What is Vulnerability?

Vulnerability has been in the forefront of my consciousness lately. Last week, I read an incredibly powerful post on this subject by Samantha Hall. The power and wisdom from embracing her struggles with vulnerability is truly palpable in that piece.

scared womanAside from reading about vulnerability, I’ve been feeling it in real life. Waves of fears have paid me visits in my waking and slumbering hours. By facing each wave without running away, its power over me dissipates—and I feel stronger and more wholly grounded in my truth. I’m well aware of my self-protective instincts urging me to withdraw my heart to safer grounds. Yet, I’m committed to recognizing that this fear-inducing situation is seeking to help me break old patterns and to open me up to loving even more deeply than ever before. More importantly, I know I’ll never stand a chance of experiencing what my heart truly desires, unless I’m willing to stick it out with the discomfort of being open to the possibility of getting hurt (again).

That seems to be one of the most awesome paradoxes of the human experience, i.e., the less we resist one end of the emotional continuum, the more it brings out the other end in us—and catalyzes our return to who we really are, before we learned to be afraid and shrink from our power and our truth. In this case, the more we embrace being vulnerable, the stronger we are, and the more solidly we stand in our truth, which is love.

What is Vulnerability?

Of what exactly is it that we’re afraid? To what do we feel vulnerable? From what are we trying to protect our heart? Having our heart broken? Certainly. Rejection? Sure. Abandonment? Check. Physical and/or emotional abuse? Unfortunately true. Perhaps some or all of the above and then more.

I believe our vulnerability is seeded in our learned fear that we’re flawed or broken somehow and ultimately undeserving of love without conditions. That’s why we seek validation from others. When they reject, abandon or hurt us in any way, it confirms our fear of brokenness and being undeserving of love. That’s why we get caught in the impossible conflict between searching for love to negate our fear and running from what we seek due to feeling inherently undeserving of it. In short, it’s a no-win proposition.

heart-shaped fireworksThe other night, I started reading Dr. Robert Holden’s latest book, Loveability: Knowing How to Love and Be Loved. In many ways, to be comfortable with being vulnerable is to return to the untouched, unencumbered innocence of being a baby. Per Dr. Holden (pg. 14):

Babies…have no masks, no personas, no armor, and no dark glasses. … They aren’t putting on a face for the world to see. … They aren’t trying to be loveable; they just are.

When we were babies, we were just perfect, unadulterated beings of love, completely free to be our naked, vulnerable selves. We hadn’t learned the need to protect ourselves, yet. That need came later in life when we had acquired experiences that taught us to be afraid and to veer further and further away from our true nature of love, forgetting that we’re lovable without conditions.

Being Vulnerable = Dropping Defenses

A good number of years ago, a therapist told me something that was way too advanced for where I was in my emotional development at the time. She called attention to my tendency to use my well-developed analytical mind to protect my heart. When in an emotional situation, my mind would present a set of nearly bullet-proof arguments for why it was untenable, followed by the only logical conclusion, i.e., I must leave. To end this destructive pattern, I needed to recognize the obscured reality that I was really freaked out. I needed to be willing to tolerate the discomfort of being vulnerable to allow any development to have a fair chance to unfold, negotiating differences in wants, needs and positions accordingly.

Leaning on my mental capacity to regulate matters of the heart was my woefully ineffective defense against feeling vulnerable. You may be able to relate to that, or you may have your own defensive strategy for hiding your vulnerability, e.g., noticing all the flaws and shortcomings in others to justify why they aren’t right for you, hiding behind busyness and other objectively legitimate reasons (very commonly work-related) why you can’t be more available, etc. Whatever your specific defensive mask is, resolve to become aware of it and make a conscious decision to drop it.

Being Vulnerable = Remembering Love

Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. ~Marianne Williamson

loveAs the above Williamson quote captures so well, love is our true nature, while fear is learned. To be vulnerable is to unlearn fear and return to love, to remember that we are lovable by our very nature. By cultivating our remembrance of this truth, it empowers us to stand up for our wants and needs without fear of being abandoned, rejected or harmed—and to know that even if that happens, it doesn’t change the truth that we are lovable without conditions.

When we remember that we are lovable by nature, we can be open to seeing others in the same light. As a result, it’s easier to access the compassion and understanding in our heart to allow others the space to be in their own process, so that they, too, can remember their own truth. All this serves to expand our own heart to experience love more deeply, richly, meaningfully and authentically.

In sum, I believe that vulnerability is a call to return to love and to remember that we’re lovable by nature. Therefore, to be vulnerable is to unlearn any fear of being unlovable and to unleash our full capacity to love and be loved. I also agree with Williamson, that love is our reality and our purpose for experiencing being human. So, I say a huge “yes” to embracing vulnerability because I say a huge “yes” to love!

What about you? What’s your take on vulnerability? What advice do you have for managing vulnerability? Would love for you to share your thoughts and insights in the comment box below.

___________________

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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18 comments
Deone_Higgs
Deone_Higgs

Wonderful  sharpening message, Alice! I think vulnerability is a step of trust we take, by first putting it in ourselves, and ensuring that whatever we're acting upon is being done from a sincere place of humility. Each can be extremely challenging in their own rights, but one (namely, vulnerability) compassionately strokes the other (humility), and both, along with these - confidence, forgiveness, and wisdom, has taught me that my actions and words have intention, power, and purposes to influence others, in ways I can begin to imagine. To me, taking such direction to share our deepest thoughts and experiences requires some level of vulnerability. We certainly can't be afraid of being rejected... for the choice of stepping out alone and saying, "I'll do it," when no one has called us necessarily to do what we feel compelled to do - vulnerability becomes one we take to fulfill our life mission. It is likely we will be both to many people, accepted and rejected, alike. I think it's obvious in such cases who we  should continue to bestow such a gift, as vulnerability; especially when we're practicing it with the best intentions backing it up. 

Loved this  read, beloved. Thank you for sharing the light... your light!  Bling on, my sister!  ;) 

letmemoveyou
letmemoveyou

Thank you for sharing this post. I learned some time ago that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful. when you have the courage to step past fear and to just be who you really are, without judgement of yourself or others, you see that life is truly beautiful. 

We are Love at the core. And we are One. And when we realise that we are all connected, we learn to see that what we are truly afraid of, was always ourselves. It's all projection. 

Once we know that, we can more easily start to make the changes we desire to live the life we want to lead.

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

You really brought to vulnerability to a new light and am glad Samantha sparked this with her wonderfully valuable post, too. Vulnerability is something in all of us and embracing it is the best thing to do. When we are younger, we tend to not worry as much about it. As we age, we lose some of our "invincibility" and begin  to question ourselves more. I guess when we are younger we hear the thoughts of vulnerability and let it go more quickly. In older age, we ponder it more and take longer to release it. Maybe we just need to embrace your younger mindset and mindfulness approach and keep it as we march through life with meaning, empathy, and purpose. Thanks, Alice.

Lori
Lori

You've moved a number of people with this post Alice, more than you see commenting here I'm sure. I'm trying to make the connection between vulnerability and fear. It seems that we can't have one without the other. Recently I came to an epiphany in my journey - a realization that I have felt fear because I was vulnerable and I was vulnerable because I had no power. It's natural to either protect yourself or seek protection, when you feel vulnerable or feel fear  - or both. To me it's a new idea - that of embracing vulnerability. But I think it may be the next step for me on this particular leg of the journey. Thanks for this. I'm sure this was very confusing - it's so clear in my head too ;-)

Lori

Samantha_S_Hall
Samantha_S_Hall

Powerful post Alice! Like Alli mentioned, I also learned to jump into my head when I've felt vulnerable. Also as a way of unconsciously separating myself from uncomfortable and/or painful feelings.  If I'm not really IN my body (and mainly up in my head) I can avoid having to deal with what I'm really feeling.  Of course, earlier in life, this would happen quite automatically and unconsciously.  I still do it now yet I"m able to catch myself or 'wake up' much sooner when I do it unconsciously as now I understand it's simply a conditioned defense mechanism.  One of the ways I learned to cope. 

I haven't read Dr. Holden's book.  It sounds like it would be a good one to read. Love the quote. I spent some time working on an OB Ward and in the Nursery at a military hospital in Germany (I've written about this in one of my earlier posts), this is what I found to be true as well.  And following the birth of my own children. 

'Babies…have no masks, no personas, no armor, and no dark glasses. … They aren’t putting on a face for the world to see. … They aren’t trying to be loveable; they just are.'

Then what happens? We 'program' them. Just as we were programmed! : ) Whether it is as parents, teachers, friends, pastors, etc...we all play a significant part in the creation of beliefs that children wind up having by what we teach and model to them. And it is in the negative 'mirroring' situations where we learn to fear.  And learn to protect ourselves from.  

It seems that a large part of our journey in spent in our attempts to return to that tabula rasa or 'clean slate' that we had when we were babies! : ) 

I love your quote: 'To be vulnerable is to unlearn fear and return to love, to remember that we are lovable by our very nature.'

And that's our challenge now as adults. (for many of us) To REMEMBER that we are love. We are lovable. It is who we really are at our core. Before we accepted the flawed falsehoods of the 'world' as 'truth' about ourselves.

Another wonderful post Alice. Thanks for sharing it. : ) 

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Alice - I love so much about this post.  I too read Samantha's post and was very moved.  I've learned over many years to protect my heart through being very, very head driven.  The more I worked to build relationships of meaning and show people who I cam I realized that I can't do that without being ALL of who I am.  Letting go of "Smart Alli" to just be me felt incredibly vulnerable.  What   if I'm not enough? Reality is we're all enough.  The more I become myself, the fear of judgement and failure leaves and is replaced by strength and resilience.  

I love this: "I know I’ll never stand a chance of experiencing what my heart truly desires, unless I’m willing to stick it out with the discomfort of being open to the possibility of getting hurt (again)."

Thank you, Alice! 

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,


This was a brilliant post! Your posts get better and better every week and are so interesting!

I really appreciate you sharing your views on vulnerability and particularly how vulnerability is seeded in unlearned fear.  Your post reminded me of what a therapist once taught me to do when I was dealing with stuttering, which was to welcome in my fear. Until then I would do anything to resist the fear. By welcoming in the fear, it completely changed my consciousness and I developed compassion for what I was experiencing. Your post has also reminded me of the importance of not only welcoming in vulnerability, but also returning to love and indeed, remember that I'm lovable without conditions.


Thank you very much for writing this post, Alice. I needed to read this.


DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Deone_Higgs Thank you for adding your personal take on vulnerability, Deone. When we can remember that we are who we are, lovable without conditions, whether others accept or reject us is irrelevant. It takes the fear out of potential rejection, because we're strong standing on our truth. Thanks again for joining the discussion, brother!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@letmemoveyou Well said, Shelley, and you demonstrate the point about vulnerability being beautiful really well! And, yes, what we're afraid of ultimately is ourselves. Thank you for sharing your insights here.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Jon, you made very good points about the invincibility of youth and how we get more leery about possibly getting hurt as we get older. As the popular saying goes, "Ignorance is bliss." When we were younger and had yet to accumulate a long list of upsets, we didn't know what to fear. So, this partly goes back to my article last week about being fearless. If we can manage to become unattached to how things ought to play out--like babies not having any expectations--we'll have an easier time. Otherwise, embracing the fact that we are going to feel vulnerable and fearful sometimes and still moving forward, instead of letting it stop us, seems to be the only way through, once we've learned to be afraid as adults. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, Jon!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Lori Thank you very much for your very kind words and for sharing your recent epiphany, Lori. It makes perfect sense to me! Very few, if any, of us were taught to embrace fear, and vulnerability is, as I realized, rooted in learned fear. So, yes, fear and vulnerability go hand in hand. Also, more importantly, when we're in fear, we can't access the innate power within us that's fueled by love. The only way to reconnect to that source of power is, ironically, to face fear and be with it. That's what takes the charge off of whatever fear we may be experiencing, so that we can reconnect to our inner power that comes from love. In other words, there's really power to embracing the fear that comes with feeling vulnerable. Now, it's my turn to say, hope that wasn't confusing. :-) Thanks again, Lori!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Samantha_S_Hall Many thanks, Samantha, for sharing more of your authentic self here. Your vulnerability post is out of this world and very inspiring. I'm honored to be acquainted with you. You show so much strength and authenticity in how you show up in this world! As for being head-driven, along with @AlliPolin, that seems to be the "formula" for smart women to protect our hearts. I've met similar others throughout my life. The more stunted we were in knowing how to embrace our vulnerability, the more "heady" we became. The good news is we all woke up from that unconscious pattern. Let's do what we can to inspire others to do the same, shall we? And, yes, let's also be mindful of what programming we're helping to instill in our children, even if unconsciously. Thank you again for your share, Samantha, and, most of all, for being the vulnerably strong, authentic you!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Alli, thank you! I can relate so very much to what you said about being head-driven and realizing that you can't forge meaningful relationships with others without showing your heart, too. You're going to love this: In the process of trying to move more into my heart over the years, I became acquainted with the part of me that's just the girl, not the powerful, career woman. I named her "Allie." :-) Not the same spelling as your name, but I really love the sound of that, which expresses the softness and genuine quality of the lovable girl I know I am. Thank you again for sharing your insights here, Alli!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Thank you for your very kind words about my blog, Hiten! I really don't know what I'd be writing from one week to the next, but inspiration always comes at just the right time, and I'd know what needs to be written. It helps also that I've decided since last year that part of what's mine to do is to be willing to get into the fishbowl and allow myself to be a living, breathing case study of whatever topic seeks to be expressed through me. :-) Thank you also for sharing your experience with your therapist. I'm so glad you were able to develop compassion for yourself through embracing your fear. And, indeed, you are lovable without conditions. Thank you again for appreciating my writing, Hiten, and I'm honored that it serves you.

Lori
Lori

@DrAliceChan No, not confusing at all! What I find fascinating, though is that I arrived at an understanding about my unexplained fear via my discovery of feeling powerless. Of course it was a deep-in-my-childhood belief that I'd unknowingly carried on into my adult life. I realized that this explained my fear for if you have no power, you are vulnerable and when you are vulnerable you are afraid. To me, it was enlightening and reassuring to understand my fear because how can you change a thing without first coming to understand it?

NOW I can embrace it and see what happens next ;-)I wonder; maybe it's not my fear I need to embrace, but me! I'm the one who manifests what I experience in my life - support included. The only thing to fear is the vulnerability which tricks me into being afraid. There is nothing to fear. There is only love. (Now I've waxed poetic LOL)

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

@DrAliceChan I do love that and can actually really relate!  For my entire corporate career I was Allison and when I finally decided to move more into my heart and passion I shifted my name to the one that my closest family and friends always called me, Alli.  It was a reminder to me of who I wanted to be and to mark the conscious shift in my way of being.  Thanks again, Alice!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Lori @DrAliceChan Beautifully said, Lori! Indeed, there is nothing to fear. There is only love. Thank you again for sharing a piece of your inner self with us here. Really enriches the discussion!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin That's so great, Alli! Thank you for sharing this piece of your personal journey and conscious shift - love it!!!

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  1. […] What Is Vulnerability by Dr. Alice Chan […]

  2. […] The way you talk to yourself impacts how you feel. Create a habit then to make yourself feel better, by telling yourself that you accept yourself and love yourself unconditionally. […]

  3. […] You will remember Samantha’s post from May 29 on vulnerability.  Well yesterday Dr. Alice Chan literally quoted Samantha’s post to elevate our consciousness on the same subject.  I was in the bus coming back […]

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