Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The challenge of vulnerability

Without vulnerability, we can't make authentic connections with others. The problem is that we yearn for authentic connections and deep relationships -- we want to know and be known -- but we are afraid that if people were to know who we really are, they wouldn't want to connect with us. This shame causes us to fear vulnerability and run from it, thus sabotaging our ability to forge the very relationships we most long for. It's a vicious cycle.

This fear that we're not worthy... Dr Brené Brown suggests that everyone has it, and I agree, having struggled with it a great deal myself. She says we need courage and compassion: courage to be imperfect, and compassion to be kind to ourselves first, then others. We have to be willing to let go of who we think we should be, in order to be who we are.

I now understand why when I first started writing about my thoughts, struggles and experiences, people used to tell me I was so brave. I didn't realise at that time that what I was doing was being vulnerable. It came naturally to me; it was nothing special. But I realise now that my writings inadvertently demonstrated a level of vulnerability that many people are afraid of. And by being vulnerable, I gave others the courage to be vulnerable too. They would say, "Hey, I've been through the same thing" or "I'm so glad I'm not alone".

The thing is that there are no guarantees; vulnerability leaves you wide open, and while it invites people to be vulnerable with you, it can also repel others who, feeling threatened, use it as a means to hurt or even discredit you. Over the years it has become, to me, something to fear more than something to celebrate or embrace. That's why I so rarely write public posts like these now.

From the time I was a little girl, I always wanted guarantees because I didn't want my parents, specifically my father, to become upset with me. If there were clear-cut rules, and I were to follow them perfectly, then I would not go wrong, and everything would stay wonderful. The problem with life (and God) is that both are singularly unhelpful in this respect. Life comes with no guarantees, and the only guarantee we get from God is that He is in control, He loves us and is with us through it all. The result of this has been that life itself makes me feel wildly vulnerable at times, and even walking with God makes me confront vulnerability daily because I am naked before Him at all times: "Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely" (Ps 139:4). While He is in control, I am at His mercy, and He usually doesn't tell me His plans!

In the video above, Dr Brown talks more in depth about vulnerability and how we try to escape from it. I resonate with what she says because I know I have often tried to run from the danger of being vulnerable. With God, I don't mind so much, because for the most part I trust in His compassionate lovingkindness. But it has become harder and harder to allow myself to be vulnerable with others. Even such a simple thing as posting a video of myself playing the piano -- I put it up on Facebook, then took it down 10 minutes later for fear of the kind of comments I might get, or what people might be thinking but too polite to say. Part of the fear stems from my own insecurities of my playing, of course. It is going to be a challenge to do what Dr Brown suggests: "Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen."

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