Vulnerability is a word that is commonly misunderstood. Many regard it as a weakness and therefore something to hide when the opposite is true. Being vulnerable is when we can embrace our imperfections and are comfortable in our own skin without worrying about what others think of us. It is a quality that generates trust and builds relationships founded on honesty and transparency. In short, vulnerability gives us access to being effective, something for which we all strive. This article considers the experience of people living with disability in being open, honest and willing to express themselves authentically. More importantly, it ponders the question, how can we become vulnerable enough to be authentic so we can truly be ourselves? The article also explores the highs and lows of being and not being vulnerable and considers some pathways to move towards effectiveness using vulnerability as the access.
The consequences of not being vulnerable
Recent interviews with people living with disability found that some were more accepting of their circumstances than others. My own hidden disability was something I would hide and was not accepting of for many years. In my mind, being vulnerable about that was to surrender to the weakness and inferiority of being less than whole. Instead, I was determined to fight and overcome it. As I continued the fight, my disability became my secret shame. Over several years, difficult circumstances and embarrassing incidents plagued me. My self-esteem was rock bottom, and I covered it up with bravado. The consequences of my invulnerability were dire.
I used to be hardcore with a hard shell on the outside. I had developed this hard shell early in my life to protect me from perceived threats out in the world. As my disability became more apparent to me but not to others, my relationship with it became my greatest threat, not the disability itself. I continued to build walls to prevent others from knowing what I was dealing with on the inside. Those closest to me bore the brunt of my negative behaviour. I perceived offers of assistance as pity; accepting help was a line I did not want to cross. In hindsight, I realise that things would have been very different had I been vulnerable enough to accept the reality of the situation earlier.
The more people resist the reality of their disability, the greater the pressure to keep up the facade. It can become unbearable. No level of external accomplishments will quell the raging cauldron of anger and shame on the inside. In my case, being invulnerable had me behave in unacceptable ways. But at the time, I felt I had no choice.
What is vulnerability?
Before we continue, let’s examine the distinction of vulnerability that I am referring to in this article and, as a Being Profile® Accredited Practitioner, whenever I coach my clients. The following is an excerpt of the ontological distinction of vulnerability from BEING, a best-selling body of work written by Engenesis founder and CEO, Ashkan Tashvir.
The vulnerability Mood is impacted by the concerns you have with respect to how you are being perceived or thought of in different situations. Vulnerability is how you are being when confronted or exposed to perceived threats, ridicule, attacks or harm (emotional or physical). Being truly vulnerable is when you are okay with your imperfections. It is considered the quality of being with your authentic Self without obsessive concern over the impression you are making. Vulnerability is the pathway to generating trust and building powerful relationships. The opposite of vulnerability is considered to be closed or guarded.
[Tashvir, A. (2021). BEING (p. 233). Engenesis Publication]
Simply put, vulnerability is a mood that directly influences how we show up in the world. It is often easiest to understand if we consider what it looks like when we are not vulnerable. In addition to my earlier points, other indicators of not being vulnerable include being more concerned with pleasing people and being seen to be doing what’s right rather than being true to ourselves and doing what we know is right. Invulnerable people may avoid situations that make them uncomfortable or fail to act on something they care about to avoid looking foolish. Selling out on our authentic self can be soul-destroying. When we are not authentic, it eats away at us on the inside, and this can manifest as a lack of confidence, dependency, and poor choices.
Vulnerability and disability
Research suggests that the most significant challenge people living with disability have in becoming more vulnerable is awareness, followed by how vulnerability causes them to relate to their disability. In my case, it eventually dawned on me that in failing to acknowledge my imperfection, I was both oblivious to reality (lack of awareness) and had an unhealthy relationship with vulnerability, which led me to be inauthentic.
As a mood, vulnerability, along with care, fear and anxiety, acts as the first layer in the process of projecting who we are to the world, our Unique Being. In this way, vulnerability has a close relationship with authenticity. Being honest about our imperfections, even rejoicing in them, will allow others to see and appreciate who we really are, our authentic selves. Most importantly, our relationship with vulnerability needs to be healthy if we want to be effective and fulfilled. Research also suggests that many people living with disability have a perception that if they are vulnerable, they will be taken advantage of, ridiculed or humiliated. The truth is, living with a disability includes living with other people's reactions, judgements, biases, opinions and beliefs. It’s how we interpret and relate to those things that count.
Vulnerability is a strength
Freedom, compassion, peace of mind, empowerment, love, authenticity and gratitude are all qualities that reside within. As a Mood, vulnerability gives us access to these and other deeper qualities. Being vulnerable is like being an open book, with nothing to hide. It is the willingness to let people know who we are authentically, not to convince them to like us, and this alone brings such joy and peace of mind to our lives. In each moment, with each person, there is an opportunity to bring down our defences and give ourselves permission to be okay with those awkward silences or difficult, uncomfortable feelings.
When we are vulnerable, we can be with other people and ourselves authentically. And it also encourages others to be open with us and reveal their authentic selves. We see their beauty and their glorious hearts, and they see ours. Being vulnerable is a choice every human being can make in their lives, regardless of ability. If you are willing to begin the journey of addressing your relationship with vulnerability, it will open new pathways to effectiveness and fulfilment. You will discover that the rewards are exponential.