VULNERABLE: Capable of being wounded; open to attack, criticism or damage
Some friends and I are reading together Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown. The theme of this book is vulnerability and its function in relationship. (Does that word make your palms sweaty like it does me?) It’s written from a research perspective and it’s been quite interesting what Dr. Brown’s interviews and conversations have discovered. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.
This book makes my skin crawl. It calls me out from hiding. It challenges my “safe zone.” It breaks my addiction to perfection and makes imperfection seem beautiful. But I know, boy do I know, how difficult is to shatter the glass of self-protection. To risk being judged. To come out from under heavy insecurity. To show up and let myself be seen. To draw attention to my vulnerabilities. All for fear of disconnection — of feeling unworthy and unlovable.
For me, vulnerability is sharing my opinion. It’s addressing conflict. It’s asking for help. It’s going to the bathroom with mosquitos swarming me (life in Africa). It’s trying something new. It’s writing for this website. It’s making weighty decisions. It’s moments of failure. It’s becoming a mom for the first time. It’s having faith in God. For me, vulnerability feels like when I jumped out of a plane on my 21stbirthday. It feels like a spotlight, the one you can feel the heat from. It feels like a China tea set placed in the middle of a room where children wildly run and play. It feels like “being all in.” It feels like fear and freedom.
And it’s happening and it’s felt every day, maybe even over and over again. As much as we think vulnerability is our choice, it isn’t. The only choice we have, Dr. Brown says, is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. There’s no “get out of vulnerability free” card. Life is vulnerable, she says.
A dear friend of mine sent me this quote today: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Love is uncertain and incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. So, yes, it’s scary and, of course, we’re in danger of being hurt and disappointed. As I read this book and consider my relationships, I believe more and more that it’s worth the risk, it’s worth the relationship. (Now for the courage to actually DO it, to choose vulnerability, to follow through!) If we’re honest with ourselves, we are highly relational beings who long for love and connection and belonging. It’s in our DNA and to pretend otherwise is to sell ourselves short and to miss out. Dr. Brown says, “To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”
And so I ask myself, How am I protecting myself from vulnerability? What would it take to put my armor away?
Here’s to not locking our hearts up safe, but to loving courageously!