Have you ever found yourself feeling lonely and bored, craving for social interaction only to log onto Facebook instead of calling a friend? Have you ever found yourself at a party and feeling a bit out of place and slightly uncomfortable until you’ve had a couple of drinks? I have. And I’ve come to understand that I do these things to feel less vulnerable. Vulnerability is something that isn’t easy to feel – not in close relationships and not in public spaces. Why? Because vulnerability is underappreciated in our society – it’s seen as a sign of weakness. We’re taught from a young age that the most powerful people are not vulnerable — that if you’re vulnerable, you’re subject to forces greater than yourself. So, we do what we can to avoid being so. We ‘armor up’ in different ways: through perfectionism, through being hyper focused on appearances — some of us armor up through addictions. Some armor up through never letting anyone in fully in a relationship and never being fully emotionally available. Some armor up every time we are on our iPhones or Blackberries – only getting connections through technology. Many of us armor up in more ways than one (myself included).
Yet, we want something different. We yearn for the kind of intimacy that can only come through being vulnerable. Cultivating vulnerability is an act of intimacy and it fosters deep connections. Ultimately, vulnerability is about standing ‘naked’ in the world – being seen for who we really are. You cannot be wearing any masks or armor.
Here’s a familiar story to many: You get into a relationship and starting moving way too fast. At first, it’s about the euphoria of projection and you lose yourself in the other and the promise of what that person can offer you. You hear yourself telling your friends: “Oh, so-and-so is perfect for me. Sure, we’ve only known each other for 6 weeks but we’re soul mates.” Then reality hits and you start to see that someone for who they really are. And you say to yourself “So-and-so is not who I thought they were.” That’s because you never really knew that person in the beginning. How could you? Jumping into relationships with blinders on – hoping that someone is who you want them to be and not knowing who they really are – is reckless vulnerability. It’s being vulnerable when you should’ve been more cautious.
So, how do we find the proper balance? Healthy vulnerability is vulnerability that has self regard within it. It has self care and respect. Healthy vulnerability includes discernment (not to be mistaken for judgment). It’s when you look at somebody in terms of where and who they are now. We often mistakenly open up to vulnerability by looking at the potential of somebody and not where they are now. You’re in a danger zone if you’re not seeing someone in where they are and who they are now. That’s reckless vulnerability.
One of the best gifts we can give to each other is to love someone for who they are: faults and all. When you’re in that space, that’s healthy vulnerability. Then you can engage and let your guard down. You discern who is healthy enough to be with (not perfect for) you.
The truth is our vulnerability is what draws people to us. When we let our guards down, people want to be near you, be a part of your energy field, a part of your life. So how can you make yourself feel safe and vulnerable simultaneously? Don’t abandon yourself. Protect yourself. If you do that, you can go anywhere in the world and feel safe.
What does vulnerability mean to you? What have you been taught? How do you ‘armor up’?