When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.
— Madeline L’Engle
A few days ago, Rev. Naomi King posted this question on Twitter: “In what ways are your vulnerabilities gifts?”
I replied with something about how vulnerability and connection are intertwined, and then later I asked myself what exactly I meant by that. This is my answer.
Vulnerability is scary, and being genuine makes you vulnerable. In some ways, it’s easier to put on a personality like a suit of armor, because if someone doesn’t like your suit of armor, well, that’s just your attire they don’t like, not you. Once you put your real self out on display, though, there’s nothing to hide behind if you’re rejected, is there?
The armor works both ways, unfortunately, like any fence worth its salt. It interrupts the flow of communication coming into you and also going out from you to others. And you can’t just keep the bad stuff from transmitting. If you can’t share (sometimes even with yourself) the thoughts that make your heart ache, the good stuff—the joy, the warmth, the happiness—won’t get shared either, and it might eventually die from lack of sunlight.
To be vulnerable is difficult, but also necessary, I think, for connection. To connect with another person, really connect, you have to put your whole self out there. Maybe they won’t like you or love you; not everyone will. Maybe they will judge you and find you wanting. Maybe all those things you believe about yourself not being good enough (thin enough, fit enough, disciplined enough, maternal enough, pretty enough, strong enough, active enough, whatever enough) are true, and once you open up, you’ll find out that you really are unlovable. Or maybe we are all worth loving ourselves and being loved by others, in all our unsolvable imperfection.
It’s funny how so often, when you start thinking about a thing, you see references to that thing everywhere without even trying. I had most of these thinks already, and then I stumbled across this TED talk, and it’s really, really worth watching.