Am I worthy? Lesson 1 in Vulnerability

What does it take to be truly vulnerable?

Posted Jan 24, 2012

When I chose my "One word" for 2012 I knew that it wasn't going to be easy.  I know myself and how impossibly stubborn I can be and I knew that vulnerability was going to have to beat me over the head a few times before I started to understand.  I wasn't quite sure when I was going to have to learn my first lesson, but it happened to me this morning while having breakfast with my friend.

You know someone is your friend when they can look you dead in the eyes before you have had your first sip of coffee and ask: "Do you think that you are worthy of a genuine connection?".  As I half-choked/half-swallowed my coffee down I could feel my eyes fill with water.

"Pardon me?"

"Do you think that you are worthy of connection"?  She repeated without wavering.

Thankfully the time that it took me to catch my breath allowed me to think of my honest answer.  In those few seconds I realized something important - answering 'no' didn't scare me - answering 'yes' did.

I know what 'no' feels like.  I have lived 'no' for the vast majority of my life.  'No' is not a picnic and in fact it down right sucks.  But it's familiar... almost comfortable.  'Yes' on the other hand is brand new territory, and like a kid learning to ride a bike  I am a little wobbly. 

I don't think that I need to describe what 'no' feels like.  Who out there hasn't felt shame and fear when thinking "I'm not _____ enough"?  I've even thought it when people were giving me a compliment.  My internal dialogue would drown them out thinking "If they knew what I was REALLY like...they wouldn't be saying that".

Thinking and acting like that just feels terrible.  It reminds me of when I used to smoke cigarettes.  When I was a smoker I was a great smoker.  I savoured every single drag of that cigarette.  Until one day I didn't.  I rationally knew that smoking was terrible for me and that every seemingly glorious inhale could be killing me on the inside.  That's when I knew I wasn't a smoker anymore.  It didn't happen over night, but I finally got to the point where having just one drag made me sick to my stomach.  I know the process of moving into vulnerability and into genuine connection will be similar to quitting smoking.  I have only just realized that I don't feel like I'm a 'no' anymore and the thought of feeling that way again makes me a little sick to my stomach. 

I feel like I am once again standing on the precipice of the bloukrans bungee.  I am about to jump, and I hope that my emotional bungee cord is strong enough to save me at the bottom. 

So when my friend looked across the table at me and asked 'do you think you are worthy'? The tears that welled up in my eyes were not because I wanted to say 'no' - they were because for the first time in a very long time I wanted to say 'YES!!!'.  The trouble is that I don't have the first clue in how to be a 'yes'.

So now what?

Brene Brown gave me some much needed insight into vulnerability in her humorous, informative, and very real TED talk.  She identifies some of the main traits exhibited by people who believe they are worthy, people she describes as "Whole-hearted".  As I listened to her speak I slowly began to realize how I had come to the point I was at now, about to jump.  I had been moving towards vulnerability for some time.  I just wasn't able to identify it as such;

Courage to be imperfect.

Brene describes this as the ability and courage to be who you are with your whole heart.  I think that I have begun to understand this, and have touched on it in previous posts about being 'fully' myself.

Compassion... for yourself first

This is a tricky one.  I have always been really good at neglecting myself; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I thought I was really good at covering it up by looking after everyone around me.  Looking back however I don't think that I was quite as good at it as I thought. 

I have always been accused of being 'too nice'.  For the longest time I couldn't figure out how it was even possible to be 'too nice'?  Isn't being 'nice' a good thing?  While there is little doubt that I want to continue caring about those around me, there does need to be a balance.  I have been far too focused on one aspect of compassion.  I wasn't concerned with looking after myself; I was too busy looking after everyone else.  It wasn't a matter of being 'too nice' it was a matter of being nice to everyone BUT myself.  At the time I thought that this was a very noble path to take.  I felt a like a martyr and there was something poetic to the deep sadness that I felt within.  What I didn't realize was that by putting everyone else before me I was actually doing them a disservice.  I was preventing them from know the authentic me.  Even more so I was coming across as disingenuous.  When people were telling me that I was 'too nice' I think that it was because they didn't fully buy into what I was selling.  Whether they knew it or not they were seeing through my smoke screen and it unconsciously made them uncomfortable.

I think that by practicing patience over the past year I have begun to be more compassionate with myself.  Ironically as a result I feel like I am more genuinely compassionate with those around me.  There is no pretense this time.  I am not being 'too nice' to cover up for something else, I am doing it because it is real.  I am not concerned with projecting the perfect image because I am embracing my imperfections.  What I have come to realize is that the more I allow people to see me, the real me, the better I am at connecting... because I allow them to be imperfect as well.

Connection comes from authenticity

Brene found through her extensive study into vulnerability that the people who were able to experience true connection were those that, "were able to let go of who they thought they should be in order to become who they really were".  To me this seems to be easier said than done.  When you finally allow people to see who you are they may reject you and you can't protect your ego by saying that they didn't really know you.  That thought alone terrifies me.  The fear of rejection is something that we've all had to deal with because let's face it, rejection sucks.  Unfortunately the reality of this world is that you aren't going to be everyone's cup of tea.  Some people are going to see your imperfections and they will judge you, some will run for the hills, and some will straight up tell you how horrible you are.  You can't hide from this fact and I am not going to sit here and tell you that it is an easy fear to overcome.  Getting rejected for who you truly are hurts more deeply than I could have ever imagined. BUT the good news is that the benefits are well worth the risk.  While some people will look at your imperfections and run...some people will look at them and embrace you with open arms.  The feeling of being rejected for who you are may be horribly painful, but the feeling of acceptance...of true acceptance... is indescribable.  To know that you can be yourself and not have to put on an act feels like is liberating and comforting all at once.  Dr. Seuss was a wise man when he said, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

Vulnerability, fully embrace it!

What I really took away from Brene's talk was the knowledge that those people who are truly vulnerable - those who are truly 'whole-hearted' - recognize that vulnerability can be uncomfortable but they do not judge it to be good or bad.  They just accept that it is.  It seems to come from a very deep feeling of peace and true acceptance of oneself.  People that are fully vulnerable believe that what makes them vulnerable is what makes them beautiful.  To them its not comfortable or excruciating - it just is.  This is what allows them to do something where there are no guarantees, to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.  To be the first one to say "I love you".

So as I sat in front of my friend I was scared, but I was still able to answer 'yes'.  I was able to lean into the discomfort, and say that I fully believe that I am 'worthy' of a true connection.  Instead of filling my mind with all the reasons that I'm NOT _____ enough, I will simplify and say:

I am enough.

(On a side note Music has always helped me to stay focused on a goal...and right now I can't get enough of 'Shake it Out'  by Florence and the Machine.  "Because it's hard to dance with a devil on your back..."  Feel free to share your musical inspirations here!)

Copyright 2012 @ Jaime Booth Cundy

About the Author

Jaime Cundy

Jaime Cundy is a writer and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program.

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