Being vulnerable is the secret to living a full life; here are 4 simple ways to practice it daily.
I am a giant. Literally and medically. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with a growth-hormone producing tumor in my brain. After two brain surgeries in my teens, the doctors managed to cap me off at 6 ft 5 in. Whenever I find myself wishing I would have lived in Green Gables or Downton Abbey, I quickly remind myself that I’d either be over seven feet tall or dead from an overgrown, overworked heart. The daydream usually ends there.
I can now handle a tall joke with grace and maybe even a smirk (on a good day); but it wasn’t always so.
Prior to becoming an over-sharer, I was precisely the opposite. In high school, I consulted the syllabus and saw that my biology class would be discussing my disease process in class. I made sure to be sick that day lest anyone put two and two together. I was so ashamed of my immense body and of my dramatic story that I felt that I was floating outside of myself trying to avoid the anguish of being pitied. I survived high school by some miracle.
In my early 20s came the real miracle, however. I had an opportunity to share my testimony on a retreat. I walked onto the stage not entirely sure what I’d say into the microphone. Then, my story came tumbling awkwardly out of my mouth. From that moment onward, I was healed. I felt a new, acute sense of ownership of my life and a new desire to deal with the world authentically from within the tower of my body. I realized I was remarkable … but not for the reasons I’d thought. Now, anyone who knows me knows at least an abridged version of the “why I’m tall” story.
Brene Brown, researcher and author of the book The Power of Vulnerability, says that vulnerability is the secret to living a full life. She says that vulnerability is “the birthplace of joy, creativity and love.” When we try to numb our emotions in one area in order to avoid feeling shame, that numbness spreads to other areas of our lives as well. This is because, Brown explains, “it is impossible to selectively numb only certain emotions to avoid vulnerability.” Essentially, by refusing to be vulnerable, we are confining ourselves to a self-constructed prison where we deny ourselves the fullness of intimacy and hearty enjoyment of life’s pleasures.
Here’s how to practice being vulnerable every day:
Keep a journal (blogging doesn’t count)
“I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” the author Flannery O’Connor admitted. Journaling is altogether different from blogging and social media rants. The goal of journaling is simply to learn what we think and feel in the silence of our hearts without the showcasing and the feedback. We may be surprised to learn how we really feel when we aren’t presenting our lives for the appraisal of others.
Say “I love you” first — without considering the response
In her research, Brown found that regularly vulnerable people think that their areas of vulnerability make them more beautiful. These people found it easy to say “I love you” first without any concern over whether they’d hear the words echoed back. For these people, she remarked, vulnerability was not comfortable or uncomfortable, it was simply just necessary. The alternative was not being alive to the fullness of who they were or to the fullness of that moment.
Look for the “unique gifts” in others and compliment them
Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, a social agency that helps create homes and programs for the disabled, writes that fear and distrust can only dissolve once we recognize the unique gift of each person. “When I discover that I am accepted and loved as a person, with my strengths and weaknesses, when I discover that I carry within myself a secret, the secret of my uniqueness, then I can begin to open up to others and respect their secret.” In trying to really see others and affirm their being, we become more free and fully ourselves. Loving people as they are is a medicine that heals all involved in the exchange.
Be more honest in small things
For me, my dance with vulnerability started with a “giant step” but maybe a more honest response to the “how are you today” from the cashier at Target is a good start. Smile and offer something like: “I’m looking forward to some down time this evening, how about you?”
If we are not willing to be seen for who we are and to risk being “left hanging,” we will never be at home in our skin, let alone in a relationship. We have the power to mutually liberate each other; when we are vulnerable with someone, we give them permission to do the same in their dealings with us.