On Vulnerability: Journeying into the Uncertain

Alya Bohr, Columnist

It’s unbelievably easy to get tangled up in the desire to be perfect. Everywhere around us lurks a sneaky little notion that to be worthy of connection, love and belonging, we must be flawless. Bulletproof. Along with this unwieldy assumption comes a fear and distrust of vulnerability. We may imagine it as a weakness, for it is vulnerability that rears its head in the moments when our perfect veneers crack. Vulnerability is uncomfortable. It demands risk-taking in the face of uncertainty and forces us to step away from the edge of the known and journey into the rocky terrain of emotional exposure.

And yet it is vulnerability, perhaps more than anything else, that breathes life into our relationships with others. It is vulnerability that urges us to show our truest selves. It is vulnerability that engages us with the world from a rich and meaningful place. Researcher Brené Brown has studied vulnerability extensively and has found that those willing to risk the uncertainty of opening up are far more likely to feel a strong sense of love, belonging, joy and worthiness in their lives.

It’s easy to espouse the value of vulnerability, but, as with most things, it’s easier said than done. Instead of revealing our deepest desires, fears and secrets, we tend to put up armor. We play it safe. There’s an inherent fear of judgment attached to sharing our true feelings — the ominous “What will they think?” rattles incessantly in our minds. As humans we tend to avoid the foreboding landscape that is emotional risk-taking.

But, honestly, it’s worth it. Vulnerability isn’t weakness – it’s courage. Vulnerability doesn’t make us appear broken, but rather it illuminates our strength. A special moment blossoms when someone dares to be vulnerable. It creates a space for honest and real connection. Small talk only goes so far – it’s light and it passes time, but it’s ultimately superficial; it doesn’t lead to anything deeper. Eventually, we must wade into the murky territory of emotional risk-taking if we wish to cultivate meaningful lives.

In the spirit of practicing what I preach and walking my talk, allow me to interrupt this tirade with a brief anecdote. My dad died during my junior year of high school. It broke my heart open and sent shards of grief careening through my world. To put it simply, my life as I knew it fell apart. But I kept smiling, laughing, going through all the motions. I acted as though nothing was wrong. Suffice it to say, I was terrible at making myself vulnerable. So much so that I ignored my own pain.

Occasionally, though, I would just fall apart. I would turn to the person I was talking to and say, “You know, I’m actually not okay.” I would share my story. And it made all the difference. Acknowledging my pain made me feel more whole, reaching into the depths of my sadness paved the way for a life of richer feeling and baring my soul fostered strong bonds that lit up my life.

Vulnerability, like everything else, is a practice. It feels terrifying, but it looks brave. Vulnerability is admitting you don’t know something, it’s being the first person to say “I love you,” it’s being willing to cry in front of new friends, it’s initiating something despite the fear of rejection. If we wish to feel true joy and happiness, we must be willing to embrace sadness and pain. It’s not a matter of allowing vulnerability into our lives – to live is to be vulnerable – but rather what relationship we cultivate with it. Go forth, put down your armor, and live with an open heart.