Why True Vulnerability Is SO Much Harder Than Calculated Vulnerability

Being vulnerable is not for the faint of heart. Brene Brown has written volumes and given many a great talk on vulnerability. Oprah herself claims that she made her career out of vulnerability (Not sure what I'm talking about? Check out the video below).

Vulnerability is powerful.

Vulnerability is powerful because it reminds us that we are not alone. We are not the only ones to feel or experience the things we do. As humans, we all have challenges and we all have things that make us feel in control and powerful, and things that are our kryptonite.

Vulnerability is an easy skill to use in the past tense. It’s easy to speak of challenges overcome, illnesses and addictions since recovered from. I call this calculated vulnerability, and it’s something I’m pretty good at.

What I’m not so good at is real vulnerability. Real vulnerability is being honest about thing we are currently struggling with, the things that no matter how many years we’ve spent working on it and growing still have a way to punch us in the guts.

As a therapist, real vulnerability is particularly hard because it often feels like our job is to be an emotionally regulated fortress.

Who does the therapist, the priest, the chaplain, or the doctor go to? The saying, “Physician, heal thyself” is not lost on me.

Among my friends who are therapists, I’ve watched as they struggle through depression and counseling pregnant women after miscarrying themselves. I’ve seen them hold the emotional space and relational wounds of others as their own relationships were crumbling.

If we’re lucky, we have great supports. We have our own therapists, partners, friends, or families who we can lean on in times of strife.

What’s challenging is when our Achilles heal shows itself at an unexpected time. And isn’t that the way? We go to lengths to compartmentalize and protect our wounds, and most times it’s impossible to predict when something will rub against the wound and open up our emotions. It almost ALWAYS happens at the most inconvenient of times.

I think it happens to remind us that we all have work to do.

Knowing the process, having the tools, and helping others through challenges doesn’t insulate us from the work we must do for our own healing.

In those times when true vulnerability occurs and we have what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover”, my hope is that you are graced by someone who can hold the space, offer encouragement, and not be all-together weirded out or judge you for not having it all together all the time. Being truly honest and seen by someone (especially when it seems to come at the most unprofessional of times) is a gift and is not (as I remind myself) indicative of weakness.

Today, in a situation where my Achilles was exposed, I am grateful to have had the person on the other end of my emotion be empathetic, supportive, and encouraging. Leaving a situation of 100% vulnerability without feeling judged is an incredible gift.

If you are the vulnerable one, know that being honest about where you are is a sign of strength. If you are the one receiving someone’s vulnerability, know that your support, lack of judgment, and encouragement is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

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