The English Dictionary says “Vulnerability is the quality of being easily hurt or attacked. Vulnerability comes from the Latin word for “wound,” vulnus. Vulnerability is the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are”.
As a child, I was often told I was “overly sensitive”, “too delicate” and “too innocent”. I tried to ignore it and take my delicacy as a compliment but the reality was that my sensitivity index was so high because, I felt both pain and fear to an exaggerated degree. When other kids would be jumping up and down walls, and somersaulting without a care in the world, I was cringing with fear. Fear of falling, fear of getting hurt. Same thing happened to me when someone said an unkind word to me …. I would cringe with hurt and disbelief.
I was so overly sensitive because I felt the pain so deeply, so incredibly, that any little betrayal, physical or emotional, felt like my heart would jump out of me, tears would come rolling down and I would be either exposed or told off for the weakling that I truly was….. And so I became ashamed of who I was.
My life – An attempt at hiding from my Vulnerability…..
The recognition of my essential frailty of being easily wounded, at an early age, led me to a quest to hide from the shame of being me. I felt the need to protect my real identity under all costs. I decided I would change things by being tough/ really tough. I tried to achieve this by pretending to be a lot harder and more courageous than I really was. I refuse to acknowledge my fears or accept that failure at anything was an option. This mind-set led me to becoming a very motivated kind of person, one with fierce determination and a will power most people could only dream of. If I decided to do something with my whole heart, I would not give up until it was done or achieved. I became stubborn and feisty. I became extremely driven, but underneath that drive to achieve, remained a longing for recognition.
I didn’t commit to things easily, because commitment meant responsibility. The biggest responsibility of which, was not to fail. Failure was not acceptable to me. I would rather not try, then try and fail, that is how much I loathed “failure”. I wanted to control life and failing at anything meant I had lost control.
As life turned out, I “failed” again and again, and in more ways than one. I failed in my relationships, I failed in my friendships, I failed in my career opportunities, and despite all my efforts at raising my children, I quite often failed as a parent. The reality is that I have probably failed at every Ego driven expectation I ever laid upon myself.
Connecting with our Authentic Selves – The road to happiness
The common thread, through all those years of trying to be something or someone, the exact nature of which or whom was in fact unknown even to me, was this constant sense of emptiness deep within my soul. I couldn’t understand it. There were times that I felt that I had everything that I thought I wanted – freedom, financial independence, love, family – and yet that emptiness would not release me. I would do something, “achieve” something, and for a short period there would be elation, but then that emptiness would come knocking right back.
As it turns out, that emptiness, was nothing but a lack in connectedness to my Authentic Self. That authentic self, was the “easily wounded” little girl, which I had tried so hard to hide away from the world. It was the Very Vulnerable me. What I did not know at the time, was that - that little girl was my only way to real courage, to real creativity and to real happiness!
Failing at everything, being deeply and heartbreakingly wounded, and acknowledging it as such, released me from all the pressures I had ever placed upon myself. In succumbing to my Vulnerability I became Free. I have no more need to prove myself to the world, but more importantly I have no more need to prove myself to myself. I am done with that.
The net result is that the Emptiness that plagued me my entire life has left me. What replaced that emptiness is a sense of joy, of love and happiness the likes of which I have never experienced before.
In our struggle for a perfect life, we forget that what makes us truly happy, is not a set of goals and objectives achieved but a sense of connectedness with our Authentic Self.
Our External Search – A way to feel worthy
Behind our unending lists of goals and objectives – our relationships, our careers, our children, our families, our money, is our quest to control and determine our life. We try to succeed outwardly, we accumulate all we can – so we can start feeling worthy. We believe that if we have all these things, maybe we will not need to hide from the shame of being us anymore. We ourselves pit self-worth with our achievements in life. Our outward Success is a means to show to the world our inherent Self-worth, because deep inside we feel unworthy.
We create an armour of accomplishments but underneath that armour, lies the shame of not being good enough, and underneath that shame, lies excruciating vulnerability with a deep propensity to be wounded. This armour of defensiveness prevents us from getting in touch with our own inner being and therefore also with others.(even if we might pretend otherwise)
We spend our entire life trying to hide from the fear of being shamed for what and who we truly are – fundamentally human, essentially prone to “failure” and most profoundly Vulnerable.
We humans are walking wounds, because we have hearts that feel pain and bodies that our prone to breaking and disease. We will always be somewhat wounded, yet instead of accepting that, we spend our lives, creating false structures, attempting to make ourselves infallible.
The dichotomy of life is, it forces us back to our essence one way or another. Our greatest fears and our biggest failures force us to look at our beauty and authenticity completely bare and naked. When we are forced to acknowledge that we have failed at everything we thought we wanted to succeed at, we realise there is nowhere to run. There is no external measure of success to hide behind. Having nothing to hide behind, we are forced to meet with our Authentic Self. When we arrive at true authenticity, we realise that success or failure has nothing to do with happiness. Intelligence and motivation have nothing to do with joy. And no matter how hard we try, Life will not be controlled.
While many might read the above passage of my road to understanding vulnerability as a weakness, a few lines on what I think Vulnerability really is:
- Vulnerability is Courage – It is the courage to be and stand tall as you are without fear of judgement. It is the courage to be who you are without shame.
- Vulnerability is being open to Love. To love someone with all your heart and soul, without any expectation of return, or knowing fully well that your love might be rejected or worst still, betrayed. Vulnerability is the ability to say “I love you” first.
- Vulnerability is acknowledging that we do not have all the answers all the time. That we cannot control life. That the best we can do is work on or move in a direction that seems right to us and the results of that effort may or may not come out in our favour.
- Vulnerability is Surrender. Surrender to our fears, surrender to our circumstances and Surrender to a higher power.
- Vulnerability is acknowledging our fundamental frailty as human beings and being ok with it.
- Vulnerability is a willingness to let go of who we should be, for who we are.
- Vulnerability is knowing that being wounded is part of life and recovering from our wounds results in our greatest growth.
- Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of connectivity and of creativity.
- Last but not the least, to be vulnerable is to be alive.
p.s. I can finally do somersaults without fear now J
The talk by Renee Brown on The Power of Vulnerability helped me better articulate, something I had found hard to express up until now.