The Real Reason We Are Scared to Be Vulnerable

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

When I first started writing here a year and a half ago, I had no idea just how exposed and vulnerable I would feel, that pushing the “publish” button would be met with a messy concoction of paranoia and exhilaration, terror and empowerment. Each and every time.

The task of writing authentically, of telling my real and true story asks –demands – that I peel back the layers, get at the heart of the matter, and put the raw truth onto the page. Each word, each sentence is a little kernel of naked, unfiltered, clumsy, gritty, blemished personal truth. Each word and paragraph on the page contains a little piece of me in it. For all to see, to judge, to criticize. And for that simple reason, writing publicly meets the very definition of “vulnerable” since it leaves me at risk of injury and susceptible to harm.

I won’t lie, this kind of vulnerability is still absolutely terrifying. But as terrifying as it is to put a little piece of myself on the page for public consumption, to write about my fears and insecurities, my struggles and personal demons, the vulnerability that comes along with it isn’t nearly as scary as the “other” kind of vulnerability.

The vulnerability that scares me the most isn’t the one that leaves me susceptible to harm, at risk of disappointment and ridicule; it’s the one that leaves me susceptible to unimaginable and transformative goodness.

It is far easier for me to talk about my personal flaws, to embrace the vulnerability that comes with my weaknesses and struggles than it is to embrace my inherent worth and capacity to love. As Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.”

It is that Light –the Light of real and true human connection – that scares me more than any personal Darkness.

And while I write about acting with Kindness, living authentically, and embracing vulnerabilities, I have to ask myself: have I truly embraced my vulnerabilities when they make me susceptible for tremendous goodness and transformative connection as much as I have accepted the vulnerabilities that make me susceptible to criticism and emotional harm?

Have I said “I love you” often enough? Have I told my friends just how grateful I am for their support? Have I listened closely enough? Have I looked strangers in the eye often enough? Have I looked up and reached out enough?

Have let myself love and be loved to its fullest potential? Have I let my heart crack open to the possibility of Grace and Mercy?

The answer is sometimes. The answer is not nearly enough.

How many more times could have told my family how much I admire and appreciate them? How many times could I have listened more intently to my kids blabber on with one of their meandering, nonsensical stories? How many more hugs could have been given? How many more smiles could have been shared? How many more “just because” notes could have been sent?

I wonder if we don’t get stuck in our own Just-Fine-Pretty-Good lives and assume that those we love know how we feel about them. I wonder if we don’t become satisfied with the current state of our various relationships – whether with our spouse, kids, parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, or coworkers. I wonder if we aren’t secretly afraid of what might happen if we actually let ourselves connect on a deeper level by holding ourselves vulnerable to the potential goodness.

Are we afraid of what might happen if our heart and life cracked open just a little? Are we afraid that our heart might get broken? Or that our heart might be cracked open, making a space for a kind of love and connection that is beyond anything we have experienced before?

Are we hesitant to let ourselves be emotionally vulnerable because of the risk of disappointment and pain? Or is it because of the potential for human connection that comes along with that vulnerability? Are we scared of vulnerability because of the risk of harm? Or is it because a connection so deep and strong asks for a greater personal investment, that we take care of each other?

Are we afraid to be vulnerable because we are scared of being hurt? Or is it because, on some level, we are afraid of being opened up? Do we protect our vulnerabilities because we are ashamed of our weaknesses and struggles? Or is it because we are unsure of our courage and strength, of our ability to make the world just a little bit better?

Are we afraid of the Darkness? Or the Light?

Brené Brown, a highly regarded expert on vulnerability, has said: “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.”

Like most things, I don’t think that it is a black or white, either-or issue; there are a million different shades of vulnerability. Certainly there is the risk of pain, embarrassment, disappointment, and heartbreak. But maybe our aversion to vulnerability is sometimes really the result of a fear of intense and consuming love, of deep and abiding respect, of unconditional acceptance and mercy, of Grace and Kindness.

Let’s face it, we get used to the Darkness and the hiding. In an odd way, it’s comfortable in there. We get used to struggling alone with a stoic independence. We get used to maintaining a safe distance. As scary and terrifying as being vulnerable is, it can be far scarier and more terrifying to think about what might happen if we really show up, if we really connect, if we really hold ourselves open to the possibility of goodness.

We are all a little broken, a little bruised, a little scarred. And there is amazing beauty and powerful connection that lies in our shared imperfection.

Maybe that’s what scares us most of all.

Because it’s messy and complicated and unfamiliar. Because it might be more goodness than we can handle.

But maybe there comes a time when the fear just doesn’t seem worth it anymore, when authenticity – and the vulnerability that comes along with that – seems just a little bit easier, when the possibility of true connection doesn’t seem quite as intimidating or overwhelming anymore. I suppose there comes a time when we have to say what needs to be said, or do what needs to be done, or tell the story that needs to be told, if for no other reason than it might cast out a tiny sliver of Light to help someone else out of the Dark.

So here for public consumption and potential judgment and criticism (because even in the silence, judgment and criticism can be heard) are my clumsy words, my disorganized thoughts, my flawed story, my vulnerabilities. Here they are because this is what I can say, this is what I can do, this is a story to be told. Here they are because vulnerability and connection don’t ask for perfection, only that we show up. Here they are because I can only hope and pray that they contain some tiny sliver of Light.

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This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her photos. Make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is both stunning and inspirational.

 

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