8 Myths About Vulnerability that You Need to Know

myths about vulnerability

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Myths about vulnerability that you need to know.

Vulnerability has become a bit of a buzzword recently. Some of you may even know the original Ted Talk that put it on the map back in 2013, entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.”

The true power of vulnerability, however, has existed long before 2013.

The more we research and understand what humans need for a happy and positive life, the more we can see why vulnerability is much more than a buzzword. Vulnerability is necessary for us to lead fulfilled lives.

But we humans don’t always make things easy. In typical flawed human form, we’ve developed false notions of what it is. (Because why not take an essential concept that will help us and confuse everyone about it).

If you want to lead fulfilled lives, you must understand what vulnerability is – and what it is not.

Happiness

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What is Vulnerability

The dictionary definition states that vulnerability is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” I don’t know about you, but this definition just makes me think of standing in front of a tiger about to be physically attacked (aka mauled).

When we think of vulnerability in terms of our relationships, we need to narrow our view. Vulnerability is taking risks and exposing our inner emotions, even when we are uncertain of the outcome.

Even this definition, however, does not sufficiently clarify what vulnerability is. Sometimes it’s easier to define a concept by what it’s not.

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8 Myths About Vulnerability

If you understand the benefits of vulnerability, you might want to try being more vulnerable in your everyday life. However, you must understand that vulnerability is not:

1. Vulnerability is not weakness

Our society has painted this image of rugged individualism. We watch movies in which the heroes always battle alone to overcome their enemies and internal obstacles. Keeping one’s emotions in, therefore, is seen as a strength. As a result, we see the opposite of this – sharing our feelings – as a weakness.

True vulnerability is not weakness, however, despite many cultural myths about vulnerability telling us otherwise.

Instead, sharing our inner emotions is actually incredibly courageous. Think about it. Would it be easier to sulk off and brood in the corner, hiding your shame or fears? Or open up to people, taking the risk that they may or may not reject you and your feelings?

Vulnerability demands a great deal of inner strength, and it’s about time we acknowledged this.

vulnerability is courage

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2. Vulnerability is not something you can do without

Just as we mislabel vulnerability as a weakness, we also like to classify it as unnecessary. This is caused by two things.

First, we buy into the false beliefs in individual meritocracy: that success comes from “taking on the world alone.”

It’s easy to see where these beliefs come from. The line, “I’m a self-made man,” sounds better to us than, “I got here because of my privilege, relationships, and ability to vulnerable.” (Although I personally think the second line just rolls off the tongue).

Second, we’re afraid of being vulnerable. Rather than show this fear, we’d rather say that we don’t need it in our lives.

We must acknowledge that we’re just hiding behind a myth about vulnerability.

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3. Vulnerability is not full disclosure

There is a distinction between vulnerability and full disclosure. Yes, being vulnerable does require you to share a piece of who you are. But it does not require you to spill every secret you’ve ever had.

Being vulnerable and establishing trust is a cycle. When we are vulnerable, we build trust in a relationship. With more trust, we can be more vulnerable – and so on and so forth.

A level of trust needs to form before you fully disclose everything about yourself. On my first day of college, my roommate told me her three deepest secrets. Then she said, “You can trust me and tell me anything too.” The red flags went off: hell no am I telling you my secrets, you clearly don’t understand when to share and when not to.

Real vulnerability needs a level of social awareness to know what is appropriate to share and what isn’t, especially when creating new connections.

what vulnerability is not

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4. Vulnerability is not a bargaining chip

Real vulnerability is also not a type of bargaining chip for more information. Revealing something in the hopes that you get someone else to disclose something is not going to help you build meaningful connections.

If someone is masquerading vulnerability as a means for a transactional exchange of information, be wary.

For example, I had a coach one time who would have check-in conversations with us if we were going through a difficult time. In these conversations, she liked to bring up a story of her unflattering family history. We began to notice the pattern that she was doing: she would tell us “her secret” in the hopes that we would say ours to her. Not only was it ineffective, but it significantly damaged any attempt at establishing trust.

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5. Vulnerability is not a measure of comparison

Humans have an innate tendency to get caught up in social comparison. As a result, we sometimes mistake being vulnerable for a chance to compare ourselves with others.

Real vulnerability is never about comparing our experiences or worthiness with any sort of judgment.

After all, vulnerability helps to establish trust between two people. Let’s say Maria reveals that she’s feeling bad about her performance at work. This might be an act of vulnerability until she begins to asses Dana’s fears at work against her own. (Who’s more nervous about the quarterly reports? Who deserves the most sympathy and encouragement?).

All of a sudden, vulnerability has been replaced by judgment and evaluation. This comparison is a myth about vulnerability.

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6. Vulnerability is not exclusive to certain people

Many people like to wave off vulnerability by saying, “Some people can be vulnerable, but not everyone.” This line of thinking is not only wrong, but it can be damaging. It’s also a cop-out for all the reasons we’ve been talking about (myths that it’s a weakness or unnecessary).

Feeling a sense of belonging is a human need; therefore, being vulnerable is necessary – and possible – for everyone.

If you disagree, I challenge you to find a person who isn’t vulnerable who has secure, meaningful relationships in their life. I bet you couldn’t. Next, I challenge that person to be vulnerable with someone – even just for something small. Their connection will inevitably strengthen.

There’s no magical formula for being vulnerable. It can be a messy journey, but it’s a journey that everyone can take.

myths about vulnerability

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7. Vulnerability is not something you can make fun and comfortable

As much as you might want to, vulnerability is not something that you can make fun and comfortable for yourself. It is a myth about vulnerability to say, “I’m going to tell you this thing about myself!” with joyful confidence and think you’re being vulnerable.

Being vulnerable means that you’re taking a risk. And any time you take a risk, you will feel a little uncomfortable.

This uncomfortableness doesn’t need to be viewed as a negative thing, however. We grow the most when we stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones. Our relationships don’t grow and deepen in the “comfortable, fun zone” (how’s that for the name of a weird playground). They grow in moments of emotional risk and vulnerability.

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8. Vulnerability is not only deep, dark emotions and memories

Finally, vulnerability is not reserved only for deep, dark emotions and memories. Often, we falsely associate being vulnerable to revealing the biggest secrets that we have. We assume vulnerability must encompass some really heavy, dark emotions.

Real vulnerability is about exposing our emotions of any kind, big or small.

These acts of vulnerability happen every day. You’re being vulnerable if you call your brother first, even though he hasn’t called you in months, and you feel like he doesn’t want to talk to you. It’s vulnerability when you admit that you care about something, especially if you might not achieve it.

We must shift our thinking away from vulnerability as “deep, dark emotions” to small, everyday actions.

myths about vulnerability

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Vulnerability Collection

This post is one of four in my “Vulnerability Collection.” Check out the three related links below:

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Conclusion

Vulnerability has been a buzzword in society, but many of us fail to understand what real vulnerability actually is. Being vulnerable is when you take risks and expose your inner emotions, even when you are uncertain of the outcome.

To reap the benefits of vulnerability in our lives and our relationships, we need to shed some of the common myths about vulnerability. Vulnerability is not:

  1. Weakness
  2. Something you can do without
  3. Full disclosure
  4. A bargaining chip
  5. A measure of comparison
  6. Exclusive to certain people
  7. Something you can make fun and comfortable
  8. Only deep, dark emotions and memories

Read the rest of our Vulnerability Collection to learn what is getting in the way of you being vulnerable and how you can benefit from being vulnerable. Want to be more vulnerable in your life? Take the first step by answering one of the questions below in the comments!

Note: Almost everything I learned about vulnerability came from leading research Brené Brown. You can find her on Netflix, YouTube, podcasts, and on the shelves.

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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Which myth do you find yourself believing in the most?

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Have you ever interacted with someone who inappropriately used vulnerability as a bargaining chip or means for comparison?

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Why do you think vulnerability is so often misunderstood?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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Do any other animal species experience vulnerability?

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Can we train ourselves to be more vulnerable?

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Are there traits that are exclusive to certain people?

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