The Gifts of Being VulnerableThe walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keep out the joy. ~Jim Rohn
Not too long ago, I found myself sitting around with a group of friends playing the One-Word game—a game where each person uses one word to honestly describe another person in the group. Everyone goes around until they have been “worded” by everyone else.
It’s fun and exciting until you get labeled as something you don’t necessarily identify as positive. The word that kept coming up for me: Guarded.
I got it. It made sense. I have a difficult time opening myself up to people.
I know that it’s uncomfortable past experiences that cause me to be guarded. I’m not one who dwells much upon the past or holds grudges, but along my journey, I’ve formed certain defenses in an effort of self-protection.
But now I yearn to be more vulnerable and be more open to my emotions. Because I know the wellspring of life rests in honest, truthful, meaningful connection with others. And that requires letting down my guard.
This self-exploration led me to ponder the broader issue:
- What does it mean to feel something?
- What are emotions?
- Why do we get happy or sad or mad or depressed or excited or giddy?
And the conclusion I came up with is that emotions are an abstract interpretation of our reaction to the world around us. They are not conscious choices or decisions. They are not necessarily meant to be dissected or even understood.
But they must be acknowledged and shared if we want to connect with other human beings.
Feelings and emotions are the invisible cords that run through our lives – connecting our brains to our hearts. But they are also the invisible cords that run horizontally from me to you and you to me.
That’s why we can relate to each other despite all our superficial differences. That’s why we’re able to feel empathy for people who seem to have nothing in common with us. That’s how we connect to everyone around us.
Because emotions are universal.
But despite the fact that these feelings are a natural part of being human, expressing them doesn’t come easily for all of us.
Acknowledging and expressing emotions make us vulnerable to judgment. That brings risk, because sometimes that judgment is positive, and sometimes it’s negative.
So we may ignore our emotions in an effort to protect ourselves. We may refuse to speak about our feelings with others to avoid their judgment. If we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we don’t have to deal with the potential for negative experiences.
But we are also incapable of real connection with other people.
So I made a conscious decision that I want to be free enough to love, free enough to feel, free enough to risk. I want to be more alive.
Here are some ways that I have modified my tendency toward being too guarded. These changes have opened up a whole new world for me!
1. Positive Expectation
Approach emotion and vulnerability with the expectation of pleasure. A strong believer in James Allen’s book, As a Man Thinketh, I know that our experiences in life stem from what we expected to experience in the first place.
If I’m constantly trying to guard myself from potential pain, I forfeit any chance to experience pleasure in those moments. I need to allow myself the freedom to have a pleasurable experience that could be born out of my vulnerability.
2. Look for Commonalities
Acknowledge the likeness of others instead of the difference. It’s easy to isolate yourself based upon the perception that everyone is different and they just don’t understand you and your world.
The truth is, we are all human and as much as differences may lace our external shells, at the heart of the matter, we are all very much alike in our pursuit of love and acceptance. Allowing myself to express my feelings enables me to relate more deeply and gain more meaningful connections with others.
3. Beautiful Expressions of Life
Realize feelings and emotions are beautiful expressions of life. Who wants to be around someone who has a tough time being approachable? Nobody.
I looked at myself from the outside and realized that in order to build anything more than just superficial relationships, I must let other people into my life on a deeply emotional level. Vulnerability is one of the most beautiful aspects of a human being–one that makes each of us truly alive.
4. Live in the Now
By learning to live in the present moment, I am able to differentiate past circumstances from current circumstances.
Just because old friends, family or acquaintances may have let me down a long time ago, that doesn’t mean the friends I have today will do the same. It’s not fair to the people in my life now to constantly project onto them negative expectations from what others have done.
I remind myself that each day, each hour, each moment is new and unique. I don’t have to live in fear of being hurt simply because it happened in the past. I can be present here, right now, and experience the joy of feeling my emotions of today.
I encourage you to allow yourself to risk vulnerability so that you can experience life in a new dimension, connect with other people in a way that you only knew as a child, begin to see opportunities that you have been blind to seeing, and come to understand that a life without feeling and emotions is really no life at all.
I hope you will be able to do as I have done—face the fear of vulnerability, allow yourself to feel deeply, unconditionally, and non-judgmentally, and create a real connection with others through the sharing of those emotions. In the end, it will help you to experience a world where you are truly ALIVE.