Before I'd heard of Brené Brown or discovered her TedEx talk on "The Power of Vulnerability" (viewed over 20 million times), I had my own revelation about what it means to be vulnerable.
My revelation came when I was in the "off" phase of, what I would describe as, an on/off relationship. I had walked away. After a distressing truth had been told, I literally got up, gathered my things while he watched, and quietly, but decisively, left his house without a word.
The ability to act, to walk away from something that falls into your category of wrong, particularly without fanfare, can take courage.
I wish I could tell you that this story is about courage, but it's not.
My strength wasn't the virtue that made my feet take one step after the other to my car. My toughness didn't steer me to the highway. And resolve wasn't responsible for my cutting him out of my life.
I wanted my walking away to be about me being the ultimate badass, but there's only so long that fear can parade as strength until the veil gets yanked away and you see it for what it is.
To be sure, there are instances where walking away is the right and responsible thing to do, but this wasn't that instance.
When the vibrato in my mind quieted days later, I realized I hadn't done the brave thing at all. I did the easy thing. The thing that required the least amount of emotional risk. I did not trust that my heart could survive disappointment that sprang from confronting truth, so I retreated.
Does that sound like strength to you?
Leaving him sent an intended message: You are incapable of hurting me. You are easily replaceable. I am powerful enough to leave you without looking back. I'll meet someone else in a week, so until then, I'm off to enjoy a cinnamon raisin bagel.
But when you are trying to build on a relationship, none of this is productive.
I should've put my heart on the line and trusted that I would be ok no matter what. I should have said, "I'm hurt right now and here's why..."
When I reflected on how I'd handled relationships (including some friendships) over the years, I didn't see my "hardness" as a way of having accomplished anything special or meaningful. When I saw others display a similar hardness, it wasn't impressive. It was a sad cover. A layer of protection against hurt and fear. A block from an abundance of good things going out and coming in.
Despite that, I can assure you that I appeared strong. If we'd spoken that day and I'd told you what happened, I could have easily fooled you into believing I was heroic, just like I'd fooled myself for a short time.
What looks like strength isn't always strength and vulnerability isn't always weakness.
To decide that you are going to allow yourself to openly be yourself, flaws and all--to express joy, happiness, fear, hurt, or imperfection--at the risk of experiencing an undesirable outcome is real toughness.
I can't think of one example where retreating into anger, obscurity, bad behavior, or indifference is a show of valor.
Vulnerability in relationships is a demonstration of courage and strength. Nothing is guaranteed, nevertheless, you express yourself with conviction and TRUST yourself to be ok no matter the outcome.
After testing my own limits, I can say that I'm so much further than I was.
I can express my feelings towards someone without needing the expression reciprocated.
I can handle uncomfortable truths without shutting down, even when I'm pissed, which is completely allowed, by the way.
Oddly, being vulnerable makes me feel like a gangster.
Brené Brown's research found that people who feel worthy of love have this in common:
· The COURAGE to be imperfect,
· The COMPASSION to be kind to themselves and others,
· The CONNECTION to others through their authenticity, and
They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable (or oppositely, excruciating). They just talked about it being necessary.
It takes practice.
Photo credit: Tim Pokorny via CC Flickr