Can I be honest? I struggled with this one. When the idea of vulnerability was posed to me, I thought I had it all figured out. But after some surfing of the internet and discussions with friends and family, I quickly identified that I had blurred the line between "openness" and "being vulnerable." And with this, the question arose; what is the true meaning of what it is to be vulnerable?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of vulnerable is "the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally." – not exactly the romantic explanation I was looking for, but this was my jumping point.
Openness vs. vulnerability
To be open does not necessarily mean you are vulnerable. We all know that person who is a superstar extrovert, fantastic in group situations – and you've probably heard them say, "Ask me anything!". You may envy this person's ability to be so unapologetically them, but sometimes you need to dig beneath the surface a little more. Often you will find that the individual will deflect from specific topics, so they're great with everyone at the party, but not so much when it comes to a deeper heart-to-heart conversation.
An open person may also have the tendency to overshare, which again is not to be mistaken for being vulnerable. As the renowned author about vulnerability and shame, Brené Brown said, "vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability."
Just because someone has the capacity to be candid and open about nearly everything, they could very well be impenetrable on an emotional level.
Vulnerability takes strength
The connotation attached to vulnerability is weakness, but being fully aware of your vulnerability takes strength. For example, would you describe a professional boxer in their profession as vulnerable? I would!
Boxers are "exposed to the possibility of being attacked/harmed… physically and emotionally" every time they step into the ring. A fighter undoubtedly knows there is the possibility to be harmed, yet they still get in the ring. A boxer knows there is a possibility they might lose often in front of millions, yet they still get in the ring. A boxer knows their performance will be analysed and scrutinised in the media, amongst their fans, and amongst their community, but they still get in the ring.
Vulnerability takes strength. It means curating a group of people you can trust and lean on in times of difficulty. Like a boxer retreating to his team in the corner of the ring between each round. Vulnerability looks different depending on where someone sits in your life. The fighter can take a hit and accept a loss in front of his audience; however, backstage, his manager may be privy to the fact that he is feeling upset for missing his daughter's birthday party that evening. Just because he doesn't disclose this information to the public, it doesn't make him less vulnerable, but he may say at the press conference, "the industry can be taxing on family life as it requires a lot of time away from home." A non-disclosing comment on the situation that is authentic but stays within the confines of their boundaries.
All walks of life
To be vulnerable in your work-life looks different than being vulnerable in your personal life. But, again, going back to Brené Brown's philosophy on boundaries – you set the boundaries of your vulnerability in accordance with the nature of your relationships.
Being vulnerable in intimate relationship can look like this:
- Engaging in open and frank conversations with their partner
- Being honest about important goals, needs, and hurts of the individual
Being vulnerable at work can look like this:
- Accepting you don't know everything and encouraging learning opportunities
- Being open to critical feedback
- Letting your manager or, if you are a leader letting your team know you're struggling but not feeling pressured to divulge all the intimate information you wish to keep private.
You can say, "I'm really struggling right now. I've got some stuff going on and it's hard, and I wanted y'all to know. And I want you to know what support looks like for me is that I'll check in with you if I need something or I may take some time off. Support also looks like being able to bring it up with you when it's helpful for me but not having to field a lot of questions about it. That's what I need right now."
So now, what does the true meaning of being vulnerable look like to me?
It looks like authenticity, boundaries, and disclosing my feelings or situation without divulging all my deepest demons. It looks like safe people, and it seems like an everlasting journey.