VULNERABILITY – PART 1

Earlier this week following my post about leaping forward, a friend of mine texted me asking two questions:

a) How does it feel now that it is out there? 

b) What were you expecting to happen?

He was referencing my sharing that my mother, with whom I had been estranged for nearly a decade, had died.  It was surprising that I chose to talk about her passing since I had only shared it with two very close friends and most of my larger circle of friends and acquaintances had no idea.  I knew that it might be a bit jarring for some when they read it but my sense of perspective on it was that it was not an emotionally traumatic event for me so nobody should react.  I was very frustrated with my friend’s questions because I could not summon any answers.  I did what I normally do in that kind of situation – I avoided the questions altogether.  I changed the subject, made some jokes and hoped to not think about it again.  Not so easy.  In fact, I have been haunted since receiving the text messaged questions.  I have been having trouble sleeping and have been having nightmares.  Something has been stirred up and, like any good researcher, I will not rest until I figure out the answer.  However, in this case, I am not investigating a story or mining for data, I am searching my soul for answers and that requires a level of truth and openness that is, frankly, a little bit scary.

In my state of avoidance (conscious avoidance, that is, because my subconscious has been working triple overtime), I reached out to a few friends to distract myself with idle chit chat.   One of them, coincidentally, suggested that I check out a video from a TED conference last year featuring Brene Brown (who’s quoted on the homepage of my blog).  I really did not know much about Brene except that she had some amazing quotes that really resonated with me.  I decided to follow the direction of my friend and sit myself down for 20 minutes to watch her talk.  Wow.  Yet another example of a friend knowing me almost better than I know myself because she was pointing me right in the direction of the answers I was searching for.

Brene’s talk was on The Power of Vulnerability.   Just the title makes me uncomfortable because the word vulnerability is very loaded for me.  I am very aware that I overtly avoid feeling vulnerable whenever possible.  While I have an intimate relationship with my husband where I emotionally expose myself and allow myself to be vulnerable, it feels safe because we have been together for so long.  With others in my life, I am much more guarded and protective of myself.  Brene sums up my sentiments perfectly.  She calls vulnerability excruciating.  Let’s face it, we spend so much of our lives hiding so as not to be vulnerable.  And why wouldn’t we do that?  The dictionary definition of vulnerable is:

1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon: a vulnerable part of the body.

2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.: an argument vulnerable to refutation; He is vulnerable to bribery.

3. (of a place) open to assault; difficult to defend: a vulnerable bridge.
None of those definitions describe anything that appeals to me.  I try, at all costs, to prevent being wounded or getting hurt – emotionally or otherwise.  I do not want my morals attacked nor do I want to be criticized.  Who would?  Interestingly, Brene points out that the ironic counterpoint to all of the perils is that vulnerability is the very thing that allows us to be joyful, creative, loving and to feel a sense of belonging.  I quickly realized while watching her video that I am screwed.  The very thing that I am avoiding is the answer to some of my most basic needs.
Brene conducted some research to understand what she called “wholehearted” individuals.  She wanted to know what characteristics are shared by the elite group of individuals who feel a strong sense of love and belonging.  They are:
  • courage to be imperfect
  • ability to forgive themselves
  • authenticity and connection
  • ability to embrace vulnerability

This group of people suggested that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.  And, they believe that being vulnerable is neither comfortable nor excruciating but, instead, necessary.

If, indeed, it is necessary to be vulnerable than I am really screwing up.  With the exception of authenticity, I embody none of these characteristics.  I am an insane perfectionist. It pains me to not excel beyond reason at everything that I do.  I can never forgive myself and even wrote a blog post about this topic several months ago.  And, as you can tell, I certainly do not embrace vulnerability.  I value my authenticity and my ability to make connections with people but now wonder if allowing myself to be vulnerable would take those connections to another level.  And, getting back to my mother, should I have shared the news of her death, despite our estrangement, in order to expose my close friends to an authentic aspect of my life?  In fact, I was at lunch with several girlfriends in the days following my mother’s death and I had thought about sharing the news with them in the context that it was a celebration of the end of this horrific part of my life.  I wanted to respect her passing but also embrace a new freedom, allowing me to experience life with a different perspective.  I never shared the information because it was complicated and I did not want my friends to feel obligated to console me when I did not need consolation in the traditional sense.  Perhaps, however, I needed a different type of consolation but, without exposing myself, I could not receive it.

The topic of vulnerability came up in a discussion several months ago with my therapist.  We were analyzing my relationship with a friend.  I told her that, while I had a deep connection with this friend, the relationship made me feel very uncomfortable.  Not because of anything the friend did but because of how I felt when I was around them.  I felt vulnerable and it made me very scared.  I felt out of control.  I feared that I could get hurt.  I wanted to run for the hills.  I struggled with this and continue to do so.

I completely understand my resistance to and discomfort with vulnerability.  Given the environment I grew up in, it is no surprise.  In my family, vulnerability was exploited. My mother was a narcissist and needed to control me and my siblings.  She used my vulnerability as a weapon against me which resulted in my need to guard and protect myself in order to feel secure (which, of course, I never did).  I looked at vulnerability in the negative sense as Brene describes it – the core of shame, fear and lack of worthiness.  I never felt worthy.  I was filled with shame because I was different, my family was different, my life was different.  Of course, through an adult lens, I understand that difference is all around us and difference is powerful.  As a child, I was certain that my difference made me unworthy of being loved.  So I hid.  I got more adept at covering my vulnerability while still desperately searching for more meaningful connections and a chance to be raw and honest with other human beings.  I wanted a safe haven to allow me to bare myself and be accepted.  This contradiction has led to a lifetime of chasing my tail.  I am afraid of vulnerability yet, subconsciously, it is all I crave.

So, back to the two questions my friend asked me.  I am not sure that I have the answers which is why I call this Vulnerability Part 1.  This is going to be a bit of a journey for me.  I know that revealing this truth about my life – the truth that my mother died and that I did not cry or hurt for her – made me vulnerable.  It allowed me to reveal something about myself that I might otherwise feel shame about.  It also allowed me to share this information in a very impersonal way, thereby reducing my vulnerability at the same time.  I don’t think I put any conscious thought into what I expected to happen except that I knew I was telling a very personal story, as I am now,
and I thought it was important for me to do.  As for the outcome, I am still not sure about how I feel about it.  I know that the universe is telling me that in order to propel forward in my journey, I need to address vulnerability.  The same friend that asked the questions suggested that this will be a breakthrough topic for me this year.  Maybe he is right.  Maybe this is the time and this is what is required for me to reach another level of consciousness and understanding about myself so I can do what I am intended to do in life.  Maybe.

Maybe I just want to crawl back under my rock and hide away so no one can see what I don’t want them to see.  I suspect that is not the right path right now.  More to come…

4 thoughts on “VULNERABILITY – PART 1

  1. Pingback: KEEP BREATHING | Life and Work

  2. Pingback: AULD LANG SYNE « Life Stories

  3. Pingback: I RESOLVE TO NOT RESOLVE « Life Stories

  4. Pingback: CONTROLLED CHAOS | Life Stories

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