One of the hardest steps in any personal growth journey is the leap into vulnerability. To expose your fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment and other emotional wounds to the world, you risk judgment, ridicule and even rejection. Even the word itself means the ability to be injured or wounded. Why would anyone ever want to go there?
Because vulnerability is a path to happiness and freedom. When you choose to be honest about what’s going on inside of you with someone else, that’s being vulnerable. When you face punishment, knowing it will hurt, that’s vulnerable. When you fess up and admit that you’re wrong, that’s being vulnerable.
There are many more examples, but let me share one with you that I live by. It’s a philosophy that I’ve adopted that has improved my life ten-fold. The funny thing is, I thought practicing this philosophy would have the opposite effect when I started doing it, but it turned out to have a major, positive, amplifying effect on my life.
Here it is:
Express what you’re feeling in the moment even at the risk of losing what’s important to you
Whenever I’m in a moment where I have a thought or feeling that I’m afraid to express due to what might happen if I do, I refer back to this philosophy and do it anyway. And since I started adopting this about 10 years ago, my life has changed for the better. It has forced me to be authentic and vulnerable. It has put me to the test over and over again and made me very uncomfortable doing so, but every time I do, life gets better.
The reason is because truth is powerful and it’s typically what we all want. Sure, there are times we don’t want to hear the truth, but for the most part we all appreciate when people are honest with us. I chose to start being honest about what was going on inside of me just to see what kind of reaction I’d get. Whenever I’d be in a situation that I felt strongly about, even if it meant telling someone something I didn’t want to say or they didn’t want to hear, I did it anyway. And I found out more often than not that most people did want to hear the truth whether it hurt or not.
This was most prevalent in my romantic relationships where I was so used to telling my partner what I believed they wanted to hear instead of what I really felt inside. Before when I was angry at them, I’d repress it so they wouldn’t see my anger. That caused me to feel worse and worse, and for them to leave the conversation confused. They never saw the real me. After I learned to be vulnerable and express my fears and my pain, everything changed. The person I was with wasn’t sure what happened to me, but she liked it. And even though it hurt, she appreciated the truth.
And because she soon realized that I was being honest, she felt closer to me than ever. She was able to open up to me and share her truths too. Communication got a lot easier even though we still had to express some hard stuff. But when you get through the hard stuff, everything else seems to fall into place. Of course, in any relationship allowing yourselves to be fully vulnerable doesn’t always mean you were meant to be together in the first place. But that’s something else that vulnerability does: It exposes what’s real and what’s truth faster and more efficiently.
Knowing what’s true can allow you to make decisions and take steps right away to improve your life, instead of staying in a relationship or job or anything else for an unnecessary, extended period of time. Two of my relationships lasted two years too long because of truths we were both afraid to express. I didn’t want them to end, but they survived on exaggerations and sometimes outright lies, not only to each other but to ourselves.
When my first long-term girlfriend lost interest in sex, I thought it was her and what she was going through. I thought her knee hurt again, or she was sick, or she didn’t get enough sleep. I made up a bunch of excuses (denial) that made me feel better about her rejections. And this dragged on for two years!
Finally one night I asked her what was wrong. She claimed she didn’t know what I meant. I said, “There’s something wrong. You’re like a robot! And you sleep in such a way that I can’t get close to you. What’s wrong?”
She finally admitted to falling out of love with me. The next day, she moved out.
Two years of our lives passed just existing together. If one of us had been honest earlier, who knows how things would have turned out? It’s possible the breakup could still have occurred, but at least it would have been sooner and both of us could have moved on without spending so much time with someone who really didn’t want us there. I wanted her, but not the way she was. And she was tired of living with someone who couldn’t access anger or be assertive, along with my judgments and other dysfunctions.
There were many reasons the relationship wouldn’t have worked, but the time it took to come to a conclusion was time that could have been spent starting a new life (or fixing an old one). Neither of us were to blame really, because we simply didn’t realize that expression, no matter what the cost, was the best solution. Had either of us expressed sooner, healing and happiness could have arrived sooner. There would still be pain, as there is with any breakup, but it would eventually subside and we would start anew.
That night I asked her, “What’s wrong?”, I knew there was probably going to be an answer I didn’t want to hear. But I made sure to get the answer no matter what. I chose to live in the moment instead of choosing the fear what might happen if I heard the truth. I felt very exposed, scared and of course, vulnerable. And when the answer came: “I don’t love you like I should” it hurt bad and I didn’t know what to do with such a shock. You might think you don’t want to hear the truth, but I’d recommend demanding it so there’s no time wasted.
Life’s too short to waste too much time with the wrong people or the wrong job. Though, sometimes you feel like you don’t have a choice. I felt that way about the jobs I had for my entire life. I believed I had no choice while I was working, otherwise I’d go broke and starve. Then after I quit, suddenly choices appeared. We do that to ourselves – we limit what we see when we have enough. So sometimes we have to be in lack to see more.
I know that’s not the best perspective, but it’s a powerful one. If you choose to be vulnerable and speak your truth no matter what the cost, you may feel very much in “lack” (as far as confidence and knowing what will happen next). And it might be very scary. But in that space, you’ll find strength and release, and the right path to follow.
Vulnerability reveals a path that serves you. Repressing your thoughts and emotions serves to limit you.
What do you choose? Are you driven by the fear of the consequence or the risk of reward? That one small distinction can make a huge difference. If I chose fear of the consequences when I spoke up to my boss a few years ago, I never would have seen the raise and promotion I got afterward. He wouldn’t have come to know me as someone who could give it to him straight and be honest with him even at the risk of being fired. He respected me after that day.
Even if you lose someone or something that’s important to you, you will gain respect and be in alignment with your integrity. The more you show up in the world like that, the more confident and secure you feel in yourself. You may not want to lose what’s important to you, but think about it this way: Do you really want to be with people that don’t want you to be your 100% authentic self? Do you really want to be with people that want you to be dishonest with them?
Sometimes dishonesty can be a logical choice in certain circumstances (telling a bank robber you didn’t just call the police could be a very healthy, logical, productive lie), but choosing to be expressive and honest more times than not will only make your life easier. When you have less to hide, you have more to give of yourself. Step into your vulnerability and you will start to build unparalleled strength and confidence. All of your emotions come from the same place so once you connect with what hurts, you also connect with what feels good.
Unfortunately, the good stuff is usually weighed down by the “bad”, so start expressing your pain, shame, guilt and fear so that you can allow the peace underneath to blossom. The good stuff is in there! It just needs to be freed through honest expression. Vulnerability is the path to freedom. Start with those you feel safe with first, then move up from there. As you express, you will heal.