Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Vulnerability and strength
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Can vulnerability and strength be synonymous? Can these two qualities really co-exist?
For many, vulnerability is a sign of weakness – whether that notion was fostered by messages received in one’s family of origin or whether it was a decision to refute vulnerability after having been hurt or wounded.
For others, being free to emote and/or openly display feelings and thoughts is easy and positive.
But is vulnerability a sign of strength? That is a good question!
Somehow in our society, it has become rather commonplace to think that someone who shows emotions is weak, whereas someone who is more stoic and seemingly unbothered by life’s challenges is strong. I believe that the exact opposite is true. When one is allowed to be vulnerable in a particular moment, it is then that true strength is on display! Consider:
- As human beings we all have emotions, some positive and some negative. Yet, when ego gets in the way, sometimes we put on the “armor” that tells the world, “Ahh, it’s no big deal to me.” Yet when we choose to befriend someone, or choose a lifemate, don’t we really want to KNOW what he/she’s feeling? Don’t we want to see their hearts? Otherwise, why not marry a mannequin?
- Being vulnerable is the precursor to having healthy, authentic relationships. When we lose the ability or desire to be vulnerable and when we close ourselves off to love, we will lose the joy that comes from having relationships. Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s important to understand that human connection is one of the most crucial aspects of a happy and fulfilled life. Next to food, shelter and water, human relationships are at the top of the list for healthy survival!
- Allowing yourself to be vulnerable requires you to open up parts of your being that might have been closed off after being hurt … but it’s worth it! Being closed off and “self-guarded” with heavy armor may protect you from hurt, but it will also disallow you the freedom that comes from laughing out loud, sharing tender stories, crying at sappy movies, blushing at compliments and grinning very big at a moment when you feel most proud of your kids’ accomplishments! These experiences just let us know we are alive!
- Sure, some of the emotions you feel may be ones of sadness, heartbreak, despair or hopelessness, none of which feels good. BUT, what is not OK is ignoring your feelings as if they don’t exist in attempts to look strong. Wait for the backfire moment to happen! Bottled up emotions, even if tender ones, most likely will explode in extreme ways, such as with rage or tantrums. The best suggestion? Risk being REAL, being vulnerable, and let emotions get spent. When these emotions are real, YOU never appeared so real to those who care about you!
So is vulnerability a strength? Absolutely and unequivocally, YES! We love to saddle up next to someone who is REAL and VULNERABLE … not someone who is hard and expressionless. I love this quote, which I believe captures it all:
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”