‘Healthy’ Vulnerability?

There’s been some pretty emotional stuff happening in my world lately. Lots of processing, lots of thinking about the stories I tell myself. Yesterday, something triggered memories of deep wounds and it left me feeling very, very emotionally ‘raw’. And it got me thinking about what I wrote two days ago about vulnerability (Why Vulnerability?).

I believe there are ‘degrees’ of vulnerability, and while I haven’t figured this all out, I know that it’s not healthy (or ‘safe’) to share all my most intimate details with everyone I meet. In fact, doing this is a shield against vulnerability as I mentioned in my Vulnerability Armour post (see “letting it all hang out”).

Brene Brown uses a beautiful phrase to describe being vulnerable. She says we share with those who can bear the weight of our stories. These are the people we have built connection with, we’ve cultivated these relationships, there is trust and mutual empathy – in other words, these people have earned the right to hear our stories in honesty and vulnerability.

This doesn’t mean we’re not honest in the rest of our world. We should be! But the ‘degree’ to which we are vulnerable will depend on the strength of the relationships we have with the people we are with. The more intimate and ‘raw’ the vulnerability, the smaller the circle of people with which that is shared. I’m going to call this ‘healthy’ vulnerability (I just made it up; it’s not from any research I’ve read).

I’m just starting to figure this out. It wasn’t something I really thought about before because I had so much vulnerability armour up there wasn’t much vulnerability happening. But as I’m slowly learning to take down the armour, I’m thinking about what it actually means to be vulnerable. How much do I share online? How much do I share in my larger church community? How do I learn to be vulnerable in a healthy way with the people closest to me? It’s easy to throw the old vulnerability armour back on when I’m feeling uncomfortable and exposed. How do I not do that and allow myself to be ‘seen’ without being overexposed at the same time? I don’t have the answer for that.

Because of what happened yesterday, I decided not to go to a mini women’s retreat at our church today. I knew I was feeling emotionally tender and ‘raw’. The retreat would mean hanging out with 30 women that I have varying degrees of closeness with – for the day. I was anticipating what would happen – either I’d throw up my vulnerability armour and pretend as if everything was okay or I’d be a weeping mess at the back of the room. Many of those women don’t have the strength of relationship with me to bear the weight of what I was feeling and processing. While this might have been an opportunity for women to surround me and encourage me, the scene could just as easily have backfired with people who don’t know me potentially giving ‘pat’ or inappropriate responses which would have left me feeling worse. So I opted to stay at home.

Considering my degree of emotional tenderness I chose not to be with a larger group of people, although I would have been willing to be with a smaller group that I am closer with (like my church life group), though probably not for the entire day. I’m finding making these decisions involves learning to have healthy boundaries and to understand what we need. Sometimes it’s okay to consider ourselves and our well-being first. Too often I put others and their expectations first to the detriment of myself. I think it serves us well to become more self-aware and to take steps to care for ourselves in the ways we need to when in pain. And this means sometimes saying, “No”, and that’s okay.

So, embrace vulnerability in healthy ways and be true to yourself. They must not be mutually exclusive.