Healthy vulnerability

by Lindsay on August 3, 2010

in Personal Growth, Relationships

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’?

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{ 7 comments }

Jean Suttle August 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

Interesting take. As someone who learned young to have self-esteem, even though I was not among the popular kids in school, quite the opposite. This blog reminds me how independant I was and how discriminating I was in finding friends and a spouse,(I’ve been with the same man for 29 years). But I did experience the sexual revolution and all that entailed until I was nearly 30. I learned through experience about the kind of man I wanted to spend my life with, and that infatuation and sexual attraction are fleeting. Fun, but fleeting. The person to look at as a long term spouse, is the one who is your friend first, will stick with you through all your stupidity, and love you unconditionally as any real friend will do. If they do not accept you as you are, or you accept them as they are, it will never last.
All that being said, I want to thank you for reminding me vulnerability can be an attribute. As a person who became disabled physically at 50, I began to retreat from society and depend on social networking friends. It meant I did not have to burden ‘friends’ with my disabilities, but your article has given me new food for thought. I have noticed that many people are very friendly BECAUSE I am handicapped, they seem to need to open a door or help me with groceries, etc. It means I can still be self reliant, and vulnerable as long as I see them for who and what they are, not what they can do for me or I them. No matter how old we get we forget that our being vunerable is what makes us approachable. It does not mean we need to be stupid or blind. The more mysterious we are, the more others want to learn about us.

Lindsay August 3, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s taken me a while to learn that being vulnerable to people isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s something I still struggle with. I don’t ever want to be a ‘burden’ to anyone but I find that people genuinely (mostly) enjoy helping others.

And at 30 years of age now, I am also finally learning that there is a difference between passionate love and true love. The passion wears off pretty quickly. You’re right – friendship and unconditional love, when you find them, may not be as exciting as ‘new’ passion, but they are worth hanging on to.

Andrea Friedmann August 3, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Lindsay, I love this post, and wanted only to add that another great gift we can give to others is to love ourselves for who we are, faults and all. If we can be gentle with ourselves, we are more likely to be loving to others! I often write about being gentle with ourselves on my blog .

Lindsay August 3, 2010 at 2:28 pm

You’re absolutely right, Andrea. We are our own toughest critic and I often forget we need to be gentle with ourselves. Thank you for the reminder. :)

Annie Miller August 6, 2010 at 9:50 am

Your blog on Healthy Vulnerability is right on! I truly identified with all you were saying. Loving another for who they really are, and not who you think they SHOULD be, opens your heart. Part of the passion is discovering all the differences, eccentricities and stumbling blocks in a new relationship, and then being able to accept that person just the way they are, and also being able to open yourself up to loving unconditionally. Thank you, Lindsay, for writing an interesting blog. I will be checking you out regularly.

Leann Harris May 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm

“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.”

This can’t be repeated enough! THANK YOU for writing this! I’m going to go post this on everything now. :)

Lindsay May 27, 2012 at 7:19 am

And thank YOU for sharing it Leann! I appreciate it!

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