Some of us create judgments and expectations of the world, to create a picture of how we think the world should be. By knowing what to expect, we gain a feeling of control, of certainty, and as a result we feel a little safer. The trouble is, judgments are often wrong, and expectations are rarely met, so the ‘safe’ world becomes unpredictable, and not so safe. Anxiety results.
But when we drop our judgments, drop our ‘shoulds’, drop our need to protect our image, we might initially feel weak and exposed, and vulnerable, but we soon come to realise the world won’t end. That’s when we discover we can cope with uncertainty. And that’s the gift. We discover that we no longer need our judgments and expectations to keep ourselves safe, because we now already feel safe.
Remember the pygmy twins? We learned that the best way to avoid anxiety is not to avoid scary situations, but to learn how to handle them. In the same way, being vulnerable just means putting ourselves in scary situations, while trusting we could handle the end result. And, when we discover that, we come out the other side feeling a little safer in life than we did before.
It’s about living with uncertainty.
That’s why many of the tips in this book require us to feel vulnerable. Vulnerability is a gateway towards gaining the feeling that whatever happens, we will handle it.
When we can willingly allow ourselves to be in uncomfortable situations, knowing we will not feel shattered by the experience, we strengthen our sense of ‘I will be okay.’ Then anxiety dissipates and core happiness rises in its place.
There is a bonus: being vulnerable strengthens the connections we have we others, and that helps satisfy our other big innate need: the deep need to belong.
‘These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness . . . What they had in common was a sense of courage . . . these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect . . . They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about it being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating . . . but it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first. The willingness to do something when there are no guarantees . . . The willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought it was fundamental.’
Brené Brown, from her TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’.
The tips in this section might prompt us feel uncomfortable. But they’re worth it.
Q. ‘What if someone bursts into tears at the drop of a hat, or desperately professes their love for someone? Things could get awkward. And at work, to display vulnerability might cost you your job.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean exposing the soft bits inside us. It doesn’t mean being weak, or delicate. It doesn’t mean blurting out every flaw, or every thought, we have. It means being involved in a situation while trusting ourselves that we can handle what happens. It’s about allowing ourselves to be present in uncomfortable circumstances.
Q. Some examples, please?
Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable can mean:
– allowing yourself be criticised, and feeling you could handle it.
– admitting to your mistakes, while feeling you can handle the consequences.
– Experiencing fear, or hurt, or embarrassment, . . . and feeling you will not be shattered.
– being the first to bring an uncomfortable topic into the conversation, and feeling you’ll cope.
‘To practise gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we wonder, “Can I be this fierce about this? Can I love this much? Can I believe this so passionately?” To be able to stop, and instead of catastrophising about what might happen, say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive”.’
Brené Brown again.
Q. What about revealing a secret about myself?
‘Nothing makes us as lonely as our secrets’.
If the secret gnaws at you then yes, consider revealing it to a trusted friend. But feel comfortable that if your trust were betrayed, you could handle the consequences.
But be discerning. Disclosing too much of ourselves can at times be off-putting for others. It can unfairly burden them. We need to be sensitive to the other person’s interest and choose carefully.
‘Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it – it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is to hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.’
Brené Brown, in her book, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’
‘. . . keeping secrets reinforces the perception that their shame is justified, and that catastrophic consequences would follow should others find out. This maintains their anxiety and perception of defectiveness. One of the best ways to evaluate whether our beliefs are correct is to conduct a behavioural experiment . . . self-disclose to the relevant people and observe their responses. Once we ‘come out’, our anxiety drops because we no longer need to worry that people will find out. In addition, in most cases people do not react with the harsh judgment that we had predicted, and so we get immediate evidence that our perceived failings are not so bad after all.
But what if they do? Behavioural experiments with self-disclosure always involve some risk . . . sometimes our fears are realised . . . However, we do not overcome our self-doubts and fears without taking risks . . . The most powerful learning occurs when we risk the possibility of disapproval and discover that in most cases it does not happen, and that even if it should happen, that we can cope.’
From Sarah Edelman’s book, ‘Change Your Thinking’
‘Secrets are the enemy of intimacy’.
Frank Warren, Postsecret.