Rethinking Vulnerability

The world doesn’t need more Vulnerability.

As something often asked of us in relationships, leadership, and the latest meme, Vulnerability has never sat right with me.

There’s much more to what we actually want from ourselves and each other.

Too often these days, Vulnerability is used as an accusation, a veiled demand, and sometimes even a threat.

If someone isn’t vulnerable, it’s often perceived or assumed that something is wrong, there’s something to hide, or the person isn’t willing to “do the work” with us.

(To be clear, this isn’t a gendered thing, though I do believe men are often left holding more of the request of this due to our current power dynamics and how traditionally men held more power, which means we hold more of the cards, control, and as such, responsibility to create and offer safety.)

What I see us actually wanting, is Transparency.

We want people to take their masks off, to let us see through the roles and personas we all navigate the world with.

Surely, this can be and feel Vulnerable. And while there can be great intimacy created when we share ourselves, unless it is an empowered and consensual act, it often can end up feeling like coercion, both consciously and on a somatic level.

To me, asking someone to be Vulnerable often creates too much wobble within a relationship. It implies that we must throw open our inner gates and let someone in, and if we don’t, we’re doing it wrong.

This may seem extreme, but feel this in your body and see how it resonates. Asking someone to be Vulnerable, can often be felt by the receiver as a subtle, and often unconscious, power play.

It asks too much of another person to let their guard down and denies their sovereignty and consensual choice. When someone is vulnerable, while also not quite ready to reveal themselves but thinking they should, they end up overstepping their boundaries.

Done too often, this dynamic can create resentment, caution, and over time, potentially resulting in the exact conditions that lead people astray and away.

I’m not saying asking or desiring our partners to be vulnerable is wrong. Instead, this is an invitation towards a more mature and mutually empowering way to contextualize what, to the body and younger parts of us, is a big ask.

As we mature as people, it benefits us to inspect and ensure the words and requests we make of others, and ourselves are maturing as well. Our ability to hold more context and subtly increases, and is a natural process when infused with care and awareness.

Let’s be sure we (collective we) haven’t latched onto a word given to us in a meme or book written decades ago.

Instead, I’d present what I see to be a more stable way to navigate the need and desire to know and be known that is mutually consensual and empowering.

Within the context of conscious interpersonal relationships, what I’ve come to is the following…

Transparency is the request
Vulnerability is the choice
Revealing is the action
Receiving is the gift

Let’s break this down…

When someone asks us to be Vulnerable, what do they actually want? If their intentions are pure, they want to know us better.

There’s a range and nuance to (all of) this, from simply wanting to know what we think and how we feel, to wanting to feel safer with us on both somatic and philosophical levels.

Here’s the rub.. To be Transparent, which requires both safety and bravery, we also need space to say no. This is how Vulnerability becomes less of a directive and more of a Choice.

But what is actually being chosen when we choose to be Vulnerable? It’s the Action of Revealing.

Within Revealing is the awareness of regulation and responsibility, both towards others and within ourselves. Sometimes, what wants to come out, isn’t appropriate (to me, if there’s a lack of compassion and care, and the relationship is valuable to me, it probably isn’t ready to be spoken or seen, yet).

As people who desire to know and be known, our ability to regulate what we share with others, along with what we truly want from those we are in connection and relationship with, becomes an offering and invitation, rather than something that if lacking or not present, indicates something is wrong.

The last aspect of this, the complete circle, is the Receiving of the Revelation and what’s been Revealed by the person who has requested more from us.

This is crucial. If the person who is asking us to be “Vulnerable” doesn’t actually want to hear what is needed or wanting to be expressed, is experiencing too much dysregulation to be a steady space for our expression, and/or we sense they don’t actually want to ride our Relation-Ship and weather some storms together, let it be ok that they don’t get the gift of our Revelation.

This way, there is shared responsibility and mutual empowerment that comes from a place of consent, honor, and wholeness.

–––––

What’s been your experience with Vulnerability, both as something desired and received? What do you find works, and what doesn’t? Do you need certain conditions before you’re willing to reveal yourself?

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