Vulnerability is a gift you give to yourself.
Being vulnerable isn’t the same as being scared, nor is it admitting defeat. In fact, knowing and accepting your vulnerability is actually insight into your strengths. Why? Because you can get really good at recognizing when those pesky, painful vulnerabilities are in action, and how they’re skewing your thinking or your choices.
For example, let’s say you’re building a house in a location where storms and heavy winds are likely to come from the northwest — your house would be “vulnerable” on that side. What would you do to construct a solid and safe structure? You’d make sure that you did everything you could to ensure that side of the house would withstand the forces of nature.
The understanding of where you’re vulnerable makes you stronger, if you accept it and work with it.
We all have vulnerabilities — our own unique personal storms. Some are specific fears, like a fear of heights, getting sick, or becoming homeless and alone. Others are more general: feeling socially awkward, not being able to adequately express emotion, or struggling with organization.
I listen to people daily who live with secrets, terribly afraid that if anyone knew things they’d done, or problems they have, that no one would care for them, or admire them. Yet many people fear exposing their weaknesses, as if that admission marks them inferior.
Quite the opposite is true, however.
My own vulnerabilities…
It’s worth it. So I’ll go first.
One of my major vulnerabilities is my anxiety. I have a fear of not living up to the expectations of others. It’s been around a very long time, even as a child. I can almost hear its raspy voice, whispering in my ear, “You’re not going to be enough. You’ll be disappointing.”
Another? I’m far too keenly aware of time. This particular vulnerability makes me impatient at times, and I want to rush through things, instead of slowing down, and enjoying the present.
I could name a few more, but then this post could be titled, “All about Margaret,” and I’d be afraid that would be disappointing. (Reference Vulnerability #1.)
But one that I ran into this past few months almost stopped me in my tracks. Some of you know that I’m writing my first book, Perfectly Hidden Depression which will be published this November. I hit a wall last October. I was suddenly very aware of the gravitas of what I was trying to do — and who was I to do it?
I didn’t write a word for almost a week, stuck in self-doubt and absorbed in my own fear. So one morning early, I decided to write about it. Maybe I would use what I wrote in the book. Maybe I wouldn’t. But I needed to get it out.
And here’s what I wrote.
“One of the daunting tasks of writing this book is the almost constant realization that there is much wisdom out there about the process of change and growth—with only the tiniest bit known by me. In many ways, I wish I had a lifetime to write, as the fear exists that the minute I finish, I’ll learn something new, remember something I forgot to say, read an exceedingly enlightening quote I’ve never seen, or watch a patient discover something that might be helpful to you in your own journey. But that’s my own perfectionism talking to me and my discomfort with vulnerability. Can you hear it? I bet you can. So, I have to find my own peace that this book will be an imperfect guide for you to grow more comfortable with your own imperfection. It seems a bit ironic, but I have to sit in my own vulnerability. And live there. Unapologetically. For good.”
After I wrote this, I wasn’t stuck anymore. Acceptance of what is obvious — my own imperfection — made it much easier to take risks. Because if you fail or struggle, that failure or struggle won’t define me (or you) any more than my success would. Both make up who I am — and who you are.
Acceptance of vulnerability brings with it — freedom.
And by the way, the quote has ended up in the chapter on confronting your own fear.
How are our vulnerabilities created? How do they guide us to our strengths?
Your vulnerabilities were created in childhood. If you were abused, it’s likely that your vulnerabilities lie in controlling anger, or being overly submissive. If you were adored and spoiled, your vulnerabilities might range toward self-centeredness, lack of empathy, or insecurity (not feeling as if you earned that adoration). If you spend some time thinking about whatever hurt or pain you were trying to manage as a child, you’ll be able to see your vulnerabilities clearly.
Your vulnerabilities all make sense, given your life as a child. But you know what’s fascinating about your vulnerabilities?
Your vulnerabilities often hold within them clues to the strengths you developed in childhood as well.
Let’s take my anxiety about not meeting the expectations of others. What is a strength that vulnerability might imply? It could suggest an ability to tune in easily to others needs, or a sensitivity to how someone else might be feeling — the flip side of worrying about expectations.
Your strengths and your vulnerabilities are intimately connected, one and the same.
It’s like a rock. You see it rooted in the ground, but you can only see one side. Your strength lies on one side of the rock. Pick it up, and the corresponding vulnerability, the darker, mossier side, lies beneath.
The gifts of vulnerability are many.
When you know your vulnerabilities, you can protect them, and honor them. If someone tries to manipulate them, you’ll be prepared.
When you accept your vulnerabilities, you’re no longer afraid of their exposure. You can give and receive support from those with whom you choose to share. You understand their origins and their resulting upsides, and can have compassion for yourself now, and as a child.
When you reveal your vulnerabilities, they point you to your strengths. Your strengths and your vulnerabilities balance one another, and are intimately connected.
You don’t get one without the other.
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This was originally published on April 1, 2017 and was updated on March 15, 2019.