The Gift of Being Vulnerable
Perhaps you might think of this as an odd title for a blog on Starting Over and Startups? But from where I stand today, learning how to embrace my vulnerability and working as hard as I have ever worked in my life to heal deep and traumatic wounds, was the key to harnessing my own power. This power has led me to a place and a career choice that is about inspiring women to show up and be present to their lives, to be safely fearless and always real. Rather than disappear under the weight of early trauma, I chose to meet it at the door, and welcome it in. My goal is to help others EMBRACE all of who they are and recognize themselves as absolutely PERFECT as they are.
So how did I become the person I am today?
I was only nine when I learned that even people who were supposed to love you could sometimes not be trusted. I spent much of my childhood surviving unspeakable abuses and learned quite a bit about taking care of myself. I developed a survivor’s outward appearance of independence, a la-di-da mask of okay-ness (I know this is not a word but I’m using it anyway). Years later I would discover that silencing my needs and shutting off my feelings was in no way indicative of my having had no needs.
I liken the pain of emotional healing to what I know about severe burns—the pain permeating each layer, tearing into muscle and bone and the slow healing of one layer at a time. I ultimately chose as an adult to strip myself bare emotionally and find a way to heal from a childhood that was permeated with sexual abuse.
To heal is also to allow yourself to need another (in my case a wonderfully loving and committed therapist). Need was an emotion that used to lead me to a visible and full body shiver and subsequent retreat from the world. For nearly a decade I searched for “treatments” to this thing that ailed me (as yet unknown), but could find no other alternative other than to open myself up to a pain that was often unbearable. As in healing from burns, I very slowly fought layer by layer to become myself.
Distance from my painful journey has led to the discovery that healing is often about giving yourself permission to be angry, scared, devastated and VULNERABLE.
Wikipedia defines “vulnerability” as the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment. That definition initially took me by surprise. I do not think of vulnerability in such harsh terms. I imagined before I saw the definition that there would be some reference to fragility and fear, but there wasn’t. I still associate fragility and fear with vulnerability.
I think about being vulnerable quite a bit as I grew up in an environment where vulnerability was intrinsically linked with weakness. I think so many people have had this experience. For much of my life I wouldn’t have dared admit to anyone that I needed him or her. Instead, I consciously invested myself in helping others. I was a great friend to anyone in need because being needed kept me, and my secrets, safe. As long as I was helping someone else, I never had to reveal myself.
Making yourself vulnerable is a process that strengthens you, but you cannot begin to know this until you are with someone who makes it safe for you to be vulnerable.
Lately I have been listening to Dr. Brené Brown talk about vulnerability and I am a bit awed by the changes within myself. Vulnerability no longer scares me. It’s comforting to know that I was made so much stronger by sharing my pain with others. In one particular video, a woman in the audience stood up and shared that she was having difficulty opening up to the man in her life because she didn’t feel he could be trusted. Nearly in unison Oprah and Brené called out to her, “Then don’t!” I was screaming those same words to her from the seat in front of my computer.
At this moment in time I am the strongest I have ever been and have absolutely no fear of being vulnerable. I am also incredibly selective about the people who are in my life. When I began the journey to heal I unconsciously retreated from many people and social groups. I isolated myself—or at least that is what it seemed. I can tell you now that it was not received favorably by anyone around me. But I trusted something deep within me. And then as time went on I understood all that I couldn’t articulate at the time— that to heal requires being vulnerable, and to be vulnerable one needs to be in an incredibly safe place and space.
We (you, me and everyone else) can only be emotionally real, authentic, present and truly safe to be ourselves when we surround ourselves with others who are safe to be with. Being truly intimate with someone is knowing and feeling that the other person will also allow him or herself to be vulnerable with you. It’s vital. Trust that if you are having trouble allowing yourself to be vulnerable with someone, your wonderfully attuned instincts are probably sending you a message worth listening to. Our bodies know things before our minds do.
Where once I defined myself by my pain and was weighed down by fear and fragility, I am now moved and inspired to help women be whatever it is they yearn to be. My advice: Show up and be present to your life. Life from a passionate place. Choose how you want to be. Be present and real with others. Make good choices for yourself. And always trust that you know yourself better than anyone else can or will.
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