Strength Through Vulnerability.
My oldest friend bought me a card a couple of years ago. She wrote inside ‘I saw this card and it immediately reminded me of you….’ She had, just days before, seen me crushed and been the first person at my door as I sat sobbing uncontrollably. I had experienced, just weeks before turning 40, my first heartbreak. I felt winded, broken, stupid and angry. I had never experienced the physical effect it had – I felt like someone had punched me as hard as possible in the stomach. The day it happened, snot-covered and head spinning, I asserted to the woman who knows me like a sister that I’d been an idiot, that in the future I wouldn’t lay myself so open, I wouldn’t let another man get that close to me. I have no doubt that the words were spat out like venom and that I swore with every breath.
Those initial emotions continued over the next 2 weeks while I could think of nothing else. I was questioning myself and my choices with a complete lack of self-love. You know that scathing, disparaging, downright nasty stuff – the stuff you can manage to say to yourself that you wouldn’t dream of saying to someone you cared about. And then I stopped. I realised that what had happened was, in fact, the right thing. And I read the words my childhood friend had given me. …let me hear you ROAR! She wrote inside, and I quote as it still stands proudly in my lounge:
“These traits make you who you are…”
She ends her note with
“You’re a woman, let me hear you ROAR! I love you!”
The significance of this card and her words are 3-fold for me. Her words express her love and support for me in a time of crisis; they speak clearly of the importance of holding on to the traits she sees in me; and she refers to my (one’s) inherent power if we allow those traits to reign. For her to tell me I need to hold on to my open-hearted, trusting ways – things that have, in the past, made me feel weak in her resilient presence – was incredibly powerful. Time, healing, more confusion, a little more heartache, and an ongoing interest in the way we work has made it clearer to me that strength and resilience is actually a result of allowing yourself to be open, to be that thing we are clearly afraid of, to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a weakness, it’s THE strength. We are so adept at protecting ourselves. We’ve evolved from a species of hunter gatherers with a fight or flight instinct to protect ourselves physically, to a species increasingly feeling the need to protect ourselves emotionally.
I wonder whether grunty cave man was ever put-off doing a bit of wall art because of the potential ‘agony’ he’d face if Mrs grunty-face told him it was crap. We can be so racked with what we’re meant to be, who we’re meant to be, how we’re meant to be, what we’re meant to achieve, by when, and what we ‘ought’ to be doing with our lives. And god forbid people see what’s actually there, what scares us, our passions, our insecurities, the hurt, the ridiculous bits. Because if we lay ourselves open, we might get hurt, or judged, or laughed at. So we mask it, we drink, shop, bitch, eat too much, work too hard. We numb all the ‘stuff’ with stuff, and when you’re numb you don’t feel. We end up cutting off the very things that truly allow us to experience life, to feel it: people, joy, gratitude and love. So we get more stuff or down more booze, and get a little more cutting, and so the cycle goes on.
I’ve noticed the beauty of vulnerability in a couple of women who, between them, have faced plenty of emotional and physical challenges – relationships, death, abuse, disappointment, and uncertainty. Both will speak of their experiences in the past and the present with absolute honesty. They are authentic to the core. I’ve sat and consoled one as she allowed the pain she’d tried to make sense of to spill from every pore. She talked, she cried, she choked on words and she threw her hands in the air. She was so real in that moment and it was horrible, yet incredibly powerful because she was brave enough to look right at it, herself and me, because she needed someone. Both these women are the kind whose warmth pours from their eyes, who are full of love, are funny and vital and, crucially, stupidly creative! This wondrous creativity is no coincidence.
Brené Brown credits vulnerability as ‘the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change’. Brown, for me, has nailed the importance of vulnerability (please watch her Ted Talks here
if you haven’t alread). The way that Brown goes about discussing this area is so beautifully accessible because she’s so honest about her own levels of discomfort when it comes to being open. She puts it as simply as this: “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.
Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” To be vulnerable is to put oneself at risk emotionally, yet when we approach life and people with complete openness, authenticity and trust, our experience is taken to another level. The idea that we let others – lovers, friends, strangers – see us for all that we are, adults who feel like they’re still kids; people with hearts that have been broken before; people who hate public speaking but have to do it, is deeply uncomfortable. Yet the pay off if we let it happen can be life changing.
Say you had to speak at an event for 500 people, or 10 people because that may be even harder! If just one of those people knows you’re so scared you want to puke, and can talk to you beforehand, connect and give you non-verbal encouragement throughout, and tell you how bloody good you were afterwards, especially considering how nervous you were, not only will you feel hugely relieved that it’s over, but you’ll feel a deep sense of gratitude to that fellow human for metaphorically holding your hand…. because you let them. And maybe next time will be just that little bit easier. When we let other people in, let them see us for who we are and share our story, we open up our world.
“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” – Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Often when people write or speak about this stuff they can get a reaction akin to the reactions some people have to motivational quotes, crystal healing, astrology (insert your fave thing to deride!). But when it comes to this notion, no, REALITY, that focusing on compassion – kindness to ourselves and to others; connection through openness and authenticity; and bravery – because that what it takes; leads to joy, gratitude and happiness, surely to be dismissive is to admit that it’s all a bit too bloody scary. Sometimes I think the more life has dumped a load of crap at our feet, the harder it can be to trust, believe you’re worthy and stay open-hearted. Then I think of the two women I mentioned above and think that’s bull. If they can live so openly and with such warmth, the rest of us can too. We just have to unlearn some habits and change things up. Often we show contempt, sarcasm or an apparent lack of warmth as a consequence of our fear, mistrust and pain. Brené Brown says “lean in” and “dare greatly”. She’s spot on.
There’s a whole world out there and human connectivity is THE essential part of it. It’s the thing that allows us to feel true joy, happiness and fulfilment. Exposure comes with uncertainty. To open yourself up takes courage. Vulnerability is strength. I’m daring to lean in, are you? Thank you KP.