Much has been written lately about vulnerability. It’s not a topic many of us like to discuss. Yet, vulnerability seems to be gaining more acceptance — thank God. At the risk of being vulnerable, here are some personal stories.
I was a child in second grade in South Texas where the good Sisters decided we would put on a play. Including a dance.
One day, Sister had a rehearsal and the second graders were invited to watch. I sat in that cavernous auditorium on a sweltering day, watching Sister guide the fourth-graders into pairs, then into a circle.
The pianist began playing and my eyes widened as the children skipped and spun and clicked their heels to the floor. Despite my legs dangling from the cold metal chair, my feet were tapping.
As I watched, I just KNEW I could do this dance. I memorized every step, every move.
Then Sister asked if she could have some of the younger children try the dance. My hand shot into the air without hesitation.
I joined the circle and the pianist began the music. And then it happened. I was out of step, out of line. I bumped into the other children. They giggled. Sister told me perhaps I shouldn’t dance. That maybe I wasn’t really good at it and I should sit down and just watch the others.
I share this story not to blame the Sister. At that time, I suppose she was doing her best, organizing the dance and play and handling 70 unruly children. Instead, I share this story because I made myself vulnerable. I was willing to risk.
But as a result, I was also shamed. In front of my classmates. And shame is basically a fear of disconnection — that something about us, if other people see it, makes us feel that we aren’t worthy. That we just aren’t good enough.
This sense of shame happened again when we moved from Texas to Philadelphia. I was in fourth grade, adjusting to a new culture. And when I opened my mouth to answer a question, my Texas drawl spilled out like thick molasses and my classmates roared in laughter. I lost my accent quickly.
These stories are not meant to be self-indulgent or some kind of therapy (been there, done that), but to show how many of our childhood experiences shape us.
So what do we do with all those shameful experiences of childhood — or even adulthood? How do we find the courage to be imperfect, to be willing to let go of who we think we are, to who we REALLY are? How do we allow ourselves to be seen, to be vulnerable?
The answer will be individual to each person. Some enter therapy or try a variety of healing modalities. Prayer, meditation or gratitude. But whatever process we use, ultimately we will need courage. The courage to be imperfect and to be kind to ourselves. No matter what.
Researcher and story-teller Brene Brown has become the spokesperson for vulnerability and in her book The Gifts of Imperfection she writes, “Vulnerability is at the core of fear, anxiety and shame …”
Sadly, we are losing our tolerance for vulnerability today, Brown writes. Instead, we are numbing ourselves to it. But when we do this, we also numb joy, gratitude and happiness.
So here’s one last personal story. It seems the Universe or Divine keeps inviting me to a deeper place of vulnerability And I don’t like it. Not one bit. But I was asked recently to speak at a press conference about caregiving. For those who follow my blog, you know I’ve been caring for my dad who had a stroke three years ago.
It was a privilege to create more awareness about this issue, but to speak in front of the media terrified me. I pushed past my fears and said yes.
But when the article and photo appeared in print and I became so public, those old shames of “not being good enough” — not attractive enough, overweight, too old, not articulate enough — came bounding out and screaming at me.
I’m still in the midst of processing all this and I realize that writing this blog is also part of this process. In fact, here’s a dose of authenticity for you — I tend to hide behind the written word as to NOT be public — if that makes sense.
So, on a deeper level, with this press conference, I was aware that I was given another opportunity to risk. To be vulnerable. To be seen. Warts and all.
I am still not comfortable with all this “vulnerability” business and it’s taking more courage than I have. Thankfully, I am blessed by the support of my Higher Power who leads me beside the “still” and “turbulent” waters and the encouragement of friends who hold me up in faith.
Still. Becoming vulnerable — being seen — is a challenge for me. But the risks are well worth the rewards, because, as Brown writes, ” … vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity and faith … in vulnerability we find what gives life purpose and meaning.”
And here’s something else that’s encouraging — that little girl who didn’t think she could dance? I’m hugging her and telling her it is OK to make mistakes. She doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m assuring her that she is enough, just as she is.
I’m learning to love her. Even as she stumbles. A step at a time. A step at a time.