In the last few years, I’ve explored vulnerability and what it means to me. Extrapolating the subterfuge involved in the tentacles of this very charged word doesn’t come without its hazards. Lately, I’ve been asking how to handle the consequences of “being real,” especially when your truth doesn’t land in the way you intended. It is a messy business to  embrace an authentic self and it often feels like I am sinking, rather than floating atop of a halo of goodness. Vulnerability requires an unflinching honesty about yourself, people, situations and circumstances, but it is done through the edges and corners of your individual truth. I’ve said over and over again how much I detest cliches, but the one maxim I cannot ignore is this: one’s truth is based on his or her perception. It’s colored by singular conflicts, experiences and emotions which only YOU are able to identify with, while other people have another viewpoint because their lens is tinted with different hues.

How do you explore vulnerability when a bridge doesn’t exist to bring two disparate vantage points together?

I’ve pondered this question and my excavation pushed me against another inquiry – what if vulnerability is causing havoc in your life? Sometimes it feels like I am in quicksand, grasping for dry land, but mulling around the murkiness of a swampy mud. I reach and raise my hands to find a steady place to lift myself up, but instead I lose my balance and sink again.  Is vulnerability worth it when it feels like you are failing? Do you resort to platitudes to keep the peace? I’ve intersected with people who are wholly uncomfortable about revealing any opinions which might threaten the majority and will cheerlead their way through life, without ever announcing their truth. Is this a kind of vulnerability I am missing?  – the ability to know when to keep your mouth shut and when to scream through a megaphone. Vulnerability can’t be a catch-all. Like anything, you must quickly identify the people who will understand your brand of authenticity because you can’t go deep with everyone. When I lose sight of this, the pang of my failure hits me the most.

My ultimate dilemma is how to still live a vulnerable life thrust in the context of practicality. I’ve decided sometimes the price is too high to engage in confessional conversation – it is easier to smile, engage in small talk and accept the relationship will remain on a predictable terrain. At times this seems disingenuous, but I’ve learned it is mindful to recognize a place for vulnerability. Vulnerability only becomes a problem when you don’t cultivate it in the right setting and with people who are receptive to it. I cannot expect someone to reciprocate my vulnerability – it must be a practice without expectation.

I regularly refer to the work of Brene Brown to help me with the process of navigating vulnerability. This week I revisited her chapter The Vulnerability Armor in Daring Greatly which points to a checklist to use when we share our words in a smaller intimate setting or in a larger context:

  1. Why I am sharing this?
  2. What outcome am I hoping for?
  3. What emotions am I experiencing?
  4. Do my intentions align with my values?
  5. Is there an outcome, response, or lack of response that will hurt my feelings?
  6. Is this sharing in the service of connection?
  7. Am I genuinely asking the people in my life for what I need?

I found reading this rubric helpful to help with future conversations, outbursts and complicated emotional discussions. Vulnerability is a problem only if you let it become one. My vulnerability is a precious commodity. It is time I treat it as such.