Vulnerability is our biggest nemesis in life, isn’t it? Best buddies with the little blighters shame, blame and judgement, it stalks us like a dark shadow, waiting for our weakest moment to take us over and consume us from within.
These days we’ve learned to employ an effective mechanism to deflect it though. We walk around with a protective bubble around us, which I like to label our ‘imperfection defence’. I can guarantee that whether we are fully aware of it or not, almost all of us activate this comfort bubble at certain times in our lives and in particular difficult situations when we want to feel safe and secure inside a protective cocoon… when we need to forget that everything that’s going on outside of this space is less than perfect. Some of us feel so warm, cosy and protected inside that we even make a little nest in there, and decide to stay put.
This protective bubble might be comfy, but it lures us into a false sense of security. Just so long as we keep up the pretence of living our most perfect, fulfilling and authentic lives, the outside world and all of its afflictions can’t reach us. We don’t need to allow ourselves to become vulnerable.
It’s unsurprising that our imperfection defences have been amplified and this protective bubble strengthened with the onset of social media. These days, it’s so easy to fool everyone around us (including ourselves!) that everything in life is rosy, by employing our perfectly curated Instagram feeds and witty Facebook updates as a protective mechanism to portray our vision of the best kind of ‘me’ to the world.
But what happens when the bubble bursts?
Until last year, I wasn’t aware of the existence of my bubble. Under its protective guise, I felt OK. Things could upset me and hurt me, but nothing truly rocked me. My life was still meeting the lofty standards that I had set for myself, and which my bubble allowed me to uphold.
Then, without warning, traumatic life events began presenting themselves to me one after the other, and all at once, I saw through the bubble.
The thing about this bubble is that it can’t survive for long after its identity’s been revealed. As soon as its fakery is exposed, it bursts. As rapidly as I’d built its protective walls around myself, it was gone.
In the absence of my imperfection barrier, I became aware that not only had I been walking around in a relatively unthinking and unfeeling state inside my little safe cocoon for at least a couple of years, but I also realised that I’d blown this bubble up SO BIG that if anything that had the potential to expose me to vulnerability (in the form of shame, blame and judgement) came anywhere near me, it just bounced off my protective shield immediately, without me even having to flinch. I wholeheartedly bought into its ethos, and went about building on my notion of a happy family and welcoming home; a high-flying career and readable blog; a close-knit group of friends and aspirational lifestyle. I thought an element of perfection was what we ALL deserved in life.
Then, overnight it was taken away and I was left exposed and vulnerable.
There are a few things that happen when vulnerability slams its way into your life like that. Your familiar and cushy home for so long is now gone forever, and yet society somehow expects you to carry on just as you were before, showing up for your life and your responsibilities. This takes a great deal of courage.
Of course, the far easier option is to hide away from it. And that’s just what I did.
Full exposure to vulnerability, along with its buddies ‘shame’, ‘blame’ and ‘judgement’ induces self-doubt and anxiety, fear and depression. When simple everyday tasks such as walking down the street to grab a loaf of bread used to be something you did without a thought, suddenly it takes monumental strength to achieve. Every essence of your being wants to make itself small to minimise your exposure to vulnerable moments, and the temptation to give up everything you were before in an attempt to hide away from the shamers, the blamers and the judgers is overwhelming. What’s more (as is sadly so commonly the case, especially for us women), if the person that is inflicting those things on you just happens to be YOURSELF, then the only way to escape is to detach completely.
I’ve been this person for a while now. Feeling vulnerable quickly led to me feeling depressed. I had extremely anxious thoughts. I cried myself to sleep at night, woke up crying in the middle of the night, then woke up in the morning and cried some more. I started to hide myself away to protect myself from all of the things that made me vulnerable in the outside world, to safeguard me from outside gossip and judgement, but mostly to protect me from my own self-attack thoughts.
There were also moments when I had no choice but to stand strong in my vulnerability, no matter how difficult and painful it felt: I had to make the snap judgement to opt for a total thyroidectomy which would affect my health for the rest of my life, without knowing the full extent of my cancer prognosis; I had to go through ten days of isolation, away from my daughter and everyone I loved while I went through RAI therapy; I had to force myself to get up onstage as a nominee for influencer of the year when I was feeling less than worthy; and then in my most vulnerable and depressed moments, I found myself having to reach out to a new group of friends for support.
These vulnerable moments exposed me to shame in a way that I’ve never felt before. Shame is a master emotion; it’s the feeling that you aren’t good enough, and you’re not deserving of any good that does happen to come your way. This emotion began to eat away at me and attack my belief that I could bring about change, that I could get myself out of my depression and that one day soon I was going to be enough again, and that I’d rediscover the essence of what it felt like to be me.
It was around this point that my life coach intervened and introduced me to Brené Brown.
I had already seen her famous TED talk, but I quickly consumed more of her videos, and before long I was lost in YouTube, devouring hours of her work, armed with my comfiest dressing gown, an armful of snacks, and a whole body humming with raw vulnerability.
For those of you that have never heard of Brené, I urge you to look her up – her guidance on vulnerability is so clear and logical and relatable. I jotted down some of her quotes, and read them over and over again, committing them by memory. Every time I re-read them, I felt more empowered in my vulnerable state and more ready to own it.
Here are a few of my favourites:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
“If you’re not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Equipped with some of Brené’s philosophies on life, I’m learning that there is no shame in opening yourself up to vulnerability, and in fact there is an incredible amount of strength in simply getting up and showing up when you’re feeling this much fear.
What’s more, I’m learning that vulnerability, in time, could actually BECOME our strength if we let it.
It has already inspired me to create. It has already inspired me to want to reach out and help others by telling my story. It’s taught me to stop desperately trying to win over the people that dislike me, and hold onto those that love me, not just DESPITE my vulnerabilities, but FOR them.
Can you start to change your mindset to ask what your vulnerabilities might be teaching you, or asking what greatness they could be bringing out in you?
Are you open to letting someone love you, or like you just as you are, as flawed as you might be, as unattractive as you sometimes feel, and as unaccomplished as you think you are?
Believing that you must hide all of the parts of you that are broken out of fear that another is incapable of loving something that is less than perfect, is to believe that sunlight is incapable of entering a broken window and illuminating a dark room.
Instead, can we flip this on its head and start to believe that we are all inextricably linked in our collective vulnerability? That we are put on this earth to assist each other through the intricacies life’s ups and downs, and celebrate the fact that by being open and authentic in our pain and our inadequacies, we are somehow allowing others to do the same. We are giving them a free pass, grounded in love, empathy and compassion, to celebrate their vulnerability by saying to them, “Look at me, I am flawed too! Let’s be perfectly imperfect together and help each other through it!”
I’m hoping that in time, vulnerability will be something that we can all be proud of, rather than something society teaches us to be fearful of. I’m hoping it will allow us to become the strongest and most authentic versions of ourselves, freeing us from the fakery of perfection.
When our protective bubble disappears all of a sudden, we may change so much that we no longer recognise ourselves in our previous ideals for life, or others’ ideals, but won’t we feel liberated?!
When you fully embrace your vulnerability, and step out of that bubble, you open yourself up to face and overcome your biggest fears, including scarcity, comparison, and other people’s judgement.
Nobody puts it better than Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
It’s very scary to risk failure and to show up and be seen, but not half as scary as looking back on your life and realising that your insecurities led to you being too fearful to fulfil your true potential.
Carry on daring greatly, and let vulnerability become your superpower.