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The Power + Courage it Takes to Be Vulnerable

"Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome." - Brene Brown

Vulnerability seems to be a buzzword these days, and much of its resurgence in popular discourse can be credited to Brene Brown's work. Brown champions the power of vulnerability in such an earthy, relatable way that it resonates with many. I celebrate this hugely. Imagining a world where vulnerability is no longer seen as a weakness but as a strength—or even better, an essential part of the human experience that brings us closer to feeling more fully connected to life—brings me immense relief.

( Image by Gerry McCulloch)

When we speak of vulnerability, what are we truly experiencing? It depends on the context, but let's focus on relational vulnerability—those moments when it's hard to stay connected because of what's being said and done, or words that want to be expressed but can't find their way through us. Often, vulnerability brings a sense of exposure, nakedness, and fear of rejection or aloneness. There is usually an underlying story that we are not safe, that we will be ostracized, or that we are already alone somehow.

What we humans tend to do when we feel this way is protect our nakedness with a layer of thorns that poke out towards the person as we fight away the vulnerability. Or we might choose to distance ourselves and move away from the source of discomfort, either emotionally or physically. We can also fawn, meaning we people-please and lose our sense of what we need and want to make the discomfort go away, avoiding ourselves and focusing solely on the other person. Finally, we can freeze up and go numb, not knowing what we need, want, or feel, waiting for the storm to pass. These are natural and very human defence mechanisms attempting to keep us safe in our connections and ensure we are loved or accepted somehow.

As part of my practice and love of living authentically, I often attend Circling weekends, where we practice sitting together and unveiling our experiences of being ourselves and being together in each moment. At a recent weekend, I felt a profound sense of vulnerability and power simultaneously.

While listening to another person in the group, I noticed an irritation within me. I wanted to feel more connected to myself and to them. Even though their words were touching me in some ways, the irritation was louder. I wanted to bring myself into the conversation and experience a sense of aliveness and inclusion.

A situation that may feel familiar to some can point towards a tendency to fawn (people-please) or freeze when it comes to speaking up. For others, this may seem silly or the opposite of their experience, pointing towards a tendency to “fight back” to secure their safety and place in relationships. Either way, the reaction is natural, human, and healthy. How we then bring that into relating with others and maintaining connection while staying authentic is what I want to explore via my journey with this experience.

Naming my irritation so bluntly is not something I often do. I have taught myself to process my discomfort before naming it so that it can arrive with compassion and clarity, caring for the other person's experience of receiving me. I have learnt to do that because in the past, I would express my vulnerability in an unfiltered way, that would blame and shame the other person instead of looking at my own wounds, or I would simply focus on them and ignore my own needs. So, whilst this practice supports me to be aware and responsible for expressing my own needs with clarity and guides me toward meeting people with kindness and compassion, the way I have approached it can sometimes distance me from my authentic self-expression.

So, at this moment in the circle, I chose to name my irritation without fully processing it, yet I also named my fear of expressing it—the fear of losing connection to the person I directed my irritation towards, the fear of hurting them, the fear of losing myself if I don’t say something. Naming these fears, my trembling body experienced them as I dared to do what I had learned is unacceptable: to be honest and express displeasure.

This honesty, this raw expression of vulnerability, is actually caring for the relationship. It is taking self-responsibility and processing discomfort and judgments in the moment while allowing myself to express my irritation as it is. This process builds resilience to discomfort and welcomes and accepts the story of rejection. It helps me be okay with people not liking me while staying true to the part of me that, of course, wants nothing else than to be loved.

Practice: The Vulnerability Self Check-In

  1. Find a Quiet Space: Take a few minutes to sit quietly in a comfortable space where you won't be disturbed.

  2. Close Your Eyes and Breathe: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Focus on your breathing and allow your body to relax.

  3. Tune Into Your Emotions: Reflect on a recent interaction or situation where you felt discomfort or unease. Notice what emotions come up—fear, irritation, sadness, etc.

  4. Name Your Feelings: Silently name these emotions to yourself. For example, "I feel scared," "I feel frustrated," or "I feel exposed."

  5. Identify Your Fears: Ask yourself, "What am I afraid might happen if I express this feeling?" Acknowledge the fears that come up.

  6. Journal Prompt: Open your eyes and write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Reflect on what it felt like to acknowledge your vulnerability.

And ask yourself:

When was the last time I felt vulnerable in a relationship or interaction, and how did I respond to that feeling? What was I protecting in my reactivity? 

What I take away from this practice:

As I become more resilient in being okay with my pain, I also become more welcoming of others' pain. Suddenly, we can be in this dance of disconnection. Even if it hurts and feels confusing, there is something just okay about that. The perceived threat of abandonment, emotional or physical, is not what guides my body.

I am able to honour the moment and trust in my ability to stay with it, tuning into what is real and what I perceive to be real. Tuning into the moments when I feel numb, unsure, and shaky. Making all the imperfections beautiful and perfectly placed to bring me closer to life.

The power of vulnerability lies in its ability to connect us more deeply to ourselves and others. It requires immense courage to embrace it, to name our fears, and to stay present in our discomfort, and to do so from a place of curiosity and self awareness is a lifelong practice. Yet in doing so, we build resilience and authenticity, and we can experience and nurture deeper, more meaningful relationships and therefore live in a richer experience of life.

If you want to feel into the power of your own vulnerability and build resilience and closeness in your relationship, join our upcoming courses HERE

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