born from vulnerability is belonging. Wanting to belong is a hardwired desire for human beings. But often, rather than truly belonging, we attempt to “fit in.” According to Brené Brown, fitting in is the opposite of belonging. When we attempt to fit in, we assess and acclimate. We carefully evaluate what we can and cannot say, how we should and shouldn’t look as well as how we should and should not act.
But when we belong, we aren’t required to change who we are but instead we are required to be who we are. We speak our authentic truth about who we are. Just like with love, belonging stems from being vulnerable.
And then there’s joy. Such a wonderful emotion but also one that requires incredible vulnerability. Often, we don’t allow ourselves to experience joy for fear of “being sucker-punched by pain or loss.” Instead, we rehearse for the worst, believing that whatever is making us happy is too good to be true and simply won’t last.
Studies have shown that those people who don’t dress rehearse tragedy and “lean into joy” have one thing in common: practicing gratitude. They take time to find things to appreciate and express their thankfulness.
Gratitude is healing and moves us from a place of scarcity to abundance. It helps us embrace joy without fear of loss as well as be vulnerable, make and learn from our mistakes, and authentically be ourselves.
“We get so busy chasing the extraordinary,“ says Brown, “that we let the ordinary moments pass us by.” And it’s the ordinary moments in life that people often look back on most fondly.
It’s time we take off our protective armor and reframe our beliefs about being vulnerable.
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
Allowing ourselves to be hopeful and courageous enough to be vulnerable means experiencing disappointment, dealing with conflict, learning how to stand up for ourselves, and allowing ourselves to fail. This holds true for instilling the value of vulnerability in our children. Say Brown, “If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.”