The topic of vulnerability comes up often in client sessions. I’m writing about it because it’s also a topic all so close to my heart, that I have had to heal my relationship to.
Let’s start with a definition of what vulnerability is. And what it’s not.
I’m borrowing the words of the person who liberated the use of the word vulnerability in my eyes. Mrs Brené Brown. She defines it as -
Vulnerability is the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.
Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our greatest marker of courage. And courage requires the willingness to lean into that uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.
Let’s be clear, vulnerability does not mean opening the tap of all your emotions and oversharing to the first person that comes your way. Vulnerability has power when you selectively choose the circles that have earned the right to hear your story. Usually those closest to you, your team or community.
Perhaps the most damaging sentences for mental health, particularly with men over the past decades have been “suck it up”, “be a man”, "be strong". It’s time this changed.
Vulnerability is learned and is modelled to us through our peers. If you struggle to show it, could it be a parent or guardian modelled you this idea that “vulnerability and showing emotion equals weakness” growing up?
Does your aversion to vulnerability come from not wanting to be a “burden”? Who would want to hear me talking about my doubts and fears, I hear you say.
The moment I understood what vulnerability actually is, is the moment I started either strengthening my existing relationships or creating new deeper ones. To my knowledge, sharing something deep and vulnerable is a sure way to build a lasting connection with someone.
Vulnerability has the greatest ability to develop empathy and gives the other person permission to open up and share too. It’s like giving them a key to your heart. Not in a way that exposes you, but for them to get an insight into who you really are. And what’s more rewarding than just being yourself?
What vulnerability looks like in the workplace as a leader:
Remembering that leaders don’t have all the answers, but ask important questions and are willing to do so to get to their answers
Apologising to a fellow team mate about how you spoke to them in a meeting
Giving and getting honest feedback
Starting your own business and openly honouring it’s not all fun and glory
What vulnerability looks like with those closest to you:
Talking honestly about your feelings
That first date after a heartbreak
Asking for help when you need it
Getting back up after a heavy fall (literally or figuratively)
Vulnerability hangover? Heard of this? Also a concept borrowed by Brené Brown. It means that if you wake up the next morning with this thought of “I shouldn’t have shared that, it felt scary” - it’s a good thing! It’s normal.
Not being vulnerable and keeping things locked up inside can feel heavy, right? I once also believed I should be unbreakable, I’ve felt like I should never let others down. That pressure to be “perfect” and have all the answers was my own though, and the day I let go of it was the day I alleviated myself of the weight.
What if vulnerability could feel like the easiest thing? What if it was no longer a weight? That anytime this weight builds up you could just let it out in a shared space with a person you can trust? A person you know would not only embrace your vulnerability, but also show you theirs.
What if you could reframe vulnerability to be your biggest sign of strength and courage as an individual or as a leader? Would it feel less scary?
Some final thoughts.
"Genuine vulnerability is the best way to inspire followship." Tom Bloomfield, founder of Monzo
Vulnerability inspires others to do the same. It takes a courageous leader to own his or her vulnerability.
Vulnerability opens the door to deep connections.
Vulnerability liberates speech through a feeling of “You’re not alone”. (Think of all the movements that started through one person speaking up. Never would they be considered “weak.”)
More resources on the topic.
All this is linked to being able to ask for help, a big sign of showing vulnerability. Read another article I wrote here.
And perhaps watch Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability if you haven’t already.