Beyond the Surface: Understanding Authentic Vulnerability
What does vulnerability look like? Everyone talks about sharing their life honestly, but how do you do that without feeling embarrassed, afraid, or ashamed?
Being open is not easy. And as a recovering addict and life coach for entrepreneurs, I understand this idea so personally.
Despite your fears and hesitancy, you must let people see the real you. This is especially true if you want to grow your business and evolve from just having shallow and superficial relationships. Now is the time to learn how to be vulnerable yet mindful of your personal boundaries.
In this article, you will learn how to share your thoughts with others. Additionally, we will discuss the common myths about vulnerability. This will help you with issues related to not just your business but your life.
Being authentic with purpose
The other day, I received a message reading, “Why do you care so much about private information regarding yourself?”
My response was, “Why not?”
People who don’t participate in a healing and recovery program tend to not comprehend a crucial point. You are just as sick as your secrets. Allow me to elaborate.
Hiding shame and self-loathing
For the longest time, I had a hidden life. I suffered from immense inner shame and self-loathing that stopped me from discussing my past trauma and how it still plagued me. My only respite was when I used.
Initially, it was my alcoholism which gravitated me towards reckless casual sex. Unfortunately, the dangerous sexual behavior created more shame. And due to my unease with facing the hurt, I acted out even more.
I didn’t have the courage to share my feelings because I believed I had already gone beyond the point of sanity.
On numerous occasions, I endangered my existence, convincing myself repeatedly that I would “never repeat” that behavior again, only to do it the very next week.
Sharing your personal story with purpose
I tell these stories from my life for many reasons:
Firstly, it reminds me why my mental health is important.
Secondly, I share a vision of hope for those who are currently struggling with their own addiction issues.
Many more of us would want to be sober if we stop giving G-rated advice to people who are living anywhere from PG-13 rated to X-rated lives.
But here is something people need to understand: just because I am sharing graphic details of my former life, it doesn’t mean I lack boundaries or self-respect.
In the next section, we will discuss some common myths regarding vulnerability.
Myths of vulnerability
There is a common myth that vulnerability involves sharing everything with everyone all the time. We often see celebrities on reality TV shows divulging every detail about themselves, including their sex lives. However, this is not vulnerability; it’s exhibitionism.
There are many misconceptions surrounding vulnerability that can hamper our understanding and willingness to accept it. Here are a few examples:
Sharing too much is a sign of weakness
One prevalent myth is that vulnerability is synonymous with weakness. In reality, vulnerability requires immense courage and strength. It takes strength to open up, show authenticity, and allow oneself to be seen and heard.
I share my story, not because I am seeking pity, but to show that if I could survive addiction and trauma, you can too. Too many people are trapped in a blanket of fear and low self-worth. Hearing someone else’s survival story may be the encouragement someone else needs in order to start their own recovery journey.
It leads to being taken advantage of
Some people fear that if they show vulnerability, others will exploit their weaknesses. While it’s essential to exercise caution and trust in relationships, vulnerability, when shared with the right people, can deepen connections and build trust.
For my client Becky (not her real name), she was very trusting of anyone who would listen to her. This cost her dearly, in terms of having a former employee stealing over $45,000 and a lover writing bad checks using her personal account. We need to understand the character of a person before we share sensitive parts of ourselves.
You must share all or nothing about your life
There’s a misconception that vulnerability means revealing everything about ourselves to everyone. In truth, vulnerability is about choosing when and with whom to be open and authentic. It’s a gradual process that depends on building trust and mutual understanding.
The other day, I read a tweet that said, “Do non’t let people know too much about you.” That defensive attitude comes from having experienced past abuse or neglect. Below is my response.
I replied, “Don’t let people (who don’t demonstrate empathy and concern about your life) know too much about you. The problem was that most of us were overly talkative to people who didn’t demonstrate sound character or morals. Not everyone is worthy. But we cannot grow isolated in a bubble either.”
Many of us have never questioned the past nor how it impacts our lives today. Consequently, we don’t get to learn the lessons that can improve the quality of our lives. In the next section, we will discuss how messages from the past impact you today.
How your past impacts your capacity for vulnerability today
Learning to share your feelings is a process that begins in childhood and continues throughout your life as an adult. Here are some common sources and experiences where you learned to share your feelings:
From relatives and close family members
Our families are often the first place where we learn about emotions and expressing our feelings. Parents or caregivers play a significant role in teaching us how to identify and communicate our emotions effectively. And depending on your relationship with them, you learned to be open without restriction, closed yourself completely or have healthy boundaries.
In the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, the authors discuss the importance of setting and respecting boundaries.
In order to feel safe in a sometimes dangerous world, children need to be empowered to express themselves by saying things such as:
- I disagree
- I will not
- I choose not to
- Stop that
- It hurts
- It’s wrong
- That’s bad
- I don’t like it when you touch me there
Blocking a child’s ability to say no handicaps that child for life…Compliant people have fuzzy and indistinct boundaries; they “melt” into the the demands and needs of other people.
If you did not have parents or parental figures who respected your ability to communicate your needs, then it may feel almost impossible to protect yourself from emotional, financial, physical, or sexual harm.
I have many conversations with my son about the company that he keeps. There is nothing as a “innocent conversation” with another human being. Each one of us are sharing lots of information about their worldview and experiences that can impact our lives.
As a teenager, I had a friend named Crystal who did not like boys at all. For many hours, she warned me about which boys at school were “no good”. It shouldn’t be a shock as Crystal was raised by a single mother who had turbulent romantic relationships.
Cultural and Societal
Cultural and societal norms can influence how comfortable we are with sharing our feelings. Some cultures may encourage open emotional expression, while others may value more reserved approaches.
In the African-American community it is an open secret that many fear the idea of sharing their emotional pains and struggles. As a result, there is a resistance in this community to seek mental health care services.
Education and School
Schools and educational institutions can provide opportunities for emotional learning and expression. Teachers, counselors, and peer interactions may or may not create a supportive environment for discussing feelings and promoting emotional intelligence.
Here is an example of someone who experienced an unsupportive learning environment:
“Every time we raised our hand, [the teacher] wouldn’t call on us, but when we didn’t raise our hands, [the teacher] would—to make you look like a dummy,” Weathers said. “We got onto that, though. When we didn’t know the answer, we raised our hands.”
Despite your past, you can rewrite your life script and live an authentic life and be vulnerable with others. Next, we will discuss how you can be more authentic with others.
How you can be more authentic with others
Vulnerability with others can manifest in various ways depending on the context and the individuals involved. Here are some ways vulnerability can be expressed in relationships:
Seeking support when you need it
Vulnerability can be observed when you are seeking help or guidance from others. It means you should stop trying to “tough it out.” Share your situation with people who demonstrate care and empathy towards you. This helps others feel connected to you and enables them to have the privilege of sharing the resources you may need.
Express your real emotions
If you were raised in a performance-oriented family, discussing emotions was likely not a common conversation at the dinner table. Nevertheless, it is important to express your feelings now.
Open up and share your emotions, whether it be joy, sadness, or regret. Others may need to see your vulnerability and learn from the example you set.
Share deep secrets or personal struggles
If you want to heal from a traumatic past or unresolved emotional issues, it is time to start sharing your life. As mentioned earlier, you are only as sick as your secrets. Sharing your secrets may reveal a side of your personality that another person never knew.
Stop acting as if you are Jesus and can walk on water
Now is the time to admit your mistakes. Vulnerability involves acknowledging your own mistakes, taking responsibility, and being willing to learn and grow from them. It also means showing humility and being open to feedback and constructive criticism.
Showing empathy and compassion
If you can admit that you aren’t perfect, extend that logic to others. All of us are trying to figure out this thing called life. Take a moment and truly listen to others, empathize with their struggles, and offer support and understanding without judgment.
Drop the mask and be the real you
Too many of us think that we need a certain type of personality, connections, or background in order to be liked. This behavior fuels our inner hatred and self-pity, and it must stop now.
You should not want to be liked by people who only enjoy the fake version of yourself – eventually, you will need to drop the pretense. Be the best version of yourself, not your mentor or even me, but the real you.
Take emotional risks
Vulnerability may involve taking emotional risks, such as expressing love, expressing needs and desires, or confronting difficult conversations. It means being open to potential rejection or disappointment but choosing to be authentic nonetheless.
Perhaps this means having a much-needed conversation with a former lover. Although the relationship has ended, your love and concern for your ex do not need to end.
Remember, vulnerability looks different for everyone, and it is a personal choice to determine the level of vulnerability you are comfortable with in your relationships. Next, I will share my final thoughts on this issue.
To be vulnerable means honesty about yourself, caring about your boundaries, being respectful of others’ limitations, and loving the learning process. There will be bumps and errors as you learn to be more vulnerable.
If you need help with healing from past unresolved pain and being more vulnerable with others, don’t hesitate working with me.