Sharing our vulnerability

I remember reading my first romance novels as a young teenager and being frustrated with the characters as they would try to hide their attraction from one another. It was so obvious to the reader that all it would take would be one of them being vulnerable enough to admit how they felt for everything to work out.

Instead, they kept hurting one another and raising the fear level as they hid from each other. The truth always came out in the end; the hiding just made it much more challenging to get there. I didn’t see the point.

Now as an adult with more than a few rounds with a broken heart behind me, I better understand what motivates people to do this—not only in romantic relationships, but also in many other relationships and situations. It’s not always safe to be vulnerable, to express our feelings, to admit our weaknesses, to share our true selves. Exposing ourselves in this way is always risky because we might be rejected … and rejection hurts.

On the other hand, my younger self was wiser than I give her credit for. Just like I observed in the novels I was reading, any time I’ve tried to hide some part of myself, the truth not only wound up coming out eventually anyway, but the subterfuge in the meantime also caused more pain and fear for all parties involved in one way or another.

Of course, it’s not safe (or wise) to expose all of our vulnerabilities all of the time. There are people who will take advantage of us, so exercising caution about what and how and when we share is healthy to some degree. The vast majority of the time, though, I find that being willing to share the vulnerable places in my life not only causes others to respond with compassion, but it also encourages them to share a little of their own vulnerability with me.

There’s something about seeing one another’s vulnerable places that helps us remember our shared humanity. It reminds us that we are all a little wounded and broken, that we all have struggles and challenges, that we all have fears, that we all will die.

Can you imagine what this world would look like if we could all agree to be just a little more vulnerable with each other? What if instead of searching for others’ vulnerabilities, we spent more time showing our own?

How many fights and wars could be avoided if we spent more time showing our vulnerabilities to one another instead of pretending to be so tough? How many misunderstandings would melt in the face of such open, vulnerable sharing? How much compassion would overflow in this world?

I still find myself wearing masks of various kinds all too often, but I’m slowly getting better at setting the masks aside and allowing myself, with all of my vulnerabilities, show. It’s not easy, and I continue to have to work at:

  • asking for help.
  • admitting that I don’t know.
  • sharing my struggles.
  • confessing my mistakes.
  • exposing my wounds.
  • acknowledging my weaknesses.
  • admitting that I’m wrong.

None of these are easy for me, and hiding still comes easier to me than exposure, but I’m committed to learning to do each one of these things better.

Yes, I risk being wounded this way, but I have to keep reminding myself that continuing to hide myself away is a guarantee of additional wounding and fear.

The more I am able to allow myself to let my vulnerabilities show, the more grace and compassion I am finding in this world and the more I attract people who can be similarly open about themselves. Exposing my vulnerabilities (with appropriate caution, of course) actually makes me less likely to be hurt.

That’s one lesson I wish I’d learned a long, long time ago!

How comfortable are you with exposing your vulnerabilities? How do you react when other people show you theirs?


Image credit: remove by Unmasking Persona, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

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