This article has taken many months to come to fruition. As a writer, I struggle with being vulnerable. I’m scared of not being liked, of being judged and revealing parts of myself that are very raw, which can then be opened up to criticism and judgement.
What is it about that word that gives me such a knot in my stomach, and keeps me analysing everything I say after I reveal a raw part of myself? And, why am I writing a post about vulnerability if I struggle so much with it?
It started the day I was listening to Heavy by Linkin Park – a band that had supported me through my teenage years of angst. This particular song struck a nerve, as we had just lost another musically talented genius, Chester Bennington, the lead singer of the group.
I was on my own listening to a song from their last album when his lyrics hit me hard!
“I don’t like my mind right now
Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary
Wish that I could slow things down
I wanna let go but there’s comfort in the panic
And I drive myself crazy
Thinking everything’s about me”
Chester struggled with his mind. But most of all, he struggled letting people know what was in his mind, his daily thoughts and his underlying fears. His music was the one outlet where he felt comfortable expressing himself and the only way he was able to show the world who he really was.
Once I wiped the tears from my eyes, I started thinking about vulnerability and how the world we live in doesn’t accept it enough. How, in Chester’s words, there are many young boys (and girls) growing up with so much buried inside, wanting to tell their stories but never knowing how.
So, what is vulnerability and why do we fear it so much?
Vulnerability is emotional exposure. It is the core emotion of fear, shame and self-worth. It’s difficult and it’s painful, but it can also be beautiful. There is a notion that vulnerability makes you weak, when in fact it is one of the strongest traits a human being could have.
Deep down all we really want to be is vulnerable, because this makes us real. Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. The place where magic can happen!
Vulnerability creates deeper connections
Do you ever wonder why we fall in love with characters in TV shows and movies? It’s because we get to see every part of their personality, including their vulnerability. We watch them take risks, fall in love, yell out their feelings in public and occasionally cry. Instead of judging them and ridiculing them, we start cheering them on, because in some way we feel a connection to them.
As human beings, we are wired for connection, and the only way we can obtain that is by opening ourselves to others. Being more in touch with our own emotions make us a better person all round – in our workplace, relationships, and friendships.
Speaking our truth is not only opening our mouth, but opening our hearts.
Vulnerability is the key to better relationships
Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher and well-known author and speaker says that vulnerability holds the key to emotional intimacy. Her TED talk ‘The power of vulnerability’ has been viewed over 32 million times. She speaks from the heart to connect with her audience and has a particular focus on intimate relationships.
In relationships, we put up barriers to protect ourselves from getting hurt, but only a true genuine bond or connection is achieved when one or both parties show their real self. It is only by being vulnerable that mutual trust can develop, which in turn will result in a more satisfying relationship.
Vulnerability requires us to love with our whole hearts, even when there is no guarantee, and to be willing to invest in a relationship, that may or may not work out.
“Don’t keep your heart safe, be vulnerable” – John Mayer
Vulnerability contradicts the biological programming of men
Vulnerability requires us to be open and express our feelings, which contradicts the biological wiring of men needing to hunt and protect the tribe. This has been carried on for generations. Men are seen as hunters and protectors and have grown up with this knowing.
Young boys are told to be strong, never cry or show any sign of weakness, which is then brought into adulthood. With the added pressures of work, relationships and life, it’s even more important for these men to remain composed in the face of adversity.
In dating, relationships and marriage, men need to be seen as confident, able providers and someone that has their shit together. When, in fact, true confidence is the ability to be real and vulnerable. Showing a true authentic side creates a closer connection to your loved ones, and is emotionally healthy.
There are no benefits to emotional suppression
Robin Williams created humour on our TV screens. He gave so much to others, but little to himself. He was too scared to open up and show people the real person he was, so he covered it by creating a facade, and making people laugh. This was only sustainable for a short time and sadly, eventually he too left this world.
Keeping our emotions in can lead to serious health and mental problems in the long run. Sure, it may seem right at the time, but if we don’t eventually release that emotion, it can build up toxins, which can then lead to dis-ease of the body.
We spend so much time working on our physical health, but neglect our emotional wellbeing. Keeping our emotions in can lead to depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety and depression are debilitating and can take over your mind and body, while suppressed feelings only leads to emotional inner turmoil.
It ain’t weak to speak
In this new world we live in, we have so many ways of reaching out to people. There are people out there – online and offline – raising awareness on mental health issues, talking openly about suicide and offering counselling and support groups to help people get through their toughest times.
It is important to create awareness and encourage anyone who is struggling to seek help. Talking to someone avoids the build up of stress and frustration, which can trigger the fight or flight response. Statistics have shown that 1 in 7 people experience mental health issues each year, many of them living in silence due to the stigma in our society.
Talking to someone isn’t weak, it’s a step towards feeling better.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity
Musicians, artists, writers, even comedians use their creativity as a way to channel their emotions and express vulnerability. Our fear of being vulnerable can often stop us from expressing our true creative selves. However, if we are prepared to recognise our emotions, they could then fuel our creative pursuits.
Salvador Dali, a famous artist, had a negative side, but this negative side ended up being the catalyst to his artist evolution. Every painting he ever produced showcased vulnerability – whether it was showing a distorted side of himself or others, revealing parts of his life, or self-expression.
Being vulnerable is a courageous act. It is not an easy task and one that may require practice. Once started, it can open up our lives in ways we never thought possible. Embracing our vulnerability can spark up our inner creative, deepen our connections with others and ultimately deepen that connection with ourselves – and that’s when the magic begins.