Vulnerability Challenge

What does vulnerability look like for you?

What relationships make you shut down?

We all have them. Family members with different political beliefs, coworkers who don’t share your vision of how to get things done, strangers who feel entitled to share their opinions about your life with you, a general yet constant fear of rejection. There are people and situations in life that cause us to emotionally shut down. We can become angry, defensive, or entirely unable to interact at all. Vulnerability is triggered by different things for different people and reactions may be different for everyone (shutting down out of anger vs. fear).

It’s easy. It’s natural. It’s also not helping you grow.

Let me switch gears here for just a moment. Let’s define my favorite word: vulnerability.

Vulnerability: the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
— Wikipedia

By this definition, vulnerability is not a great thing to have. In fact, it’s a terrible thing! Exposing ourselves to attack or harm? No thank you, that’s why I punch things in my spare time—ain’t nobody tryna get attacked up in here.

But I prefer another definition of vulnerability. One I have espoused after reading and following the work of Brené Brown:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.
— Brené Brown, author and researcher

To sum up the work of Brown would be to do her a great disservice, but assuming you haven’t or don’t have the time to read her work in its entirety, let me do my best to give you the Cliff Notes version.

As humans, we have shame and fear. Our desire to connect with other humans is thwarted again and again by shame and fear, holding us back from action and openness. Fear causes us to believe that vulnerability, the act of showing our weakness and humanness, will drive us further apart and make us feel even more alone, it does the opposite. Vulnerability brings us closer together, moves us forward into action, and ignites deeper, more meaningful connections.

So, let’s go back to the beginning and the point of this post. It is natural and comfortable to want to close ourselves off to those who, for lack of better words, piss us off. Shut us down, cause us to draw deeper inside ourselves, scare us into thinking that people who are different than us are not only different, but terrible.

Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. I am neither the judge nor the jury. But I am here to ask a question: what would vulnerability do to those relationships? What would it look like? Could it even change that relationship for the better?

For me, bringing vulnerability to stressful or grating relationships looks like listening—not reacting. And letting my guard down, without any expectation or hope of reciprocation. Because that’s not the point. The point is that by increasing my own ability to be vulnerable, I open myself up to “love, belonging, courage, empathy and creativity.” That doesn’t require anyone else to participate and I don’t need permission to be human. I give others permission to let their guard down by first letting down my own.

I know that this opens me up to embarrassment. Hurt. Maybe even loss. But, maybe, just maybe, it will be the spark that lights a flame of change in those relationships. Not immediately, not overnight, maybe not even in the foreseeable future. But the impact in my own life is immediate, rippling out like rain drops breaking the tension of the tranquil waters of status-quo.

Your challenge, if you accept:

So my challenge to you, and me, is this: find one person in your life that you know, in your heart of hearts, you need to be more vulnerable with. Figure out what that looks like for you in the context of that relationship. Let go of your expectations. And be open to seeing what sparks take flame.