The road to authenticity, honesty and happiness. Are we stopped by vulnerability?
I struggle with vulnerability and for a very very long time I didn't even know it. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, not unlike the one I am having now, I started watching TED for some inspiration. I bumped onto René Brown's talk about vulnerability. (video below). Apple on the head, Isaac Newton kind of moment.
What is vulnerability? The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. A mouthful. How can I explain it more easily? It is the feeling of being exposed, of not being perfect, or not having control. It is letting your friends look at your cellulite, or amputated breast after cancer. It is having sex with your boyfriend with the light on. It is telling your parents about your divorce. It is making a mistake at work and admitting to it. It is stepping into a new relationship. All in, with your heart. No other open options. It is admitting you are not perfect. It is enjoying you are not perfect. Or as René said it: "It's saying I love you first".
Vulnerability felt like a necessary evil to me. I am pretty good at numbing out my feelings. You wouldn't notice it, but I can be quite the faker. Of course I am not upset. No, I am not angry or sad. Everything is ok. OK. GOOD. And it's not only me. Count how many people will answer you 'good' or 'fine to the question: "How are you doing?" You almost never hear: "OK, but I am having some problems with my wife and it makes me feel sad sometimes". Or the opposite "Great, I have had a really wonderful weekend with my girlfriends." We numb. We binge watch Game of Thrones. Or eat some chocolate when something is wrong.
The problem with numbing out your feelings is that it works both ways. Can you remember when you last were crying from laughing? When you were ecstatic after a good day of work? What's the last time you drooled over a beautiful plate of food? The problem is you can’t just erase part of the feelings array. It’s either all dimmed, or either all shining.
For me the hardest part of vulnerability is failure. Allowing yourself to fail and letting other people in on your failure. My fear of vulnerability is the greatest at my work, or when I am coaching. But it also reaches the depths of not being able to cancel a dinner with a friend, simply because I am too tired. It is the feeling of the not being worthy. Of not being the best.
What has this vulnerability or struggle with that cost me already? About 20 visits to the doctor, almost a year and a half or fighting Pfeiffer disease (candular fever) and permanently swollen eye lids and swollen glands in my neck and 4 cases of strep throat. My body is on protest, and has given me plenty of warning signs that it has had about enough.
My body has reduced me to vulnerability in many ways. Not being able to go to work. Not showing up at training. Sleeping for 12 hours straight. I have had to admit my possibilities are not endless. My energy is not self-fulfilling. I have had to say no. To things I really wanted to do. I have spent entire weekends in bed, while people younger than me and older than me spent productive days building a business, maintaining their social network or working out. For me that’s about how vulnerable I can become. Not being able to do anything. While warning signs headed me not to go any further. Back back back, like a confused horse I stepped back. Got back into my bed and let the boyfriend see me cry or without make-up or with greasy hair. Sounds stupid? Of course it is. That’s vulnerability for you, realizing how stupid you can be and embracing that.
Think about what make you feel vulnerable and why; Think about what you are afraid of, what you don’t want anyone to know. What would be liberating for other people to know? Because the only one stopping you on the road to authenticity, honesty and happiness is you.