The Power of Vulnerability

‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity’

-Bréne Brown

On a recent trip abroad I found myself in Gatwick airport at 4.30am.  And as I looked around at my fellow travellers, faces still crumpled from sleep, I felt what I could only describe as something bordering love.   And by the way, I’m not prone to feeling love for crowds of strangers.  But there was something about our shared vulnerability that broke down my usual barriers.

They, like me, had carefully packed their suitcases to comply with airport security, set their alarms at an unforgiving hour, arrived…and now, with body clocks a kilter, were about to put their lives in the hands of a stranger.

But why should vulnerability engender love?  Well precisely because it breaks down barriers.  But unlike me standing in the airport briefly glimpsing our shared vulnerability, purposefully displaying it can be risky.  There’s always the chance that someone will manipulate your trust, or reject you, and that’s why it feels dangerous.  But dare to do it and this is what you will gain.

1.    Vulnerability creates Intimacy

Intimacy depends on emotional exposure, often in the face of uncertainty.  And that doesn’t always feel comfortable.  But Bréne Brown’s ten years research into vulnerability has shown it to be the single factor the makes the difference between relationships that are strong, intimate and sustained and ones that aren’t.   Why?  Because sharing your private thoughts and feelings with someone lets them know that you trust them, that you value them, that you need them.  And in turn gives them permission to do the same.  

2.    Vulnerability counteracts shame

Showing vulnerability counteracts shame.  This loneliest of feelings takes hold when we think that it is unacceptable to be who we are.  And it gains its power by forbidding us to speak.  Taking the risk to share your worst assessments of yourself, and hearing that someone understands…and still loves you, strips shame of its potency.  And with shame diminished, acceptance can flourish.

3.    Vulnerability breeds compassion

When we understand that all of us are just doing the best that we can with what we have and know, compassion becomes possible.  Compassion stems from the seeds of shared humanity, and is nurtured by our ability to bear witness to our own and others frailty.  Emotional pain; like physical pain is not optional – we all get a dose of it.  We all feel vulnerable sometimes.  Acknowledging this is a great leveller and is at the heart of compassion.

4.    Vulnerability boosts confidence

In our efforts to hide our emotional shadows we build up walls between who we are and who we want to be.   Keeping our doubts, insecurities and needs under wraps so as to limit rejection.  And fear is the consequence…fear of someone finding out that we are complicated, contradictory, afraid, and imperfect.  But it only takes one person to see our ‘flaws’, and still want us, for the fear to be replaced by new confidence.  The kind of sustainable confidence that is born from knowing that you are ok, that you are enough.

Lets come back to love for a moment.  Take some time to think of the people you love.  And now think whether or not they have ever been vulnerable with you.  If you love them, I expect that the answer is yes.  Ultimately love can spring from the simple but uncomfortable acceptance that we are all struggling with fears, doubts and uncertainties.