Vulnerability stems from the Latin word “vulnus,” which means wound. Through being vulnerable, we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wounded, both physically and emotionally. However, what the Latin word “vulnus” does not convey is that vulnerability is the key to deep, personal connection and freedom. Vulnerability is the ticket to embracing your authentic self. Vulnerability is the path to being able to wake up, look yourself in the mirror, and be happy with what you see. This is much easier said than done, though. Let’s examine some of the barriers that prevent us from being vulnerable.
Let’s take it back to when we were children (if you’ve read my previous blog posts you know that I think young kids are incredibly wise and have much to teach us.) We would run around naked, with pizza and tomato sauce smeared all over our faces and express whatever ideas, outlandish or not, that were on our minds. And we would say these things without hesitating, not in the least concerned about what others might think. We weren’t worried about how fit we were or what we looked like or if what we said would be perceived as “stupid.” But as we grew older, social norms started to influence our behavior. And, consequently, certain situations made us feel insecure about ourselves, like this one:
John is in Kindergarten. John likes Sarah. John tells his best friend, Erik, that he has a crush on Sarah and asks him not to tell anyone. What does Erik do? Erik decides to tell the whole Kindergarten class, of course, that John likes Sarah. John is embarrassed and the whole class is now laughing. John feels hurt and decides not to tell anyone how he really feels anymore.
This is obviously a relatively simplistic example, yet one that I think we can all relate to in some way or another. We’ve all been in John’s shoes before. (And damn it Erik, why can’t you keep a secret?) But the important lesson here is that at a certain point in our lives, we’ve all experienced rejection or been the object of ridicule. These experiences often make us afraid to expose our true selves in fear of being hurt, denied or rejected. Yet, there’s a danger much greater than being wounded or rejected, from NOT being vulnerable… and that is concealing emotions and hiding our truth.
What separates humans from animals is our emotional capacity. Vulnerability is fundamental in humans evolving on a conscious level. Our biological fight or flight mode was created so we could escape from saber tooth tigers. Today, that’s not a concern for most of us. However, the fear in our minds, or the “saber tooth tiger,” still exists. It manifests in a variety of forms, like saying, “I love you” to someone and being unsure what they will say back or quitting a job you hate, or changing majors or revealing your struggles and insecurities to friends. Many choose to run and hide because we fear rejection, the “saber tooth tiger,” and being seen as weak.
The thought of being seen as we really are can be very frightening; especially in a social media world where 99% of posts portray “perfect moments.” This creates a distortion in reality because no one is happy 99% of the time. 99% of the population isn’t ripped, wealthy, or a genius, or traveling the world sipping coconuts, or laughing and loving life every minute of every day. It’s great to be ripped, smart, rich and travel the world. There’s nothing wrong with these things. But because these “snippets” of life are extrapolated and advertised everywhere, it has the very real potential of creating feelings of unworthiness in the majority of those who aren’t living this unreal life. Many of us are bombarded with these idealistic images on a daily basis and think to ourselves I’m not happy enough, muscular enough, skinny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough…etc. We feel inadequate and feel a need to attain “perfection,” which is a man-made construct. Perfection creates conflict because we feel as if we won’t be accepted or earn approval without it. There is beauty in imperfection, beauty in the aspects of life not often portrayed in social media. It’s what makes us human. It’s what makes you—you.
People relate to authenticity and problems and struggles. In a world of “perfection,” it’s a breath of fresh air to see someone share their hardships, their struggles, their insecurities, and imperfections. The reason why vulnerability is so powerful is that people can relate. When I hear success stories or stories of overcoming hardship, I’m always interested in “the come up,” and what had to be overcome, not the fancy boats and watches and cars. I crave to understand the struggles of what it took to get where they are: sleeping on a friend’s couch, fear of failure but still pushing through, late nights working, having no money, self-doubt, experiencing abuse as a child, etc. These are the universal struggles that we all face in some form or another.
True connection occurs beneath the surface level. Think about the people you love in your life. My guess is they know things about you that most others don’t. You are closer to the people you love and feel more comfortable around them. What if you decided to let more people into your inner circle and shared your true self? What would that feel like? The quality of your relationships is more important than the quantity, but exposing yourself as you really are is liberating and can expand your connections with others. The depth of your relationships is dependent on how deep you are willing to expose your true self.
Rejection. It may happen. But take a minute to really think about what rejection would feel like. Catastrophizing is an irrational thought process a lot of us have wherein we believe that if something bad happens, the outcome will be far worse than it actually would be. Imagine you open yourself up and reveal an insecurity or struggle from your past. Someone may call you a bunch of names or reject you or call you a loser. This may hurt, but guess what? The people who reject you don’t matter. You will attract the people who accept you as you really are. And when you surround yourself with people who accept you as your true self, unfiltered, open and exposed, you are free to be you! You can act without filters and hesitation. This is the ultimate liberation. Being able to wake up everyday, comfortable with who you are. And through this process, you may also find your purpose in life.
Preston Smiles, a motivational speaker, and ambassador for human connection and authenticity, talks about how your “mess turns into your message” in his video Why Vulnerability Will Set You Free. And he’s so right. My own dark times and insecurities have set me on the path I’m on today, a path filled with purpose and peace. Revealing your deepest wounds and insecurities can be the catalyst for changing yourself and the lives of others. I’m not saying to just share all of your problems every day on Facebook. I’m encouraging you to have the courage to share your experiences and wounds with others with whom you feel a connection. If a friendship is formed, the bonds will be strong, built of truth and openness. It will set you free and give others permission to do the same.
We have an immense power within us to affect others. We are emotional beings who thrive on our connectedness with others. Give yourself the gift of allowing your true self to flourish and breathe. You may well ignite a chain reaction among others. The liberation that stems from authenticity cannot be taken away by any one person, rejection or denial.
Photo: Getty Images