Are you comfortable letting people see you as vulnerable? Or do you just “suck it up” and go on as if everything’s okay? I’ve been pondering these questions over the past month because of a recent experience that taught me an important lesson.
As a result, I decided to read more about vulnerability from a woman who has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Dr. Brene Brown is a research professor and bestselling author. She also gave a TEDx talk in 2010 — The Power of Vulnerability — that’s one of the top ten most viewed TED talks in the world.
Recently, I learned two powerful lessons from mistakes I made:
- Trust your gut — it knows what your head hasn’t figured out yet.
- When you embrace your vulnerability, you can experience more love, trust and joy.
Learning From My Mistakes
Last month I came down with laryngitis but no other symptoms. I thought I could just push on through my usual activities and did so for several days. But on the morning of my yoga class, after a late night, I woke up feeling tired and debated whether to go. The voice in my head said stay home but I’d missed the previous week and didn’t want to miss class again. I thought I could just tough it out.
Ten minutes into the class, I started to feel strange. Again, I heard my inner voice say: lie down. But I felt self-conscious since everyone else was standing. Instead, I walked out of the room to get a drink of water — then fainted onto the floor!
When I regained consciousness, five of my classmates were gathered around me and wiping the blood off my cut lip. Two caring classmates drove me to the ER. I spent five hours being observed and had to have 5 stitches in my lower lip.
During the next few days, I replayed that whole morning over and over in my head and beat myself up for making poor decisions. I realized that of all the places I did not need to feel self-conscious about asking for help or appearing weak was in my wonderful yoga class.
The Power of Vulnerability
I decided I needed to review Brene Brown’s TEDx Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. “It’s about showing up and being seen, which is tough to do when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering ‘You’re not good enough’ in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.”
Happily, Brown says she’s seeing a shift. “We’re hungry for people who have the courage to say, ‘I need help’ or ‘I own that mistake.’ She suggests we ask ourselves these questions: What’s our fear? Where and why do we want to be braver? Then we have to figure out how we’re currently protecting ourselves from vulnerability. What is our armor? Perfectionism? Intellectualizing? Cynicism? Numbing? Control?”
One final lesson really locked in Brown’s wisdom for me. Last weekend while staying at my daughter’s, I still wasn’t quite back to my healthy self. But I didn’t want to disappoint my granddaughters by saying I wasn’t feeling up for going shopping. The more I kept my feelings to myself, the more I worried I became that I might faint again.
Finally, I just admitted I felt weak and afraid. My daughter and two granddaughters embraced me in a group hug. They suggested I lie down in the hammock and brought me some tea. Within an hour, I felt the tightness in my stomach relax and my entire body felt calm. By expressing my vulnerability I released my fears and was able to enjoy the rest of the day.
As we grandmas age, we may feel more reluctant to show our vulnerability and feed into all the stereotypes that accompany ageism. But sharing our vulnerability with family and friends is not weakness; it’s allowing people to see who we are. Being authentic about our feelings, not trying to prove, please or be perfect, makes us more approachable and allows others to feel comfortable opening up and being vulnerable.