When I was younger, I played tennis competitively – from an early age, I was a competitor. I was pitted against whoever my opponent was. We weren’t on the same team and were in a battle for every point there was. Tennis is an incredibly mental game. When I was down, I learned to never let my opponent in my head and to not give them the power of my emotions. I was stoic and never showed weakness and that allowed me to win. I learned that vulnerability lost matches and I carried that belief with me for a long time.
Why is Vulnerability Important:
What I didn’t know is how Vulnerability allows us to connect with others. When we show our true selves, our imperfect selves, our silly selves, our messed-up selves, we are met with others’ true, imperfect, silly, messed-up selves. Vulnerability invites vulnerability and when we share all the aspects of who we are, we build deep, life-giving, healthy relationships. Those healthy relationships are vital to our mental and emotional state. We need people who really see us to be our healthiest and happiest selves.
The Merriam-Webster definition of vulnerable is:
vul·ner·a·ble | adjective
1: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
2: open to attack or damage
As I grew up, I took what I learned from tennis and allowed it to bleed into my everyday life. I wholeheartedly believed in this damaging definition of vulnerability. I thought that if I showed any weakness, someone would take advantage of that and I would indeed be wounded and damaged.
Being vulnerable meant I had to be seen.
I never set myself up to be hurt – I mean, what person in their right mind would set themselves up for physical and emotional pain?! But that hardness and stoic-ness that I learned from my youth caused me to put up walls around my heart. It was so difficult and unnerving to let anyone in to see the true me. I didn’t learn for a long time to cut holes in my armor of walls and allow myself to breathe. I had to learn to give myself permission to be vulnerable and seen.
If you’re like me and struggle with vulnerability, ask yourself: “how not being vulnerable serves you?” For me, it served as a false sense of self-protection that allowed people to see me in the way I wanted them to see me. But it also meant that most of my friendships and relationships went only surface deep. They were deprived of full truth, love, and acceptance. I didn’t want to be found out that I didn’t have it all together, I didn’t have all the answers, I wasn’t perfect, and maybe I was less than expected.
Grace doesn’t come naturally, we want to be the best and perceived as having it all together. We think perfection is safe and everything else is scary unchartered territory. When we have no grace with ourselves and feel the deep need to be perfect, we wear a mask.
The mask is something most people are guilty of wearing at one time or the other. It’s a form of self-protection that helps us to feel safe. Unfortunately, there are two big downsides to the mask:
- You wear the mask and you attract people to the mask and not the real you. People can only wear the mask for so long before they show who they truly are. Once the mask falls off, you feel found out and people who were once drawn to you feel lied to and confused.
- You wear the mask and you don’t attract the people who would genuinely love the real you beneath the mask. You miss the opportunity for great connection and acceptance.
The mask prevents us from connecting with people. What was supposed to protect us is the exact thing that makes us feel isolated in the end.
“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
- What would it look like to take off the mask of perfection and step into who you really are and let that shine?
- What would it feel like to let yourself off the hook, practice grace, and not feel like you have to hide who you really are?
Vulnerability takes Courage:
It’s easy for me to sit here on my computer and say “vulnerability is important and you should be vulnerable”, but actually being vulnerable is hard! It’s not easy to allow yourself to be fully seen and known, because you may not be accepted by those around you. As humans, one of our greatest needs is to have deep relationships and to be accepted.
So, what happens if we open ourselves up and we aren’t accepted?
It makes me think of the quote from The Velveteen Rabbit that when you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those that don’t understand. But those who do “understand” will draw in and give you a soft place to land and be free.
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
I want to tell you that it’s okay not to have it all together. You can be imperfect and still worthy of being seen and known. You don’t have to be the best to play the game. When we allow grace to enter our lives, we also allow room for life and freedom. We can choose to let go of the mask we’ve been holding onto and step into who we really are with confidence and self-love.
Looking for a Vulnerability Challenge?
When the feeling of self-protection comes up in a trusted relationship, ask yourself:
- What am I hiding?
- Why am I hiding?
- How will this affect my relationship?
- What would it look like to not practice self-protection and to practice vulnerability?
Actively decide how you want to move forward in your conversations and in your relationships. You have the power to decide how you show up in your life!