Rethinking Vulnerability

Rethinking Vulnerability

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The image above shows tightrope walkers, 1874. One may be Charles Blondin, the first tightrope walker to walk across the Niagara Falls!!! via State Library Victoria

It seems that every time I turn around, I see or hear something about the benefits of vulnerability. I’ve talked about it before in relation to pride, but it seems like it might be time to look at it again.


Vulnerability is the state of being open to harm, and in this context, it’s more along the lines of openness to getting your feelings hurt. It won’t kill you; it will just feel that way.

The Benefit of Vulnerability

Brené Brown puts it this way

vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

It seems that vulnerability is at the core of the things that make life worthwhile.

The Cost of Invulnerability

My mother taught me to be strong and independent. That may not be the result she hoped for, but it’s what I became in response to my observations of her interactions with the world. I am the result of my attempt to control the circumstances I found myself in. And I find it difficult to:

  • Share my fear.
  • Lean on others.
  • Ask for help.

Going back to Brené, she says that in a misguided attempt to control our feelings, we self-medicate ourselves with shopping, food and alcohol. But you can’t numb your sensitivity to fear (or vulnerability) without also numbing the other stuff. Like joy, gratitude and happiness.

We do it because we want certainty, or perhaps we call it the truth. Most of us don’t know how to discuss and debate civilly anymore; we just go straight to telling others that they are wrong and blaming them for the situation we find ourselves in. And then we pretend they aren’t affected by the fallout.

You see this a lot in what I call Footballer’s Apologies; “I’m sorry if you were upset by this.” In translation, “I’m sorry that you didn’t take this the way I wanted you to and are making such a big deal about it.” All we want is the genuine acknowledgement of inflicted pain – “I’m sorry” is enough, but adding “I’ll fix it” is better.

Learning Vulnerability

Brené suggests that there is hope for me – for all of us. We can learn to be vulnerable:

  • Love deeply, even when we aren’t loved as passionately in return.
  • Practice gratitude and joy in the moments of terror.
  • Remember that to experience vulnerability is to feel alive.
  • Believe that we are enough, exactly as we are.

And it doesn’t have to be a big thing. A couple of days ago I was listening to an episode of The Fizzle Show. They were talking about building your confidence, not vulnerability, but the metaphor stands. They cited Rob Bell who said all you have to do every day, is focus on getting from zero to one. You might not make three, and you definitely won’t get to nine, so just work on getting to one. Every day.

To which I would add, that contrary to the results of a Google search, vulnerability isn’t a weakness. Vulnerability can only come from a position of strength simply because you can’t afford it when you are weak. Like:

  • Every time you say “I love you.”
  • Getting in touch with someone bereaved.
  • When you finally tell that scumbag No!

And each moment of vulnerability is an instant of breathless exhilarated daring when you feel truly alive, no matter what happens next. You have placed your trust in another human being. One who has earned the right to know who you are and what you think (as opposed to a social media spray). These are the moments that build relationships and make life worthwhile.

Do you think you can get to one today?


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