One of the most fear-inducing situations to be in is one of vulnerability. We go to extreme lengths to avoid it. We’re willing to lie to ourselves about what we want, who we really are, what our true intentions are. We close our eyes, shift truths, sabotage ourselves, reinforce defenses where needed. Because to be vulnerable is first and foremost to be honest with ourselves. It’s to voluntarily disarm our own defenses and shine a light on those festering things we’d rather leave unclaimed in the dark. It’s to fully know and own up to our shame, our hopes, intentions, insecurities and fears.
To then act upon our vulnerability is to expose the very stuff that we are made of. Bare our bones, face judgment and rejection. Understand the risks, fight for what we want. Surrender control and hope. Open ourselves up to the possibility that what will happen next could break and remake who we are. To embrace vulnerability is to be made acutely aware of our own lonely fragility and powerlessness. It comes with an “internal struggle and emotional turmoil” guarantee, and it’s damn scary.
It’s understandable then why we would be afraid, why it would scare us into strengthening our defenses against ourselves. We walk around with built-in security systems programmed to detect anything that may threaten exposure. And we focus our energy on constructing an attractive, protective vision of who we are. It’s almost too easy to be someone we’re not, to fall into a routine of distracting ourselves from ourselves. We drink, party, screw, shop, fall fast and hard into romances that have no substance. Do things for the momentary thrill of escape, for the moments we can forget ourselves.
One of my favorite songs begins with the lyrics, “When will I ever be safe from myself?” The consequence of exchanging vulnerability for an illusory perception of who we are is that we become a hazard to ourselves. It’s an act of betrayal when we try to shut out parts of ourselves, especially the parts that we are afraid of. We leave the scary bits to fester, grow, and become something unrecognizable within us while indulging in a false sense of security. Being vulnerable takes courage, and nothing about it is easy. But the things that make us feel vulnerable and scared often end up defining who we are. And to turn our backs on that is to exist in a morphine induced, anesthetized and stagnant state of being.
For me, this past year and a half abroad has been marked by vulnerability. At times, it left me scared, defenseless, exhausted, defeated, raw, and unnerved. I look back now and realize I had a choice every step of the way. I could either take a good, hard look at myself and to own and even expose my demons or withdraw and protect myself. And I chose vulnerability.
I don’t think I’m a particularly brave person. I worry a ton and am scared of a lot of things, but I think that as much as I wanted to protect myself, hide behind an illusion and take the easy way out, I wanted more to measure my own courage, to see that I have the strength to withstand the knowing and reshaping of who I am.
We can all pretend for a while, but the parts we’ve locked and vaulted away will still be there waiting for us. So be vulnerable, it’ll be alright. At the end of the day, there’s no regret in being true to who we are, fighting for what is really important to us and evolving.