What are the thoughts that come to your mind as soon as you see, read or hear the word ‘vulnerability’? Weakness, fear, anxiety, shame, not good enough, harmful, broken, needs to be fixed, exposed, open?
Growing research is in fact suggesting the exact opposite. Dr Brené Brown, who is a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She believes that “you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage, therefore … embrace the suck”. Her motto is “courage over comfort”.
She defines vulnerability as composed of “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”. She suggests that vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage and that to be vulnerable allows ourselves to be seen. She describes how vulnerability is typically thought of as a centre of emotions, such as grief, shame, fear, disappointment but she suggests it is also the centre and birthplace of love, belonging, authenticity, creativity, courage and accountability.
So why does vulnerability challenge us all so much? Why do we find it so hard as humans to let our guard down, to let others into the secrets and traumas of our lives? Why do we feel that it is better to present a strong, happy, courageous, fear free existence? Why do we find it so hard to be truthful to ourselves and perhaps friends and family members when we are struggling with or experiencing a ‘perceived vulnerability’? Perhaps it could be because being vulnerable can mean taking risks, getting hurt and maybe venturing out into the unknown. It can mean exposing a side of yourself that you may have been keeping deeply protected or hidden away, even though the discomfort of doing so could be causing you great mental, emotional or physical pain and suffering. Nobody would like to be seen or perceived as a ‘moaner’ or a ‘complainer’ or ‘airing their laundry in public’ and that could be another reason why people find it so difficult opening up about their struggles and discomforts, even though these could be a shared experience by common humanity.
But there are constructive, respectful, responsible ways to express and expose your own vulnerabilities, while providing a space and avenue to help yourself and others who may be experiencing a similar discomfort in their own life. One way of doing this can be by learning how to trust yourself. As described by Elisha Goldstein Ph.D., a psychologist, author, speaker and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living, “You have the power and the freedom to start making new choices in the present moment. Building trust in yourself means choosing to adopt a mindful stance, especially during moments of emotional vulnerability. This also means willingness to feel uncomfortable… this is where real change and growth are possible”.
He continues to describe how ‘you can build the capacity for trust in yourself through mindfully paying attention to moments of vulnerability, observing your personal experience of emotional vulnerability with an accepting, curious, and non-judgmental attitude. Becoming mindful of these vulnerable moments will increase trust in your capacity to be with yourself, whatever might come up’.
(Goldstein, E. (2013, April 25). The Neuroscience of Trusting Yourself. Huffington Post)
This is how a consistent mindful approach to your own daily living can help you to learn how to trust yourself and how to become more vulnerable in your thoughts, feelings, emotions and expressions. When you practice Mindfulness, you learn how to create and live in ‘present moment awareness’. This means that you learn how to ‘meet and accept yourself’ exactly as you are in every moment. You learn to realise that it is ok to be feeling distraught, emotional, overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, anxious, fearful or panicked by whatever discomforts you are experiencing in your life. You learn to meet these head on and you learn how to ‘sit’ with and ‘live alongside’ these discomforts in your daily living.
Mindfulness and present moment living and awareness can help you ‘embrace the uncomfortable, to experience your experience and its associated discomforts as it is in the moment, to soothe and comfort yourself while you allow yourself to feel vulnerable in coping with these difficulties, perhaps talking and expressing more openly, in a caring and influencing manner, how you are feeling and how you feel these vulnerabilities can help you to grow, emerge and be courageous in embracing and moving out of your comfort zone’.
A beautiful thought I love from Dr Brené Brown, which has really helped me in my own life is: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do”.
A powerful quote to leave with you to think about is:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing, it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our greatest measure of courage”.
(Brené Brown, Rising Strong)
HOW TO TAP INTO YOUR OWN VULNERABILITY AND COURAGE
The following is a step by step guide on how to tap into your own vulnerability and courage:
2. As you continue in this pattern, notice any thoughts, feelings, emotions, physical discomforts or vulnerabilities that may arise. Let go of any internal battle you may have with them. Give them the space to be as they are in this moment, in the here and now.
3. Saying to yourself, ‘here’ as you breathe in and saying to yourself ‘now’ as you breathe out, continue to notice, to allow and to meet yourself and any vulnerabilities or discomforts that you may be experiencing in this moment. They all belong and are a part of you.
4. Continuing to breathe in your own rhythm, saying ‘here’ as you breath in and ‘now’ as you breathe out, just allowing whatever thoughts, feelings, emotions or physical discomforts you have to surface and knowing that you are safe, these are all a part of you and you are just as you need to be right now.
5. Now affirm to yourself that you always have the choice to let go of any internal battle you may have and that you always have the choice to let go of your thoughts and to come back to the present moment.
6. When you are ready, let go of this practice and embrace how it feels to have fully met yourself as you are in this moment.
Thank you as always to Brian O’Loughlin and his team at Celtic Media Group (https://www.anglocelt.ie/, https://www.con-telegraph.ie/, https://www.meathchronicle.ie/, https://www.offalyindependent.ie/, https://www.westmeathexaminer.ie/ and https://www.westmeathindependent.ie/ for all their wonderful help!
As published by The Celtic Media Group in The Anglo Celt, Connaught Telegraph, Meath Chronicle, Offaly Independent, Westmeath Examiner and Westmeath Independent newspapers w/c 30/11/2020)