I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability over the past few weeks. Hm. Actually, I’ve been thinking about vulnerability quite a lot over the past three years. How often do you think about vulnerability? Hm.
Whether you do, or do not, matter less than that we enter into this discussion about what I believe is a pretty cool paradox. Ready?
First, let’s define our key term.
noun /ˌvʌlnərəˈbɪləti/ /ˌvʌlnərəˈbɪləti/[uncountable]
1. vulnerability (of somebody/something) (to something) the fact of being weak and easily hurt physically or emotionally
– the vulnerability of newborn babies to disease
– financial vulnerability
– He was intensely aware of his own vulnerability.
There we go. The paradox, you ask? Well, let’s define that term real quick too.
noun /ˈpærədɒks/ /ˈpærədɑːks/
- [countable] a person, thing or situation that has two opposite features and therefore seems strange
– He was a paradox—a loner who loved to chat to strangers.
– It is a curious paradox that professional comedians often have unhappy personal lives.
Alright, let’s go.
Vulnerability As A Paradox
In the aforementioned definition, vulnerability is associated with weakness. Yet, think about a time when you embraced vulnerability, did you feel weak? Hm. Maybe? Maybe not? The point.
Vulnerability is actually strength. It is courage. Here is another definition of vulnerability from a very cool vulnerability scholar.
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” BRENÉ BROWN
There we go.
When we are vulnerable, we are entering into a realm that is filled with courage, strength, and empowerment. The more we are vulnerable, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more resilient we become.
There was a time when I had tremendous anxiety. Paralyzing. At that time in my life, I avoided vulnerability. I chose spaces that were familiar, known.
Yet, when we choose comfort over growth, we also choose to continue to get back what we’ve always already had. Yep, for me, continued anxiety.
However, when we choose vulnerability, we become more than we were before, something new. And, in this newness, we also lose some of what we were before. For me? Anxiety. Yep.
The paradox, you ask? Very well. Here we go.
It is inside of being “weak” that our greatest measure of strength and courage show up.
We become more. We feel more. We know more. We are more.
You see strength and weakness are not separate, they are one. Just like vulnerability and resilience. They are two sides of the same coin. You can no more call vulnerability a weakness, than you can call resilience a strength. They just are.
There is weakness inside of resilience, as there is strength and courage inside of vulnerability. Same. The most resilient person will also know weakness, just as the most vulnerable person knows great strength.
Therefore, vulnerability like resilience, just like happiness and sadness, are intertwined, linked. You cannot separate them. For one to occur in the world, the other must also occur.
Here is a cool Ted Talk by Brené Brown on Vulnerability.
What to do?
Embrace your humanity, all of it. Both happiness and sadness, strengths and weaknesses, and vulnerability and resilience. They are all a part of our shared humanity. Embrace them and be with them, free of judgment that one is better or more productive than the other.
Remember, they are one, just like you and me.
A question for you
When will you be vulnerable next?
Definitions taken from Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
By Jeff Flesch. You can reach Jeff at Jeffflesch.com
27 thoughts on “Jeff Flesch: Vulnerability As A Paradox”
I feel vulnerable every single day and in most moments throughout. I feel like having things and people I love leaves me vulnerable to losing them. It drives my panic and anxiety day after day and is exhausting.
I can relate to this a lot. It can be exhausting, indeed.
I hope you’re doing okay. These things are scary to go through.
Indeed. I’m having regular sessions with my therapist to help me process these things. What about you, do you have any support?
I have the local GP and a mental health nurse but getting time with her is difficult. More so under COVID times. I’m hoping to get counselling/therapy through the NHS as I’ve been fighting for it and cannot afford private counselling here.
Oh yes, this COVID times are difficult in many ways. Hang on in there, I wish you all best with getting some counseling soon. Until than, I hope internet helps you at least a little. I’ve found it quite helpful, to stay connected to other people who can relate with me and vice versa.
Yeah, it’s useful to speak to others who know what it feels like to go through these things. I need as many channels as I can get for venting, reading and discussing my mental health and the thoughts and experiences of others with the same battles. I hope this Friday is a positive one for you 🙂
Venting can help, indeed.
My Friday is going great, even though my mood just isn’t there. It’s been a rough week overall.
I hope your mood is slightly better than mine. Hang on in there Steve, I wish you a nice weekend. 🙂
Thank you so much Maja, I wish you the same in return. Just spoke to my doctor and it’s left me completely emotional and low again. I feel like there’s very little support available through our NHS here.
I can also relate to what you are writing, and I appreciate you sharing of yourself here. To do so, is also vulnerable. Thank you. Stay well. -Jeff
Thanks Jeff – I try to share it for comfort, for understanding and, more importantly, to show others that it’s okay to talk about these things and be open with other people in the same position. There’s comfort to be found in knowing you aren’t alone. No matter how dark things seem.
Very insightful, Steve; and, yes there is something about sharing of ourselves and our shared humanity, seeing ourselves in each other that is very comforting. Thank you again. 🙂
You don’t have to thank me. Wish I could do more to help others and myself too.
Everyone has vulnerabilities. It is impossible to have none. The sad fact that some people exploit the vulnerabilities of others to achieve their goals because their emotional intelligence is weak.
Agreed. It is true that some people will exploit other’s vulnerabilities, which is sad. What you are pointing to for me is the need to be in safe and trustworthy spaces when we intentionally give of ourselves in more vulnerable ways. Safety and trust are important. Thank you for sharing. -Jeff
Well maybe I feel slightly different. From childhood through college and all my working life, I had a lot of stress. I used to think “well I shall become immune to it and when I retire, nothing will bother me.” Hah! All that happened was I became much less resilient, much less tolerant of stress. My therapist seemed to agree that this was the norm, but maybe it depends on the type of stress, the sort of situation.
Sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we imagine them. I take quite a long time to learn the way this life works, right? 🙂
I can see how this can happen, and appreciate you sharing yourself. I think the more we face adversity, which, by the way, I ignored for many, many years, the more resilient we become, which makes embracing vulnerability “easier.” While always knowing it is never easy. Thank you again. 🙂 -Jeff
I really enjoyed this post. As someone who’s suffered from anxiety for a long time, vulnerability sounds about as tempting to me as eating a cactus. It never fails to impress me how some writers can express an almost intangible feeling so succinctly. Well done!
Awe, thank you so much for the acknowledgement, much appreciated. 🙂 I suffered from very high levels of anxiety for over 20 years. Hardly any sleep, lots of self-medication, which is the only time I really would sleep. Horribly difficult. I see you and am with you. I totally get how vulnerability feels to you today, as it felt that way to me for most of my life. Thank you for sharing. Be well.
I would like to acknowledged all of you for contributing to this post. You have made this collaborative experience that much richer. Thanks also to Maja, for a wonderful site, a beautiful blog, and for this opportunity to share a little of myself with all of you. I look forward to another future collaboration. Stay well, everyone. 🙂
In my culture vulnerability is viewed as weakness. It is not encouraged in the slightest and is even frowned upon. But I will try to embrace it more often(daily) as I now see that there is strength to be gained from it.
Thank you so much for sharing, Alva. You bring up a very important distinction about cultural significance and vulnerability. I will reflect upon this more in the coming days. I also appreciate your willingness to embrace vulnerability more often. Be well. -Jeff
such an enlightening read!! a new perspective to look at vulnerability, in a positive way.
Thank you for the acknowledgement. Much appreciated. 🙂 Be well.
I feel vulnerable in my daily life many times a day. It can be oppressive [to mood] but also can be the spur to better things. Yes it is a paradox.
Excellent insight, wonderful. Thank you for sharing. Be well. 🙂