Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you have never been hurt and live like it’s Heaven on Earth—Mark Twain
Being vulnerable conjures up an idea of weakness, of being naked, of being taken advantage of, and of having no power. And yet in order to be truly strong and connected with both ourselves and others, we need to become comfortable with our vulnerability and be able to drop the mask of trying to be perfect.
We live in a world where ideas of perfection surround us—even though the perfection we see is often fake. Magazines airbrush photos of celebrities to make them look younger, slimmer, and sexier. Actors and actresses in films have body doubles for the naked or dangerous shots. TV ads frequently bend the truth—for example MacDonalds, Coca Cola, Pepsi ads all show super-healthy, slim people consuming their products. High flying business, government and banking officials seldom admit to getting it wrong—which is perhaps why we rarely, fully trust them. Even when we know – deep down – this portrayed perfection is a myth, we still compare ourselves to that myth. We know about our own imperfections and failings, and believe they must be far worse than anyone else’s imperfections and so we pretend to ourselves (and to the world) that we are strong, we squish any feelings of inadequacy, then hope and pray that someone won’t see our imperfections hidden behind our mask.
Why it’s important to be vulnerable
The trouble with masking your imperfections, no matter what they might be, is that they aren’t who you really are. When you lead a life where you aren’t allowing people to see the real you, this inauthenticity that your soul feels leads to self-doubt and feelings of not-being-good-enough or that you will be judged harshly if you share with people the real you.
Over the years I have coached several high-flying clients who shared with me their fear of being caught out for not being good enough at the job they are doing. They believed they had landed this job role as part of the pretence that they were actually better than they really were. Yet every one of them was a genuinely, amazingly talented person. I have worked with gay and lesbian clients too who have been fearful of the ‘train-wreck’ that they believed their coming out would cause. I’ve worked with both men and women who believe their partner/spouse would no longer love them, or leave them if they knew the truth in their hearts.
The cost to hiding your real self is huge—a cost that stops you from being your most glorious imperfect self. Yes, imperfect. We are truly not meant to be perfect. We are Human Beings: not Robotic Beings.
Being your vulnerable self doesn’t men you lose your strengths
If you are hiding your true self from the world, there is a strong chance you will be acting as if you are a superman/superwoman—trying to prove to the world that you are virtually invincible at either work or in your private life—or both. As an ex-superwoman contender, let me share with you how exhausting this can be. The truth is you are good enough just as you are, with all of your imperfections, your doubts, insecurities and vulnerabilities. In fact these are the qualities that makes someone strong—not weak. Of course you can be better, you can improve, you can learn more and still your imperfect self is far stronger than any masked version of yourself that you choose to show to the world.
Before I learnt this valuable lesson, I was juggling being a single mum, starting a new business, becoming a secretary for the school PTA, coaching kids at the local swimming club, trying to get the street involved in a ‘Plant More Trees’ campaign (and much more) I felt that if anyone saw my doubts, fears and deep need for someone to help me, then my world would crash about my ears. As I found out though, when I finally found the courage to take down my carefully constructed masks—it didn’t. And yes, for those of you welded to your super-persona, it takes courage, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. Ultimately the cost of being the real you versus the Marvel comic strip you doesn’t even compare. The real you is so much more precious, not just to yourself but to the world too.
Love and belonging – wise words
Love belongs with belonging. Of this, I am actually certain. After collecting thousands of stories, I’m willing to call this a fact: A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbing, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering—Brené Brown, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’.
With these words Brené has nailed another truth about vulnerability. We can not fully love another if we don’t share our fears and vulnerable selves. We can not be fully loved unless there is a sense of belonging either. True intimacy in a relationship is not found in sex: a true bond is formed when we bravely show our imperfect, vulnerable selves to the person we love. There is a risk in doing so and that of course is the fear of rejection. This fear usually gets in the way of true intimacy too.
I can’t show my vulnerable self to the world
Yes, you can! I’m not encouraging you to drop down your mask to everyone—at least not in one fell swoop. If you have been hiding away your true self, then unveiling needs to be done with grace and a sense of honour. With this in mind, if you are ready, then the people you choose to begin to show your real self need to be people you know, trust and love. People with whom deep down you know who will be supportive of you—just as you are. It’s important that you become comfortable with this hidden side to you: it’s not a race to undress and reveal.
The joys of being vulnerable
When you face the fear of showing your vulnerable self and show this side of yourself to another, something magical happens in how you begin to see the world. Firstly you will see, perhaps for the first time, that you are NOT the only one struggling. I can’t really tell you why it happens: I just know it does. When you show your vulnerable under belly, you will begin to see others with very similar situations to yours. In seeing this, your compassion grows and you will become more accepting of both your own imperfections and those of others.
Tips to help you overcome being vulnerable
Here are some ideas and steps you may wish to take:
- What is it that makes you feel the most vulnerable? What is it that scares you the most? Vulnerability’s power increases when kept secret. So name it—write it down or say it out-loud to yourself! No judgment: it is as it is. Notice as you name it, it already feels smaller, more manageable.
- What is the very worst thing that could happen if you shared your part of (or all) vulnerable self with someone else? Would you die? No? What then is the worst? How sure are you about the outcome being the worst thing? Is there a possibility that it might not be as bad as you think?
- What is the best thing that could happen if you shared part of your vulnerable self with someone else? Would you feel better, lighter, and more authentic? Is the cost of hiding your vulnerable self worth more to you than the good feelings?
- If you decide to share your vulnerable self with someone, who would that person be?
- Who do you know who has faced this vulnerability and come out the other side in good shape? A friend or even a celebrity? What can you learn from them?
- What would need to happen for you to have the courage to share this vulnerability?
Asking for help
Many people who come to me (and I’m sure to other coaches, counsellors, therapists, healers) believe they are the only person who has created such a tangled web of a life. Parts of it are undoubtedly unique to them, but the main essence of the story is told so many times. If you are hiding part of your true self, consciously decide to share a small part of this with a good friend who will listen and not judge you. Or if it feels too weighty, too much, find a counsellor or therapist. Our role is to listen, not judge. To be there for you as you let go of the hidden parts no longer serving you and show you how to be strong and vulnerable at the same time.