Vulnerability is Weakness

Vulnerability is weakness

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal why the claim that ‘vulnerability is weakness’ is actually false.

First a quick update:

“Urgent – “Fame – why do some stars thrive while others meltdown?”
The Morning Show Australia – Watch the live interview I will be giving via satellite from LA Thursday morning at 9:40 AM Australian time on the Seven Network.

“What led the people in James Ray’s warrior retreat to stay in the sweat lodge when they knew they were in danger?”
I gave an interview to TruTV In Session with Vinnie Politan about James Ray who is on trial for the reckless manslaughter of 3 people in a sweat lodge during one of his retreats.

Now, let’s talk about being vulnerable.

The dictionary defines ‘vulnerable’ as: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.

Most of us try very hard to avoid being vulnerable because we fear the potential pain of being hurt.

And so, we go to extraordinary lengths to protect ourselves: we put up walls, hide, put on masks, isolate ourselves or worse, as I will explain shortly, we turn to substances including food to numb us and protect us.

Protect us from what?

What lies beneath vulnerability?

What is the advantage, if any, of being vulnerable?

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness.

Brene states that “connection is why we are here”; connection (to other people) gives our lives meaning and purpose and we are neuro-biologically wired for connection. (Read my newsletter from June 2010, “Getting your six needs”. Through years of study and working with thousands of people, Brene Brown came to some amazing conclusions; she found that beneath vulnerability is shame – the fear of disconnection (and thus as I teach – the fear of rejection) and; shame comes from the feeling or belief that there is something wrong with us.

In other words, the belief that we are not good enough, that there is something wrong with us creates the shame and fear that, in turn, creates the wall that prevents us from connecting with others. And yet, we can only connect with others when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable.

“Shame is universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it” says Brene.

In her years of studies and research, Brene says she has identified two groups of people:

  1. People that have a sense of worthiness, of love and belonging
  2. People that strive for it

She classified the first group as ‘wholehearted’ – people with courage, compassion and connection. Brene explains that courage, in its original meaning, refers to telling the story of who you are with your whole heart. And thus, she is saying that we need:

  1. The courage to be real and authentic – to be imperfect – to reveal our real selves
  2. To express compassion to ourselves
  3. To connect with others by being authentic and being true to who we are and not act or pretend to be the person we think we should be (or the person that others tell us we should be)

In other words, we need to fully embrace vulnerability; it’s not comfortable but it doesn’t have to be perceived as excruciating either.

During her research, Brene Brown came to a horrific realization: she herself had an issue with vulnerability and she admits she had to turn to a therapist who called her breakdown a “spiritual awakening.”

Brene told the therapist:

“Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

And there is the key: vulnerability is also the door to the great emotions – love, joy and gratitude, and creativity. It is only through vulnerability that we can connect with others and experience love and joy, and thus, also meaning and purpose by contributing.

But our fear and our shame push us to try to numb vulnerability, to hide our real selves from the world. We feel shame about who we are, about our perfections, and we do everything to cover that up.

How do we try to numb vulnerability and cover up?

Every possible way we can.

With food, alcohol, substances, work, addictions, and anything that can help to numb our emotions. What Brene Brown discovered is that we cannot selectively numb one emotion, and, in trying to numb one emotion, we end up numbing every emotion (love, joy, happiness, gratitude.) In the same vein, we do not realize that every time when we also numb our physical pain via some tablet or other aid, we are lowering our threshold of pain and our ability to feel anything! The moment we feel any discomfort, we reach for the bottle (of something) and then we one day realize that we are numb to even the joys of life. We do this with both our physical and emotional body.

Our real pain though, comes from our constant desire and obsession to be perfect thereby actually rejecting our real self – our imperfect self. We strive to be perfect, in denial of our real self, and in the hope that we can discharge pain and discomfort but it fails and the opposite occurs as we become obsessed with perfection and end up in misery.

Yes, you are imperfect but you are worthy of love and belonging. You are worthy of loving and being loved. You are good enough. And you can only feel alive when you allow yourself to become vulnerable, to love and to connect with others.

In the 6th century BC, the sage Laozi wrote in Tao Te Ching:
“To be whole, let yourself break.
To be straight, let yourself bend.
To be full, let yourself be empty.
To be new, let yourself wear out.
To have everything, give everything up.”

In 1960, C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Four Loves” described the four types of love from the Greek words Storge – Affection, Philia – Friendship, Eros – Romance (‘being in love’) and Agape – Unconditional Love. And like Laozi, he also offered the secret to love:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Yes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable” and there are many ways to do so:

Show your weaknesses, allow yourself to need someone occasionally, allow others to believe what they choose, stop blaming, accept that you don’t have the answer to everything i.e. you might be wrong; begin by accepting yourself and be vulnerable to yourself (look in the mirror and see every aspect of you and then accept what you see – stop saying I hate my bottom or my thighs); be humble (you don’t always have to be right and you don’t always have to be “winning”); stop trying to make your children perfect; be willing to be the first one in your relationship to say “I love you”; take chances; invest in a relationship that may or may not work out; love with your whole heart; offer tenderness and compassion (to yourself and then to others.)

As I have revealed before with the Law of Deservedness – you only get what you subconsciously believe you deserve, otherwise you sabotage it ; the challenge is that you just don’t realize that you are already good enough and deserving – worthy of love and belonging. But, you have to allow yourself to become vulnerable to be able to love and you have to be willing to feel everything. That’s the only way we can truly feel alive. And if the real definition of courage is to show your true self with your whole heart, then real strength is having the courage to be vulnerable – and the rewards are immense.

You can comment on this newsletter by visiting my blog or directly to this article.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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