How Your Fear of Being Vulnerable Holds You Back

Embrace honor and vulnerability to find our way back to ourselves

ur basic humanity emanates from vulnerability. It is a state of being that surrenders to our emotional depth, our inherent fragility, and all the insecurities and fears ignited by the unknown. Embodying vulnerability means connecting to the raw authentic capacity to open up to the possibility of being hurt. Alternatively, it can also open us up to a wealth of abundance.

Vulnerability guru Dr. Brene Brown wrote, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Indeed, being fully present and unassuming requires tremendous strength of spirit. It takes great humility to stand in the truth of our vulnerability. It also takes great endurance, as it is our vulnerability which alerts us to sundry threats that could incur pain.

From a survival stance, avoiding that which augers the possibility of pain seems to be a prudent choice. The drawback is that staying ensconced in safety thwarts growth and actualization. This is a challenging dilemma to navigate. In order to evolve, we need to endure the often scary emotional breadth of vulnerability that accompanies change.

If we are brave pain can inspire change. However, the inner saboteur shuns change and its accompanying fears, risks, and adjustments.

The inner saboteur shields us from the pain that prompts change and the growth-inducing pain that occurs when change happens.

Author and spiritual educator Carolyn Myss describes the saboteur archetype as that which, “helps you learn the many ways in which you undermine yourself.”

The sundry ways in which we prevent ourselves from dropping into our power and actualizing what we desire is largely rooted in how the inner saboteur interferes with engaging with vulnerability. To dismantle this trend we are challenged to define what we are afraid to feel and confront.

By knowing what is feared we can relate to the saboteur in a constructive way and work towards curtailing the impulse to avoid while encouraging the impulse to meet that which is feared. This requires a willingness to connect to our vulnerability.

Photo by Vadim Fomenok on Unsplash

Recalling an example from my personal history takes me back to my formative years when I was a selective mute. Systemic traumas in my family of origin catapulted me into shock and hampered socialization. Hence, finding my voice was fraught with complex difficulties.

An inviolate part of me wanted to speak publicly from a deeply impactful and meaningful place. Acting offered me that platform, albeit I was horribly stage fright.

The pull of hope and the push of despair inspired me to face my vulnerability with performance. Although I was scared of the possible humiliation and being a failure, I was more afraid of being silent and creatively barren.

My struggles with performance and public speaking spanned decades of work that involved grassroots theater, acting classes, and podcasts. I even developed a therapeutic theatre event for at-risk women and girls. Each hurdle was mired in anxiety and vulnerability, to the point where I sometimes felt it was too lofty and too emotionally depleting to persevere with these endeavors. Periodically stepping back and recalibrating in the sterility and comfort of safety was critical with my staying the course.

As a trauma therapist, I work with many folks who experience vulnerability as antithetical to maintaining stability. The armor of psychological defenses protects the self but blocks the life force. Repressing the raw intensity of emotional need severs one's connection to the power of vulnerability. It’s safer to be ‘neutral’ or even numb when vulnerability is coupled with humiliation and abuse.

One of my long term clients desires many things in life, that he realistically has the aptitude to fulfill. Yet he keeps himself small, cloistered, and concealed so as to not be hurt. There’s nothing more he loathes than seeming weak and fragile. Those tender parts of him that are actually the source of his resilience and vast creativity, were subject to brutality growing up. Like many people, he learned to disown those parts associated with incurring harm. In many ways, reclaiming his birthright to be vulnerable is his life’s mission.

This personal struggle is further exacerbated by the cultural rejection of vulnerability. Signs of weakness and fragility are subject to condemnation. Power and status are the relevant markers for what is valued and esteemed. This causes people to stigmatize and alienate those who are emotionally naked. Rather than seeing the strength in risking exposure, it is predominantly viewed with contempt.

What we fear in ourselves we repudiate in others. A collective fear of vulnerability injures all of us.

As Psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck said, “there can be no vulnerability without risk, there can be no community without vulnerability, there can be no peace, and ultimately no life without community.”

Pecks' words advise us to take heed of a collective saboteur that interferes with compassionately healing our cultural wounds, that keep us lonely, stagnant, and divided. It is through learning to embrace and honor our vulnerability that we can find our way back not only to ourselves but also to each other.

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