Dance in the muck of your vulnerable heart.
Watch as people join you in the dance.
My mother has always taught me that when someone is aggressive or angry in nature it is simply because they are afraid to be seen, afraid to be vulnerable. If you mix it up a little and switch this idea around it would be pretty obvious to assume that it takes a little spunk and some guts to actively open up and be vulnerable in front of another human being.
Being vulnerable is scary and it takes a great amount of personal bravery to unashamedly be truly and completely yourself. Especially when perhaps the self you are being has done something silly, or lied, or made a mistake, or is revealing a deep seated past hurt or fear. However ,regardless of this, I know many people who almost take pride in keeping their emotions close to their chests and hiding their true feelings from the world. We learn to harden ourselves, we are taught pain comes from an open heart and holding a bitter expectation of future hurts will in some way save us from them; it cannot and it never will. Yet so many people practice this way of staying closed off, and get pretty damn good at it too; believing ‘emotional strength’ is equal to emotional resilience, and that the weak one is the one who opens again and again to feel and be hurt and to cry, and then feel again, in an endless cycle of emotions, sensations and growth. Learning how to be vulnerable in a healthy way is one of the best things I’ve ever done to totally change up the dynamics of the relationships in my life; be they romantic, business or friendship based. It was also the scariest.
But to have authentic friendships, partnerships, business connections and family dynamics – pure honest vulnerability is the only way forward. The reason it is so scary is because it is also the quickest way to cull your life of dead or dying relationships, and people who are not ready for authenticity to be a leading factor in their social connections. When honest vulnerability is integrated into your relationships it strengthens the most valuable ones to the point they become near un-breakable and completely demolishes the relationships built on less solid foundations. This is why vulnerability requires us to be courageous, we have to be ready to see our life really come apart before it can come together, and be willing to look at parts of ourselves that we don’t like all that much at all. We open ourselves up to judgement (from the people who don’t matter…and also from the people who do) and because of this must be ready to hold steady a place of total acceptance and love within ourselves to fall back on.
There is always the potential that being vulnerable will not attract the responses in others that you would have hoped, so you have to be ready for people to respond in a multitude of ways, not all of them positive. You have to have already come to terms with the truth you are to stand in, and be ready to move up, through and out of that truth when you have fully encompassed all that is most authentically you, warts and all! When you are able to do this, other people’s reactions don’t mean as much, and equally when they sense that you are not going to apologize for who you really are, they are far less likely to feel invited to pass judgement on it. Even if you are apologizing for a wrong-doing on your part, never apologise for who you are, only what you have done. What you have done is not a reflection of you at your core, it is simply how you felt it was best to react, with the information you had available to you during circumstances that have since passed. Honest vulnerability is not for the weak spirited or the faint of heart.
Here is courage according to the Oxford Dictionary;
- The ability to do something that frightens one.
- Strength in the face of pain or grief.
And here is courage according to Maya Angelou (for an objective assessment obvs);
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
Now, here is vulnerability according to the Oxford Dictionary;
- Susceptible to physical harm or damage.
- Susceptible to emotional injury.
- Susceptible to attack.
Surely looking at both definitions it goes without saying that courage and vulnerability walk hand in hand, and you can’t have one without the other?
To move forward in life and reach as far as you can dare to reach, fear, doubt and shame must be shed. It’s one of my core beliefs that you can’t really reach your full potential until you are ready to be completely honest about who you are, including your faults and limitations. People need to see this ability to be vulnerable to truly trust you. They need to see you are a raw human being, just like them. To forge real bonds in life you have to be real with people, it’s the most likeable quality in the world and the hardest to cultivate because it requires you to get clear about who you really are and who the real you is when he/she is stripped bare of all masques and false-appearances.
When I first started on my journey to becoming a therapist a large part of my training was about self-disclosure, when it is appropriate and when it isn’t, and which parts of yourself it is and isn’t acceptable to make visible to the public in your professional capacity. I became pretty obsessed for a while about what parts of myself were ‘okay’ and which parts had to stay hidden. Then I realised, for myself, if I was to connect with my audience and my clientele I was going to need to be authentic about who I was and where I came from. To make it possible for the clients who most needed me and would most connect with my values and my message to find me, those potential clients need to know who I am, and they can’t do that if I hide parts for fear of turning them off. Of course there is a difference between airing your dirty laundry for the world to see and standing true in your authentic story. For me, my past as a stripper/exotic dancer was something I refused to be ashamed of, because to hold shame towards something that was or had been a part of me would be totally counter-productive to living a wholesome joyful and authentic lifestyle, and because I truly believe the experiences I have had can be of great service to my future audience. Choosing to be honest about this part of my past – an aspect of who I am now – opened me up to a lot of judgement, the possibility of losing family members or friends over it and also the potential that I might be jeopardising myself professionally and losing out on future clients.
At the end of the day the kind of clients who would be turned off by the things that have given me the foundations I needed to become a therapist and be of service to them in the first place are not the kinds of clients I can best serve. And again, while it would have saddened me to have lost people I loved over something as small as an old career choice, I decided in the end after about a year of mulling it over ferociously in my head, that it was better to be honest, open and vulnerable than hide the information away as if it were some mouldy bag of coke I found in a back-alley.
The fact is in the end nothing bad happened, there was no backlash at all, my life didn’t fall apart at the seams and I didn’t lose anyone I loved, either because I have excellent taste in humans, or because it really wasn’t that big of a deal (probably a bit of both). And now I can move forwards in my life in the happy knowledge that I may have done some pretty risqué things in my teens and early twenties, but I was never ashamed, I never hung my head, and all that has lead me to where I am now will only serve to give me more to offer people in the future. Being open about my old job was one of the first major shifts I made from fearful living to courageous living, and from constantly switching between different masques painted on to suit what I thought others wanted from me on the outside, to living from the place of honesty and vulnerability that people truly wants to see.
The second major shift and the scariest one for me, was practicing what I have always preached about honesty in relationships and having a pretty difficult conversation with my then-boyfriend. During this conversation I had to tell him I had been lying to him for our entire relationship up to that point; a little under a year. It had began with a small lie I thought nothing of at the time, because he was a stranger and it didn’t matter because I would never see him again…of course that ended up not being the case and the lie escalated and became wrapped in more and more tiny white lies, all to support that very first, very silly and very small lie. It was so crippling to my spirit being so inauthentic to someone I was growing more and more fond of and whose life was becoming more and more entwined with mine, and I knew in my heart I couldn’t keep the lie up.
This was a man I thought I wanted to spend my life with, this was ‘The One’, my soul-mate, my best friend…if I couldn’t be truly vulnerable with him, if I couldn’t be small in front of him and admit to my mistakes, what was our relationship built on? I was so completely sure admitting the truth would break our relationship, I was devastated with myself for having lied to this man I loved so much, and risked something so wonderful over something so stupid; but the only thing worse than telling him was not telling him. And the only thing worse than not telling him and him finding out on his own would have been having to keep being inauthentic and closed off with someone I wanted to share every part of myself with by continuing the lie. It was terrifying and I remember shaking like a little leaf, but I was totally honest about everything, why I did it, how stupid and small I felt, how sorry I was, how much I loved him, and that I didn’t expect him to have any particular kind of reaction because anger would be completely valid and understandable considering I had lied for nearly a year. I bared myself completely to him, in my small, embarrassed, sad, frightened and hopeful completeness. And he laughed and said I was a fucking dick and that he loved me. It could have easily gone in another direction entirely of course, but offering myself up in a totally naked and vulnerable way was the only option and the only way the relationship could move into a new place of deeper connection and trust.
I think often people fear that vulnerability will create distrust or a lack of confidence in them as reliable responsible reasonable people, but I have found the opposite to be true is most cases. People who are able to be open about who they are, along with their failings and small-nesses, appear far more reliable because you know they are hiding nothing, and are able to trust that should anything arise that they feel they should share with you, they will. This in turn makes you feel more able to share with them if you need to without fear of being turned away or looked down on.
This works in business, romance, friendships, social networks, communities and family groups. The courage to be vulnerable opens a whole new level of communication and connectivity, and most of all trust. Another reason being vulnerable in your truth is so important for the process of moving forward in life with fearless focus is because the truth will always come out. Every damn time. You can bravely dance in the wild mud and dirt of your messy imperfect true self, or you can run from it, try to hide it, and people will hunt you down and throw you in there anyhow. Either way, you end up dishevelled and covered in muck. But how people see you and how you feel will differ dramatically depending on which scenario you choose to be part of. Being a slave to a hidden-truth is a horrible feeling, and I would never want to have to live my life, even a really awesome life, constantly worrying because my relationship or my business was precariously balanced on a heap of little white lies hiding a bigger truth-turned-lie that is only now a lie because I let my fear of vulnerably opening myself up hold me back to begin with.
Magical things happen when you are able to be totally real with yourself and others, people soften and circumstances line up in ways they just didn’t before. Your relationships become based more and more on a mutual trust, and the people around you feel invited to be vulnerable themselves, empowered by your show of courage in opening up. Life-long sisterly bonds replace bitchy two-faced ‘friendships’, and unconditional love and appreciation gradually permeate your existing relationships, or replace the old and withered ones. Courage and vulnerability really do walk hand in hand, and I would encourage anyone who wants to dramatically transform their lives – whatever the area – to take a risk, step up, and boldly bear your true self for the world to see.
“Having courage does not mean that we are unafraid. Having courage and showing courage mean we face our fears. We are able to say “I have fallen, but I will get up” – Maya Angelou
Many loves, Esther x