The importance of vulnerability has been written about extensively by John and Henry over the years. Recently, Brene Brown ignited our imagination for the power of vulnerability through her books and Ted talks. These thought leaders have helped us see that we desperately need vulnerability; but doing vulnerability well is a challenge. Our inability to be vulnerable leaves us in soul crushing isolation. On the other end of the spectrum social media has provided a medium that encourages a form of oversharing previous generations could not have imagined.
And, of course, deep hurt comes when people betray our trust and share statements shared with others that we thought were shared in confidence.
Given both the importance of vulnerability and the many potential pitfalls of it I’d like to offer guidance to you as you engage with others.
First, who are you being vulnerable with? Second, why are you being vulnerable? Finally, what are you being vulnerable about?
When looking at each of these questions, there are three general categories to consider. For the “who,” these categories are as follows: everyone in the world, those with whom we are building community, and our intimate circles.
As we choose vulnerability, we ask ourselves the “why” questions: Am I sharing for the benefit of others? Am I sharing to build connection and community? Am I sharing to benefit myself?
Finally, as we think about the “what,” we ask ourselves these questions: Am I sharing things I’ve completely processed? Mostly processed? Things I’m in process about?
To be helpful, I’d like to give you an example of how I can be vulnerable when I’m sharing with the “everyone,” as referenced above. When I’m speaking or writing, I might say something like, “I find that marriage is painfully difficult.” This is a vulnerable statement that I can speak to the world (who). I am declaring it for the benefit of others (why). It’s something I’ve processed; I’m not needing anything from my audience (what).
When I’m looking to build community (people I go to church with, neighbors, etc.) and want to be vulnerable, I might say something like, “One of the struggles in my marriage is communication. I feel like there are times when Kimber and I are speaking different languages.” This vulnerable statement is more specific; I offer more of myself to my community than in the general statement I made to the world (who). My purpose in sharing is to connect more deeply with those I’m sharing with (why), so I’m more open about the struggle. It is a struggle that I’ve thought about; I’ve processed it, so I don’t need a lot from my audience (what).
Finally, let me give an example of vulnerability when I’m with my inner circle. This a small group of people I trust completely (who). Here I share because I need help (why). I’m looking for feedback, support, and comfort. Perhaps I’m confessing because I need healing. I’m sharing things that I’m in the middle of (what).
The question shouldn’t be, “Should I be vulnerable or should I hold back?” The question is, “How can I do vulnerability well?” Vulnerability benefits everyone, when it is done thoughtfully and intentionally. Our vulnerability helps us feel connected to each other, validated in our experience and moves us from isolation to connection. In the words of Brene Brown, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”