Unmasking the truth behind the stories we tell ourselves to avoid being seen
By Jumol Royes
Start a conversation about being vulnerable and take note of the reactions: people tend to clam up, change the subject or dismiss the idea outright. I know, because I used to be one of those people. Vulnerability isn’t tied to being fun or sexy and it rarely tops a list of trending topics. The truth is, vulnerability is hard—and sometimes, it just plain sucks.
For most people (myself included), the thought of being vulnerable—i.e. uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure—can be terrifying. So it’s not surprising that we wear many masks (I’m putting all my imperfect perfectionists on blast) and play a variety of roles (here’s looking at you, my people pleasing peeps) in order to protect ourselves from vulnerability.
But when the perfecting, pleasing and pretending becomes too exhausting, our eyes can be opened to the simple truth that all we need is the courage to show up in our lives and allow ourselves to be seen just as we are.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. Her 2010 TEDxHouston talk, on the power of vulnerability, is one of the most watched TED talks in the world, with close to 30 million views. (Watch it at www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.)
In Daring Greatly, her number one New York Times bestseller, Brown writes: “As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection—to be the person whom we long to be—we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.”
We tell ourselves a lot of stories that make it difficult for us to open up and tear down our walls. Brown has debunked some of the most common vulnerability myths to help move the process along.
Myth #1: Vulnerability is weakness
Vulnerability is a perfect example of a case of mistaken identity. We associate it with weakness when in fact it’s the ultimate demonstration of courage. We value it in others, but are afraid to let them see it in us. Is it weak to be true to yourself in the face of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure? I don’t think so.
Myth #2: I don’t do vulnerability
You’re on a first date worrying about whether or not the guy sitting across the table really likes you. That’s vulnerability. You share a personal post on Facebook even though you aren’t sure how it will be received. Vulnerability. Or maybe you’re taking a leap of faith and trying something new. You guessed it, vulnerability. Life is vulnerable. If you think you don’t do vulnerability, think again.
Myth #3: Vulnerability is letting it all hang out
When we equate being vulnerable with being an open book about everything with everyone, we’re no longer talking about vulnerability. We’re talking about WikiLeaks-style information sharing. Vulnerability is not a tool to use or a weapon to wield; it’s a state of being and a two-way street where boundaries and trust are essential.
Myth #4: I can go it alone
Like love, belonging and connection, vulnerability is a team sport. We all need encouragement to travel the unbeaten path, and a helping hand when we inevitably stumble along the way. When one of us hurts, we all hurt—but when we rise, we rise together.
To be or not to be vulnerable really isn’t the question. The better question is: do you have the courage to show up in your life and be seen?
JUMOL ROYES is a Toronto-based PR and communications strategist with a keen interest in personal development and transformation. Follow him on Twitter at @Jumol.