My whole life I pictured being vulnerable as a horseshoe crab upside-down on the beach; exposed, defenseless and about to be the lunch of a seagull.
My whole life shifted when this perspective changed. When I was able to find the value in being vulnerable, I learned how to truly love myself, and how to be myself. I was also able to love others more deeply. Up to this point, I believed in not showing weakness. Should I show weakness, a predator may go in for the kill. I had to look good; like I was keeping it all together. As though I nipped all of my problems in the bud, and I was consistently thriving. I pretended I had enough money, that I never made mistakes, that I knew what someone was talking about when I had no idea, and I let people cross boundaries with me, acting as though things didn’t bother me when they did. I was constantly compromising myself. I was proud. I lived out of my ego. My heart was a third-class citizen.
I acknowledged this one day at work, when the new girl–a vibrant, charismatic light of a person ten years younger than myself–told me she was in recovery and that she’d just served a few years in prison. I was floored. She was more comfortable in her skin than nearly anyone I had ever known. I confided, “I am in recovery, but don’t tell anyone. I don’t like people to know. I tell everyone I am allergic to alcohol.” To which she replied with, “Your secrets make you sick!” I rolled my eyes at that old AA cliche. “Shoot,” I thought. I just told this girl that I am in recovery, and I don’t know that I can trust her with my secret.
I couldn’t trust her; she told a co-worker, and then she told me she told her. The strange thing was, I couldn’t muster up any “How could you?”‘s, because I was grateful. The cat was out of the bag, and the truth set me free. Now all the love I receive is love that I deserve, because they know who I really am. I recognize that sharing myself, my passions, my struggles, and my love is what others identify with as well. This is what makes groups such as AA so successful. In a meeting someone shares sensitive material about themselves, and is met with accepting words and hugs. This is true connection, and this is the antidote to the most gripping addictions and dire situations. It is also a way to live a meaningful life. By being vulnerable, I give myself and others permission to thrive.
The following are ways I allow myself to be vulnerable:
Identify Shame: Brene Brown, the scientist of shame, says “Shame unravels connection.” Sit in a quiet place, in a chair or on the floor. Close your eyes, and follow your breath. Think of a situation when you have felt ashamed. Identify why you feel ashamed. Ask yourself when you first experienced this shame, and why. Identify where in your body you feel this shame. Ask your shame how it has served you; what has it protected you from? See how your shame has helped you in someways, seeking gratitude for this shame. Ask the shame if you need it anymore. See if your shame dissipates.
Listen: We feel vulnerable by listening to sensitive stories. We often want to have a solution for the person, to make it go away. Being a good listener allows the person telling you this information to work out what they are feeling. By being an active listener, you create a safe place for them to unload. With kind acknowledgements and often a physical gesture, you show this person that they are worthy of love. By showing others they are worthy of love no matter their story, you give yourself permission to love yourself more deeply.
How can I serve you? Live from your heart, not your ego. When being vulnerable, you are acting from a place of love. You are not withholding your true-self, because you understand your value, and realize that you have something to offer, and you also know that we all do. If you woke up this morning, you have something to offer the world today. Being of service to others is a courageous act, because this is to overcome fear. Being vulnerable is to not anticipate an outcome; it is to love, even though you might be rejected. It is to be present with a loved one, even though they are dying. It is to pursue your dreams, even though you might fail, to give without expecting to receive. Being vulnerable is key when you decide to really live your life.
Honesty is the best policy: Be clear in where you stand, where you’ve been, and where you are going, communicating without compromising your values. Beyond this, recognize your mistakes and apologize. In Catholicism, the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) is where you profess your sins to a priest. No one goes there with a hop in their step. I don’t think that most Catholics make it a regular practice, but it is brilliant. We are often weighed down by our own guilt, acting out upon it. If we can be so vulnerable to confide in another person, this weight lifts. I think some Catholics do, however, skip away from the confession booth. Confiding in someone and acknowledging mistakes with apologies frees our hearts, as debilitating as it may be to the ego. You may also be familiar with people in recovery making amends for this very same reason. It is a miracle worker. On the receiving end, forgiveness is much more quickly doled out to someone willing to honestly admit to where they went wrong.
Ask Questions: Knowing that you don’t have the answers will save you from a whole bunch of suffering. If you don’t know, then ask. Ask questions on top of that. The important thing is that you have questions; that you are engaged and curious. This means your heart is open, and you are aware of the potential for a deep connection amongst others. This connection is the very thing that makes life meaningful and rich.
Identify: When others share with you something and you can identify, take advantage of this opportunity. Identifying our under-lying human fabric is what connects us. When you share something difficult, there is nothing more comforting than to find others that have been through the same. It is even more comforting when you see that they are still ok.
Give it Away: This is another AA slogan. When you go through something, and make it to the other side, it is important to share this process. It is to shine light on other’s dark places. Choose the appropriate time and place; Facebook may not be the appropriate platform. Making these connections should be intimate, such as a phone call.
I am who I am because of who we all are.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Related: Why Struggling is Sometimes a Good Thing
How to Build Healthy Emotional Boundaries
Photo: Paul Stocker via Flickr