I read an blog post a while ago entitled, "The One Quality We Often Mistake For Weakness Can Actually Make You Stronger," which extolls the virtues of being "vulnerable." Citing examples from President Obama to the Dalai Lama, the piece gives examples of the strength that comes from being vulnerable. The post refers to a book, "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead," by Brene Brown.

While I essentially support what the post and book are trying to say, the language of the authors demonstrates a very common error which I would like to address here.

"I feel too vulnerable when..."

How often I hear individuals begin a sentence like that. Usually, the person in question who is perceiving themselves as "vulnerable" is talking about being "open" in some situation that is revealing of their inner life to another. But this common connection in one's mind between openness and vulnerability is erroneous. 

You are not vulnerable when you're open.

The definition of "vulnerable" in most dictionaries is: "susceptible to physical or emotional harm." Okay. That's pretty straightforward. So, when are we the most susceptible to harm in those ways? Well, in two situations, mainly: 1. when we are without an option for avoiding danger; and 2. when we are truly dependent on another person or persons who may choose to do us harm. And when are we most likely to be in such situations? Well, unless you are literally a hostage in a terrorist takeover, or a prisoner of war or in jail, the most prevalent time human beings are actually vulnerable to harm is - you guessed it - in childhood!

That's right. In childhood, especially early childhood, we are essentially hostages to our parents and caretakers, without options to avoid the slings and arrows of our environment. And we are utterly and completely dependent on those others for our well-being, even for our very existence. Whatever the vicissitudes of our parents' mental and emotional health, or lack thereof, we, as children, cannot protect ourselves or remove ourselves from harm's way. We can't stop adults from hurting us, nor can we trade in one set of adults for another. In other words... we are vulnerable. Truly.

Now, here's where the confusion comes in and how the erroneous connection gets made.

As children, as newly minted human beings, we are naturally open, physically, mentally and emotionally. We feel everything fully when we're first born, and to some degree, we stay that way throughout the very early years of life. However, because of the undeveloped, un-self-actualized aspects of humanity, we are injured by our environment. Our parents and caretakers hurt us. Yet, we cannot stop them, nor can we leave them.

So what do we do? We begin to shut down, distort, and/or disconnect parts of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally in order not to feel the pain so acutely. We form a character structure, and initially, it actually does seem to mitigate the pain, which seems to validate the conclusion that open is vulnerable, and closed is safe.

See, we can't understand truly when we're little that we're little. We can't really picture that one day, we'll be adults ourselves, and have the choices adults have. In other words, we can't understand that it's being little that makes us vulnerable, not being open that makes us vulnerable. And so, stuck in the confines of our character structures as time passes, we miss the fact that nature provides the solution to the problem of vulnerability in childhood - we grow up!

In adulthood, we can realize that protecting ourselves emotionally with the armor of character defenses is very inefficient and inhibiting, and most importantly, no longer necessary. Wearing that suit of armor doesn't make for the easy enjoyment of a sunny day, let alone for making love. On the other hand, being fully open to our inner lives, which frees up the mind and body, gives us the energy and flexibility to creatively express ourselves, enjoy life and, if need be, avoid situations that would do us harm, which mainly means not engaging with negativity. Thus, in this realization, we can engage in a healing process, in an holistic self-work process, that can dismantle the armor and allow us to be ourselves fully.

So, let go of the false belief that when you love and reveal yourself to another, you are vulnerable. And Brene, forgive me for suggesting a slight change to the title of your book, but "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be OPEN Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" would work better for me.


Becki said...

I really like your thinking on this. It makes so much sense and actually helps me feel more of my own power. Thanks!

Rico Z said...

It wasn't until I made this connection that I could truly forgive everyone. It comes and goes but once I made the realization it was akin to passing thru a doorway.

Thanks for your writings and the life you're living and sharing.

Anonymous said...


I haven’t been on the blog for a while and missed this.

Interestingly at the time of the posting I was mulling again about vulnerability. Here is what I was thinking about:
As therapy student I needed to have "therapy". So in an assessment interview, that went badly, I said that as a child I understood in school that if I stay open and say openly what bothers me I avoid bullies.

There are simply no secrets, so nothing to be bullied around. That is how I operated in school, of course at home it wasn’t like that

I actually wondered if therapist thought I was a psychopath, and that is why he rejected me. Will never know why

But interested about the coincidence, it hits (obviously) a sore spot and just like massage causes instant sharp pain that then goes away.


Bobbi Cornelius said...

Just yesterday I was remembering how while doing deep experiential work I would feel so luxuriously open. On one occasion I was falling deeply in love. We were both doing deep soulful work inside and making love for days stripping away layers of persona or mask. Deep inside, each of us had a decent amount of schzoid separation more in the sense of schizoid personality rather then schzoid character armoring I think there are differences but connections. Just when I didn't feel like I could love him more he announced that for no reason he could explain he would be leaving adding that he loved me very much and was confused as to why he was leaving.

On an energy level I was very vulnerable and I actually felt shot in the heart. Vulnerable and injured is the only way to describe how I felt. We eventually worked it out and have endured much pain getting past our internal radical aloneness programs we carry. Yesterday I was remembering this and talking with him about it because in preparation for ascension it needed to clear. I realized for the first time the full extent of suppressed rage I was feeling toward him ever since. I was in love and the relationship was threatened so I suppressed the rage. I processed it with him and today we both felt immensely lighter and my heart feels full. It's important to remember that open means energetically too and that can be surprisingly physically painful. I chose the path of being relational and yesterday after twenty two years I healed a big piece. As a child when we feel emotions we can't tell ourselves the feelings are transient a shot in the heart can feel very threatening and we can feel very vulnerable. I felt naked and unprotected like a child but I wasn't. As an adult I had a lot of resources and strengths to pull on. It is important to not minimize how it FEELS when someone is that vulnerable or they may not be able to move past it.


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