Finding Strength in Vulnerability

“My ineptitude makes me good at what I do.”  This was the astonishing claim made in 2005 by author Studs Terkel in an interview with Nightline’s Ted Kopple. He went on to explain that he really couldn’t do much of anything very well like fix things, sing, dance, or play sports. All he was really good at he said was listening, making him the great interviewer and storyteller that he was. Here, on national television, was a 93-year-old icon comfortable enough in his own skin to admit that he was not good at very much. Sharing his vulnerability not only made him lovable, it showed strength of character.edit_MG_7112

Some of us hide our vulnerability behind our skills and competencies, our achievements and our talents. We do this because we equate being vulnerable with being weak. We fear that if we are open and authentic enough to admit to a personal lack or limitation that we’ve opened ourselves to attack from others.

Vulnerability is not for the weak hearted. It requires deep inner strength to admit what you don’t know, what you can’t do well, what scares you, and what hurts you. It was clear that Studs Terkel inhabited his vulnerability from an awareness of his own strengths even though he started out by describing himself as inept.

How do we develop the strength to stand in our vulnerability? On our yoga mats we learn to honor it. When we embrace vulnerability wholeheartedly we discover a strength we did not know we had. As we attempt to do a posture that seems impossible or scary, once we set aside our ego, and stop struggling to get it right, we surprise ourselves and nail a pose we’ve never done before. We discover that accepting our vulnerability helps us create a boundary. We don’t push too hard, or go too far, which keeps us safe.

In our lives off the yoga mat we fear being vulnerable because we fear being hurt, let down, disappointed, rejected, or even killed. An aversion to unpleasant feelings can cause us to defend ourselves against feeling physical or emotional pain. Sometimes we distract ourselves from unwanted feelings by trying to be certain of the uncertain, trying to be perfect, or by acting as if we don’t care. We might dull our senses with comfort food, alcohol, gambling, drugs (illegal and prescription), television, work, video games, computers, and smart phones.

But numbing yourself to the discomfort of your vulnerability does more than dull the sting of unpleasant emotions. You actually put your self at a disadvantage by robbing yourself of the ability to ask for and receive the support you need. Ironically, by avoiding our vulnerability, we actually make ourselves weak.

Cynthia had a boss intent on setting her up to fail at a job she loved, needed, and was good at. As long as she pretended she could overcome his mistreatment by trying harder, asking him for feedback, or when that didn’t work, feigning indifference, she was helpless to do anything about her predicament. The first thing she had to do was recognize that she was under attack through no fault of her own. She was doing nothing wrong. Next she had to stop looking to her boss for approval and instead identify her strengths. Once she became more self-confident her boss’s attempts to undermine her became ineffective.  She started asking for help from those who were willing and able to give it. Eventually she left the job, but on her own terms. She quickly found a work environment that appreciated her for her gifts and talents.

Ultimately, nothing can protect you from the vulnerability of human life. When you stop avoiding your own vulnerability you risk hurt and disappointment, but you receive the gifts that flow forth from a place of open heartedness: Kindness, forgiveness, love, generosity, empathy, and support.

Approach the joys, challenges, and disappointments of life with a full heart. Be first to say, “I love you.” Invest in a relationship even if there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. Ask for help when you’re ill, out of money, or need a place to live. Apologize when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Cry when you’re sad. Initiate getting together with friends. Or, like Studs Terkel, admit your ineptitude.

Challenge yourself to step more fully into your vulnerability.

• Ask your husband to take you to your doctor’s appointment if you’re afraid to go by yourself.

• Invite friends over for dinner instead of waiting for one of them to invite you.

• Apologize instead of defending yourself when you know you’ve hurt someone’s feeings.

• Return that phone call you’ve been putting off for fear you might get bad news.

• Offer your gifts and talents freely. Share them publicly.

Accepting your vulnerability can be scary, but when you find the courage to go deep into your vulnerability you’ll realize how safe it can actually. But no explaining can trump the experience. Take a leap of faith. Take the first step.

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14 responses to “Finding Strength in Vulnerability

  1. Doing research on Yoga, Vulnerability, Inspiration, and creativity. Thank you for your beautiful post. It inspired me to go forward with my article.

  2. Reblogged this on Morally Insane and commented:
    Read it for your own good introspection.

  3. Jason Parker Johnson

    I think the hardest thing for me is maintaining it after getting to that point and also applying it non-specifically.

  4. Absolutely awesome article and very timely for me. I am at a point where I don’t want to always be the strong one, don’t want to always have the answers…I am at a point of sweet surrender, which brings me a great sense of peace. Thank you for this article and I will start practicing vulnerability right now!

    • We can’t always be strong or have the answers. There is no shame in knowing and honoring your limitations. There is sweetness in surrender. Thanks for sharing.

  5. We are not invincible. Part of being human is being vulnerable. We just are. Once we accept this fact we can develop tools to function safely as vulnerable beings. Cynthia’s vulnerability was not the reason her boss was attacking her. She didn’t know why he was trying to sabotage her, and if she had known it wouldn’t have changed his behavior. It’s just what he was doing through no fault of her own. Once she got this and stopped trying to change him she shifted her focus to herself. It was her internal focus and awareness of her inner strength that empowered her. As you shift your focus to developing and identifying with your strengths you become grounded in your strengths. Now your weaknesses become background not foreground. Once this happens you can be more discerning about when and with whom you share your limitations and you can set clear boundaries in dealing with others. Remember, we are not strong or vulnerable we are both.

  6. Greetings Gail! Thanks again for another inspirational message. Your blogs are always very timely. The issue of vulnerability is one that I am dealing with. The link you shared on fb re: Brene Brown was quite powerful as well. I even explored her further on you tube videos to see more of her teachings.

    I am having difficulty discerning when to express my weakness and when not to. When meeting new people or job settings I have been taught not to disclose what you can not do or feelings of inadequacy for the reasons you mentioned – they will use them against you.

    I have encounter something similar recently and made an agreement to not express my lack,worries, in inadequacies i.e. being vulnerable to paying clients in the future. This agreement was made because how my client began to turn on me using my so call inabilities as the reason why things were going down hill. In addition, she didn’t seem to have the same level of respect for me once I had disclose my concerns.

    The story re: Cynthia is somewhat similar to my case regarding the treatment of her boss. However, I did not notice where she was being and had been vulnerable and wasn’t to sure how the story related the being vulnerable. What is it that I am not seeing?

    I would like to hear your perspective about in what context should one be vulnerable. How should one express their vulnerability in different settings?

    Thanks so much! New Year blessings and love to you!

    • Dear Sarah your concerns are probably shared by many others so thank you for stepping into your vulnerability by asking for clarification of questions you have about this issue. First of all, being vulnerable is not something we create or make happen. No matter how we slice it, and whether or not we are willing to admit it, we are vulnerable. That’s the point. We are vulnerable. It’s when we ignore our vulnerability that we can be blind sided. So step number one is awareness of the fact that we are vulnerable. Physically human beings are the only species on the planet whose front body is unprotected. It’s how we face the world. Hearts exposed. It is in our hearts that we find our strength. It is through love, starting with self-love, that we protect ourselves. This is the challenge – keeping an open heart in the face of challenging people or circumstances. An open heart is a vulnerable heart. With an open heart we are able to love ourselves enough to do what is necessary to take good care of ourselves. We cannot do this with a closed heart. As we learn to love ourselves we learn to take actions that are in our best interest. Cynthia did not make herself vulnerable, she was vulnerable, and she was under attack through no fault of her own. As she withdrew her focus from her attacker, trying to get his approval, or retaliating, or shutting down, she was able to identify her strengths. This enabled her to step into her strength and take actions that were good for her. Remember to be safe in our vulnerability we must inhabit it from an awareness of our strengths. Thank you for sharing in the conversation. Much love to you from the bottom of my heart. Happy New Year!

      • Let me see if I capture what you said accurately … My mere presence creates a given sense of vulnerability. I increase/generate my strength when I do not hide that sense of vulnerability but accept/own it. Vulnerability is not me saying that I can’t do something, I feel inadequate or admitting that I don’t know something. It is just how I naturally show up — Did I understand correctly?

        In the case of Cynthia … What lead to her being attacked? Her vulnerability? I see the story more so about Cynthia gaining confidence in her self and not seeking approval from her boss. And once she had done so – she was able to make better choices for herself and be more self-reliant. I am missing the connection of having self-confidence and the implications of vulnerability.

        Thank you for taking the time to help me “get it”. I so want to be able to live freely and I know that it includes me knowing, loving, and accepting myself … the journey of getting there is a struggle — but what I think is that it can be made a little easier when understanding the concept of vulnerability and how to allow it to be a way to empower oneself.

        That’s what I am trying to get …. I thought I was doing so by being transparent about my “weakness” but realized in the “working world” it can back fire— at least for me it did.

        So self-confidence; vulnerability; being transparent … how does it work so that it doesn’t become a reason for being attacked?

        thanks!! 🙂

  7. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many people. You are courageous and steadfast in addition to being loving and kind. You know from personal experience what it takes to stand strong in your vulnerability. You can be a role model to those who are afraid of doing so. As you know even though it can b scary, it really is safe. Thanks for sharing. Love ya back! Happy 2012 to you as well.

  8. Great message. To bad I can’t relate to Cynthia…Glad to know she made some moves and she is happier now…LOL….2012 for me will be a year where I focuse on my needs and how to balance myself better. There are so many Cynthia’s out there that don’t even know what kind of situation they are in until it almost breaks them. Being vulerable is often seen as a weakness, and can often be hard to take because of pride. Being open to the experience I believe is half the battle. Aunt Gail you know this spoke to me…Thank you for being there to listen to me and always being my personal cheerleader…People need those in their lives to get them through…Happy New Year!!!! All my love…

  9. Oh Gail, What wonderful words to read, feel and take to heart on this New Year’s Day. Thank you for your strong and tender self; for your vulnerability; and for showing and sharing yourself with all of us. What a beautiful example..what a light to follow.

    • Dear Sweet Susann you make it safe to show up as vulnerable with your warmth and consistent encouragement for all to be exactly as they are. Your ability to find the good no matter what the circumstance and situation is a gift to all you encounter. Thank you for being you and for sharing your light.Happy 2012!

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