For a long time, I associated very negative connotations to the word vulnerability. I defined being vulnerable as exposing myself to possible emotional harm. The potential consequences of being vulnerable included rejection, ridicule, and various symptoms of undesirable public attention. I had a true fear of vulnerability. I imagine many people have felt this way at some stage.
It’s not surprising that vulnerability isn’t immediately thought of as a way of experiencing human connection.
And yet, think of how much you expose yourself in any of your key relationships… with your significant other, with your family, with your close friends… You can’t really have deeply meaningful relationships unless you share openly with other people – this of course implies being vulnerable. Or think of when you shared an opinion on something that was important to you – perhaps it raised controversy, or perhaps it didn’t. Either way, you exposed yourself by standing up for what you believe in. In a way, it’s down to a ‘no risk-no gain’ equation. Unless you accept some degree of vulnerability in your life, you will neither be able to be yourself nor connect closely with other people.
It’s not really a question of ‘to be or not to be’ vulnerable. It’s rather a question of ‘how and to what degree’ you accept vulnerability in your life.
Losing the fear of vulnerability
I find comparing vulnerability-taking to risk-taking a useful analogy. We all have a certain appetite for risk, usually driven by our cultural background, upbringing, and life experience. And most of us will have tried stretching the boundaries of risk at some stage. I try to do the same with vulnerability… a few steps at a time, the occasional leap forward, the odd couple of steps back. And learning through both positive and challenging outcomes, I have gradually accepted more vulnerability in my life.
And what have I gained from this vulnerability-taking? Well, contrary to what my inner voice often tells me will happen, very few people exploit one’s vulnerability. Most people in fact respond by showing some vulnerability themselves, or at the very least by empathizing. This rapport helps to build trust, that so-solid basis of any human relationship. In a professional setting in particular, I have found that displaying vulnerability helps immensely in building trusting and effective teams. In fact, I believe vulnerability, supported by authenticity, is among the most important traits a leader can display. At work or elsewhere…
I had to realize that people don’t often connect with invulnerable beings to take the leap of faith and cast aside the superhero-model that was ingrained in me. I am the better for it, although some times I still feel like the egg in this image. So, do you fear vulnerability?