Do you ever find yourself holding back your feelings from friends, colleagues, and even family out of fear that you’ll be judged? Are you afraid that being honest about how you really feel may come across as weak or insecure?
Throughout most of my life I found myself doing this. I never wanted people to know when I was hurt, rejected, or upset out of fear that I would seem…wait for it...human.
Being human was not an option for me. I preferred to be known as somewhat of a rock star when it came to being emotionally stable. I believed that the stronger and more emotionally indestructible I appeared on the outside, the more people would like me and the safer I would be. It was my armor.
Ugh, how sad is that?
Even as I write it out to you I want to run back in time, give myself a big compassionate hug, and then slap myself upside the head to snap out of it. But hindsight is 20/20 and with experience comes some wisdom and insight...or at least we hope so.
Making ourselves vulnerable often translates to opening ourselves up to being hurt. It’s why so many of us resist it. Protection from potential pain...even if it means missing out on a potentially great opportunity. For many of us, the risk often outweighs the reward.
But what if I told you that vulnerability is actually empowering. It’s not about showing your cards, leaving you open for attack, and then left on the side of the road bleeding from your emotional heart. Instead, it’s about strengthening the connection to your own Self and those you are willing to share with.
Vulnerability is about connecting one heart with another heart.
There is a beautiful human connection that is made when someone allows themselves to become vulnerable with Self and with others. There is a sense of humanity, allowing you to see the person not for how they wish the world to see them but for who they really are. Often times when we put on the mask that we want our friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else to see, we create a disconnect between us and them. We believe this makes us stronger, our weaknesses impenetrable, and our insecurities hidden. Everyone is better off to believe we’re someone we believe they want to know. Sounds confusing right? It’s also exhausting and disempowering.
For many years I wanted people to only see me as a strong-willed, emotionally-intact woman who could always take care of herself. You couldn’t hurt me even if you tried. I didn’t need anyone. Of course if anyone needed me I was always there to listen or help, but I worked very hard to always wear the face I wanted people to see. It was a mask of strength, capability, courage, and leadership.
Little did I understand that what that mask actually did was the opposite. It made me weak, incapable, a coward, and unrelatable. Who’s able to connect with someone they can’t even relate with?
My mask was alienating myself from others.
Due to our belief that we are better off putting our best foot forward, we fail to realize that our best foot forward is often the parts of us we don’t want to share with others. Our pain can be our greatest asset. By sharing our deeper fears and shames with others we show people we’re human. We become relatable. And because we’re relatable, we often not only find healing in our sharing but others may feel comfortable enough to share their story and start their own healing. Being vulnerable promotes vulnerability in others. When we allow ourselves to become vulnerable with others and Self, we create space for that human to human connection to form and expand.
Now I’m not talking about vulnerability in the perception that is a sob-fest on a couch, empty boxes of Kleenex, used tissues strewn across the room, and puffy-eyed people holding their faces in their hands in ugly-cry mode. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH IT. By all means this is a cathartic release that often comes from people NOT being vulnerable with one another for too long.
But vulnerability doesn’t need to be this extreme. If we can own our feelings, be honest with ourselves and others about how we really feel in that moment, and find a way to communicate those feelings in a healthy way then we have empowered ourselves and created an opportunity of empowerment for others.
Vulnerability enriches our relationships.
My inflexibility towards being vulnerable in front of others was about hiding the uglier parts of me...until I came to understand that those parts were actually my most beautiful. As I learned to become compassionate towards these hidden parts, I was able to share them with others. The results were not what I had feared for so long.
My friends and family softened in their response and energy towards me. I noticed that when I let my walls down, they let their walls down as well. The communication was raw and unfiltered and for the first time I began to understand how much is lost in communication when we aren’t being vulnerable.
My relationships are only growing stronger as I continue to learn more about myself and the people I care about. I think my friends and family are relieved I’m not actually the person I tried to portray all those years before. The person I was before was void of compassion and truly unable to connect in the ways that matter.
But what if you’re rejected? What if the person who you now have opened yourself up to has rejected your vulnerability and stomped all over your so-called empowerment?
Rejection is often protection.
If someone rejects your vulnerability understand that they’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting themselves. Not everyone will be ready to jump on board the vulnerability train. But that isn’t on you. It’s on them. The important take-away to remember is that you honored you. If someone doesn’t want to know the real you, including the parts people expect you to hide, then so be it. You can’t foster a truly healthy and rewarding relationship with someone who isn’t ready to meet you halfway. Consider it an expedient “thanks for letting me know now” lesson.
Maybe one day this person will come into their vulnerability, but that isn’t for you to determine.
Transparency is important in this day and age. More and more people are warming up to it and trying it on for size. As a community, I think we’re just tired of wearing the face we think people want to see and are opting out of this exhaustive state.
If you find yourself in an opportunity where you might usually hide your real feelings from someone, remember the empowerment of vulnerability and the human to human connection it can foster. You may be surprised at the response your true story elicits.
If you have an experience where vulnerability empowered you, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Remember to be you and honor every part of yourself. These parts of you are too unique and special to be hiding them from the world.
"Expand past your walls of vulnerability and watch your external world expand past theirs."