Coming Face to Face with Vulnerability

Heart in a cage.

 

“Vulnerability is at the core, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”

-Brené Brown


Learning to be vulnerable is a pretty big undertaking, but it’s also a necessary step in the direction of healthy relationships. Self-care has become a priority for me, and having connections with people I can count on is a huge part of taking care of myself. In midlife, I find myself reflecting on the past to develop an understanding of what to tweak for creating a healthier, happier future.

One big area needing improvement is my love life. Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, has become my mentor, although she is unaware of this. She speaks about allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to truly be able to connect with others.
According to the Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary, the definition of vulnerable is:
 
1:capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
2:open to attack or damage :assailable 
 
Sounds a bit dangerous and scary, this thing called vulnerability. No wonder I’ve been dodging the dating scene.

 Trust is a difficult thing for me. Hurt and disappointment in my love life have left me with a fear of vulnerability. Over time a protective wall has gone up–one that I built to avoid emotional pain. My focus now is on taking it down. The isolation chamber I constructed over the years has become a damn lonely place!

A dog hiding.

Connection, according to Brené, gives our lives purpose and meaning. She even goes so far as to say connection is the reason we are all here. 

In order for us to allow for connection, we must first feel worthy. There in lies the problem. As a therapist, this is the number one issue I see in 99% of my clients–I am not good enough is a common thread that weaves through our society.  

If we’re raised to feel worthy, we have a strong sense of love and belonging. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for many people. I believe this is one of the core issues that ails our society. Lack of self-worth leads to fear, shame, and a struggle for connection. 

 

 

How do most of us cope with these terrible feelings? By numbing out the pain. Because if we are numb, we can no longer feel afraid, disappointed, sad, or unloved. Avoidance allows us to not have to address the deep shit mucking up our core. 

We become addicted to one or two, maybe even more, of the many available substances or activities that numb. Maybe its alcohol or drugs, shopping, sex, gambling or eating.  Or, how about perfectionism? Whatever it looks like, our goal is to stop the pain.

Blaming others is one way to discharge the discomfort we experience. When we don’t own our own stuff we avoid taking responsibility, and also creating our own destiny. 

Of course, this  avoidance of responsibility and numbing the pain also keeps us from feeling the good stuff, like joy, belonging, creativity, and love. We may feel a glimmer of these, desperately seeking out love, but it’s not possible to truly feel it when we are numb. 

 

Two dogs side by side but not facing each other.

 

So, how do we un-numb ourselves?

To embrace vulnerability, courage is needed. We must be able to tell our story, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly parts of it, with our whole heart. To trust it will be okay. Taking off the mask and exposing our true selves, imperfections and all–what a scary concept!

Compassion is another aspect of vulnerability. This begins with being kind to ourselves. We cannot experience true empathy for another if we don’t first have the ability to show compassion to ourselves. Once we love ourselves unconditionally, we are able to be there for others in a healthy way.

Brené emphasizes the hardest part of vulnerability is connection, because this requires authenticity–to be who you are versus who you think you should be. Letting go of all of the messages from the past that have been internalized and created the mindset I am not good enough the way I am.

What if I told you what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful? Try incorporating this message into your mindset. This is a process that takes time and lots of affirmations. I have 54 years of vulnerability avoidance to overcome. Patience, not one of my strengths, is a necessity here.

 

Two dogs laying down facing each other with paws intertwined.

 

Yes, this is all personal.

After ten, yes, ten, years of cutting myself off from the dating scene, I now realize I don’t want to become an isolated cat lady. The cat lady part is fine and lovely, but isolated is a sad word if you ask me. It doesn’t go well with happy, healthy and loved.

Dating makes me feel terribly vulnerable. The thought of investing in a relationship that may or may not work out is frightening. To say I love you before the other person does? I will have to think about that one!

I encourage you to be authentic. Embrace your imperfections, we all have them. This is what makes us unique human beings. Allow yourself to love with your whole heart, while knowing this leaves you vulnerable. Be kind to yourself, be joyful and grateful. Explore creativity, whether it’s painting, writing, singing, cooking, or gardening.  Say to yourself often I am enough.

Watching Brené Brown speak has made an impact on me. I am not alone; her 20 minute TED Talks video on the Power of Vulnerability is incredible, and has had 31,232,145 views. 

I encourage you to take the time to watch this, I promise it is worth your time.

Brené Brown TED Talk

 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.

Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”

-Brené Brown

 

Read our post  Midlife Dating: What Really Matters.

 

What is your personal experience with vulnerability? Please share in the comments below!

Till next time, Sandra

 

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11 thoughts on “Coming Face to Face with Vulnerability

  • October 4, 2017 at 8:45 pm
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    Important in any relationship, but especially in lifelong partnership is to strip out the pretense and allow yourself to be vulnerable. it must be reciprocated, but someone must start the process first.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2017 at 9:08 pm
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      Simon,
      You are so right! Thanks for your comment,
      Sandra

      Reply
  • October 4, 2017 at 11:19 pm
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    Oh wow i feel like you were talking about me to be honest i can relate with everything you write about , self worth, self love, the lack of connection i feel so strongly even with friends and family, i have been single for along time and now i am happy single i actually fear dating again because it does mean you are vunerable again ! Good luck with the dating scene x

    Reply
    • October 5, 2017 at 1:23 pm
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      Katie,
      This is a tough thing to overcome, but you can do it. Give yourself time, and know that you are worthy!
      Best wishes, Sandra

      Reply
  • October 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm
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    OMG. Brene Brown is one of my favorite people and I shared her Ted Talks on my blog earlier this year. Vulnerability is a scary place to be and I’m learning more and more how to embrace it in order to live a more authentic life. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love your blog!

    Reply
    • October 7, 2017 at 2:24 pm
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      Thanks Kristi! Brene really is amazing, and I believe she is creating a huge wave of healing with her TED Talks and the work she does!
      Sandra

      Reply
  • October 11, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    First off I like the description of your site. This post was a great read and very inspirational . keep up the good work.

    Reply
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