Vulnerability is strength

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For years I thought it was best to be strong and keep my emotions in check:

never cry at work

try and look on the bright side

don’t tell people how you really feel

just pull yourself together

never show weakness

These were just some of the messages that I told myself and I really believed them.

Once or twice, early on in my career, I let my guard down and revealed how I felt about things at work.  But each time I was criticised and belittled; and, as a result, I quickly got the message that it was best not to say what was really going on for me, as it made others see me as a victim or as someone who couldn’t cope with the pressures of work.  Gradually, I created a hard outer shell of confidence and positivity, letting the outside world see that I was coping well and that I didn’t need any help.

It wasn’t until I began my own personal therapy that I realised how much of myself I had hidden away.  During my counselling I was encouraged to use nesting dolls to express myself and this really seemed to unlock something inside me.  Initially, I found it easy to identify the part of myself that I now recognise as my outer self.  This is the side that I have tended to show to others most often: it is the outer nesting doll which hides the other dolls inside.  This part of me is the confident, strong, positive and sociable side that I know I have learned to develop through my professional life where I felt strongly that it was crucial to appear skilled, knowledgeable and in control.  Having recognised this, it made me realise that I have relied heavily on this part of myself for many years. 

Once I had identified this, it was easier to recognise the inner vulnerable, quiet, insecure me.  This was the tiny nesting doll at the centre and when I recognised her I realised how strongly the biggest doll wanted to push her aside.  This was an intense moment, as I actually did throw the small doll on the floor as I was speaking, making me realise how often I had metaphorically done that in my life and not given that vulnerable side of myself a voice. 

The best person to help to put my experiences into a broader context and to really highlight the power of vulnerability is Brené Brown, who is an American research professor, lecturer, author and podcast host.  She is best known for her TED talk in 2010 “The Power of Vulnerability” where she explained that vulnerability is the heart of meaningful human experience.  Go and watch it at or YouTube – you really won’t regret it.  She also wrote “The Power of Vulnerability” (2013) which helps to dispel the myth that vulnerability is weakness and reveals that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.  When we dare to drop the armour that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves up to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.

One of the reasons being vulnerable feels so scary is that we’re all afraid of being judged.  It can feel terrifying to reveal our inner emotions, whether they are fear, shame or hope.  By allowing ourselves to be seen, we allow others to put themselves in our shoes.  Vulnerability builds empathy and understanding for everyone involved.

We all need to feel that we belong, but often we mistake ‘fitting in’ for belonging.  When we try to fit in, we adapt to the given social situation instead of maintaining our authentic self.  We do this because we are afraid of being rejected for who we really are.  Being vulnerable, while scary, is necessary to help you find the people who will accept you for your authentic self.

Going back to my own personal experience, I realise how much this resonates with me.  I appreciate how much of myself I’ve hidden away behind a big smile, a confident attitude and a “fun” personality.  I thought that’s what everyone wanted to see and that’s what I needed to be to fit in.  This sociable party girl was the side I showed to others because I was afraid of being rejected for being the real me.  It makes me sad to feel that I was brought up in a generation where vulnerability was seen as a weakness; but I feel confident that this is being recognised as an outdated approach and there is a bright future ahead where vulnerability is seen as strength, helping the human race to feel connected on a deeper level.

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