For most people, vulnerability is a maniacal force–something bad and to be avoided. Throughout the day, endless Ego defense resources are utilized in an attempt to protect the frail sense of self from perceived dangers in the world. As is the case with many of our attempts of self-protection, over zealousness can lead to the distortion of reality, leaving the true value of emotional vulnerability hidden behind a sea of fear.
Before we can understand the significance of being vulnerable, let’s look to see how the “gift” of vulnerability got such a bad rap. First, let’s turn to some dictionary definitions of the word vulnerability:
1. Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon: a vulnerable part of the body;
2. Open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.: an argument vulnerable to refutation: He is vulnerable to bribery.
3. Open to assault; difficult to defend: a vulnerable bridge.
Definitions 1 and 3 make sense if you are Patton defending against a Rommel ground attack. And, they have a lot to contribute to the disparaging connotations surrounding the concept of open to being hurt. Instead, let’s focus on the second definition, which directly addresses the issue at hand.
Open to moral attack. Yikes! Moral attack; that sure doesn’t sound good. But wait. Who is doing the attacking and why would I be afraid of having my morals attacked? As I view it, I want my morals questioned. Not by others, but by myself. It is this outside force that motivates me to look inside of myself. How else am I going to understand what I stand for, and if I need to make changes to my moral foundation.
This was not always the case. In my younger days, I had no understanding of my own belief system. This caused me to end up in precarious situations, fearing vulnerability and the resulting emotional pain. I ran from pain. I tried to build a fortress around me to keep pain out. But, I couldn’t run from my own life choices and beliefs–the source of the majority of my pain. After a while, I came to the realization that I had to change my beliefs and approach to the world. I embarked on a journey to do so, right into the heart of my own fears and sense of vulnerability. My other choice was to try to continue to forge an emotional state of invulnerability. This hadn’t worked. Through facing my fears, I was finally able to hear and decode the important life lessons that were being communicated. Prior to doing so, these vital messages had reverberated off and away from my defensive walls. This is why I refer to vulnerability as being a gift; a very precious and wise one.
Many people fear the criticism of others. We don’t want to show the world that we are anything but strong winners who have our lives together. Therefore, we keep close watch over what we allow others to see, apprehensive about how the world will respond to our true selves. By opening up and facing our true essence, one can process and react to the messages transmitted via vulnerability. Hopefully, these messages won’t fall on deaf ears. With this in mind, here are some alternative definitions of vulnerability:
1. A state of being that allows learning to take place: I learned from my emotional pain.
2. A gift that allows you to touch your soul and create meaningful human contact.
3. A mechanism that allows one to grow via self-examination and exploration.
Using these definitions, ponder the following questions: have you purposely tried to seal your psyche/Ego off from a state of vulnerability? Have you looked inward to better understand yourself, or have you spent your valuable emotional resources trying to keep others out? Have you heeded the messages that are communicated via your emotional pain or are putting them on ignore? Have you learned to decipher when it is time to button up the hatch versus when it appropriate and beneficial to open yourself to the world?
In essence, vulnerability is one of many tools that you can use to increase the chances of creating a meaningful and valuable relationship with yourself and with others. Thus, the next time you’re feeling vulnerable, listen to the message being transmitted. It may contain valuable information that will assist you in creating success in life and relationships. Don’t be afraid of the sea of fear; rather, part it and walk through it. Happiness and success lie on the other side.