Updated: Nov 22, 2022
“Vulnerability looks like courage in you, and weakness in me.” This is how Brené Brown perfectly summed up describing feeling vulnerable. I began turning vulnerability into a conscious practice a few years ago, and it is still awkward and uncomfortable every time. The only thing that has shifted has been my response time when experiencing vulnerability. Unlike courage, which diminishes fear the more it’s practiced, vulnerability feels anxious and awkward every time- EVERY TIME, it’s felt. This can make opting out of experiencing vulnerability more enticing than voluntarily putting ourselves through this emotional juggernaut. According to multiple studies, the vast majority of us are opting out of vulnerability through various forms of numbing and avoidance, and it is costing us dearly.
When I look back on times when I was most vulnerable I have a whole host of experiences that range from tragic to highly rewarding. The tragically vulnerable experiences include heart break, rejection, and missed opportunities- and each of these memories brought with them subtle lessons that shaped how I moved forward but they were deeply painful in the moment and required healing, some of which I’m still in the process of doing. These are the layers I’m constantly peeling back in their own time, which is why this work will never be done. Anyways…
Memories on the rewarding side of vulnerability include deepening bonds with others, finding “my people,” experiencing deep healing, and finding belonging. Both the tragic and rewarding aspects of vulnerability have brought with them their own gifts, even when they were wrapped in layers of pain and shame. This is also why I’m such a strong advocate for mental health, because I could not have gotten to this place without the help of my therapist who I am grateful for everyday. For me, unlocking vulnerability requires help, I need a support system… which has become an active ecosystem all its own.
Learning how to develop a practice around vulnerability has taken time, and it’s always evolving. One of the most helpful tools I have for this practice is my “vulnerability scale.” It is a mental scale where I gauge the level of vulnerability I’m considering with the risk associated with it. At the center of the scale is 0, implying no vulnerability. To the left of center are risk levels of rejection connected to the vulnerability with 10 at the max. These are levels of vulnerability where the certainty of rejection becomes more imminent.
So at 10 on this side I would say, prepare for this over time. This would be like falling into the ocean when you don’t know how to swim… you want to work up to that over time. On the other end of the scale we’ve got the beneficial vulnerability when the risk of rejection is low but the benefits of vulnerability are high… in other words, a 10 on this side is something I want to do as often as possible.
Here’s what examples of each of these look like in practice:
Rejection risk level 10: Speaking your truth even when you know it’s going to be rejected and / or ridiculed.
At Rejection risk level 5: Something that required courage, but feels recoverable from. Setting boundaries can largely fall in this area on the scale.
Rewarding risk vulnerabilities: Extending gratitude, sharing a compliment, acts of kindness, fostering joy. These feel vulnerable in the moment but when they are received we immediately feel seen and valued. These are the vulnerabilities that will likely deepen my bonds with others so I try and practice them as often as possible.
Here’s the thing each of our vulnerabilities scales will look slightly different from one another because each of our vulnerabilities are different. You might it helpful to think about where you rank the things in your life that dread doing because they require your vulnerability vs. the things you enjoy doing that still require you to flex your vulnerability muscles.
Let me know if you found this to be a helpful take away from this month’s theme of vulnerability, Kick Assers. And, if you’d like help around clarifying your vulnerability practice let’s connect.
Kate Katz is the owner and founder of All Hands In, a soft skills development company. All Hands In specializes in soft skill development using play and puppetry. If you'd like to learn more about the work she does please visit: www.allhandsinworkshops.com or email her at email@example.com