why it’s good to be vulnerable

I’m a highly strung, neurotic and anxious control freak who needs to be loved and doesn’t like to be mocked and needs affection like she needs water. Why did I just reveal that to thousands of strangers, you might wonder? According to renowned research professor Brené Brown, the ability to happily shed all bullshit defences and let people see you for who you really are is at the heart of living a better life. So I guess now I’ve got nothing to hide. Liberating.

Image by Heiner Luepke via republicofyou

Through 8 years of studying thousands of people, Brown identified a unique group of people who seemed to live truly wholehearted lives. No bullshit defences, no egos getting in the way of relationships or life, just wholehearted rawness and love and commitment. 

Turns out the one thing these people had in common was this: they fully embraced vulnerability.

In fact, they believed it was their vulnerability that made them beautiful. Each had a heartbreaking story to tell (don’t we all?) but nonetheless were more joyful and creative and were better able to make truly authentic connections with people around them than others. Brown’s research determined that indeed it was their vulnerability – their openness and willingness to stand judged - that allowed them these fortunes. 

I’m digging this. What a soul-opening, liberating notion. I’m usually quite petrified to share my inner brain and heart farts because I don’t want to appear self-indulgent. But this stuff works, it seems.... which begs me to ask how we might become alright with being vulnerable.

To be happily vulnerable is to know that you are enough.

That’s the key right there, isn’t it? Knowing you’re enough, feeling worthy, having some damn self-esteem which is one thing that seems to elude so many of us in this day and age... that’s at the core of being happily vulnerable.

I wondered how we get close to that feeling of being enough, and I think what helps is realising we are all the same. Strip a group of seemingly disparate people right down to their bare souls and you will see that they are all the same:

"It is ultimately the same human being who meets us again and again in a thousand manifestations and a thousand masks." - Ernst Cassirer

I came across this poem a while back that I reckon also helps. In fact, I think it says it all:

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I’m afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
but don’t be fooled,
for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm and I’m in command
and that I need no one,
but don’t believe me. 
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this.  I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance,
if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It’s the only thing that will assure me
of what I can’t assure myself,
that I’m really worth something.
But I don’t tell you this.  I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
and nothing of what’s everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.

- Charles C. Finn, September 1966


What do think of all this vulnerability stuff? Make sense? Why do we find it so hard to do?!!

Also check out Brenés blog Ordinary Courage and her TED talk on vulnerability which has had over 940,000 views so far!



10 comments:

  1. great post and thank you for pointing me to Brene's blog and TED talk - awesome stuff. my new mantra - I AM enough!

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  2. When I read your first line...it was like I was reading a description of myself. Have you read 'The Power of Now'? I'm slogging through it at the moment - really enlightening (and confronting) stuff - I reckon you'd dig it!

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    Replies
    1. That title - I think I need to read it. Thank you x

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    2. Agreed, it is an amazing book, such simple ideas... and yet these are the ones that always work. I love this post and the poem. Thank you x

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  3. This is one of my favourites, thank you for sharing. Your personal reflection and analysis, as well as the references included are fantastic.. a very timely blog for me in relation to where I am at.. Rache

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  4. Maria, again, so fabulously spot-on!

    Thank you :)

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  5. Thanks everyone! So glad it resonates. xx

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  6. What a beautiful poem! Thank you.

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  7. This really struck a chord, thank you. The poem brought a tear to my eye, so beautiful.
    I love the idea of being more vulnerable and letting the walls around me down but I have no idea how to do it.

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    1. The key lies in building your self esteem. But that's the hard bit isn't it. I find the more I allow myself to see that we're all the same, in the end, the better I feel about myself. The more I accept other people's idiosyncrasies, the better I feel about myself.

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