WARNING:      The following self-help tip is only for the courageous!

The “V” word.

That’s right.  Vulnerability.  The mere mention of the word can make grown men squirm and grown women hide!  It’s something we don’t often talk about, yet it is universal to all human beings.

The word “vulnerability” stems from the Latin root, “vulnerare” meaning “able to be wounded.”  Originally, the word referred to how susceptible an ecosystem was to adverse effects of climate change.

In the context of human relationships, vulnerability is the glue that connects us, yet terrifies most of us at the same time.  When the “V” word is mentioned, oftentimes people immediately think of situations in which they have been hurt or disappointed by others.  They may even remind themselves, “That’s why I don’t get too close.”   Vulnerability is commonly associated with pain; however, by choosing that viewpoint we miss out on the richer meaning and opportunity.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider the possible reasons vulnerability is so often associated with pain and loss.  The amount we choose to share of ourselves with others may be based on the nature of the relationship, the length of the relationship, our family histories and our comfort with risk.  Subconsciously, it’s also very related to our sense of worthiness or our sense of shame.  Many of us often wonder if we are deserving of love, acceptance and belonging.  We worry about being “too much” of something or “not enough” of something else.  We pretend to be engaged and friendly, but underneath hides the fear of being “found out.”  What we often don’t recognize is that we ALL go through this!  It’s part of the human experience.

On one hand, we all breathe a sigh of relief when someone allows us to see their flaws because we’re then reassured that we’re not the only ones!  Speaking for myself, I have always felt rather uncomfortable when I’m in the presence of someone who seems “perfect.”  It makes me nervous!  Can you relate?

On the other hand, being authentic is not for the faint of heart!  It takes guts.  Not the kind of guts that would prevail in a street fight, but rather the kind of guts that inspires us to share our true feelings even when we are scared.

“Courage” comes from the latin root “cor” meaning “heart.”  Its original meaning was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

I’m not talking about the person you think you’re SUPPOSED to be or the person others expect you to be.  I mean the messy, imperfect authentic self we all frantically try to hide.  The irony is that it’s always reassuring to see that part in someone else.

You may be thinking to yourself, “She must be kidding!  I can’t walk around all day like that!”  And I would agree with you.  Obviously, different settings call for varying degrees of vulnerability.  But the problem is that if we try to “turn it off” (or “numb out”) completely – that sense of truly being seen by others and the corresponding apprehension – then we have also cut off our ability to connect with others in a meaningful way.

RISK is inherent to being alive.  Having deep, meaningful, fulfilling relationships is not possible while simultaneously “playing it safe.”   Recognizing when and with whom it is comfortable to share oneself is a learning process.  It cannot be done perfectly or without scrapes and bruises.  Vulnerability takes courage – to allow ourselves to be truly seen by others.  Ultimately, it is the only path to true and lasting intimacy.