Defining Vulnerability

by Samantha on March 27, 2012

I have deep respect and admiration for Brene Brown. Not only does she research shame and vulnerability, and other “difficult subjects,” but she lives them, and she shares her own experiences to help other people learn and grow. Recently, I watched Brene’s latest TED talk on ‘Listening to shame.’ While the parts about shame were interesting, it was the introductory piece on vulnerability that really spoke to me. Brene points out one of the common misconceptions in our society: that vulnerability is weakness. She says that, in fact, it is quite the opposite, declaring that vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.

It is this juxtaposition of society’s definition and Brene’s (which I think is 100% true) that I have struggled with pretty much my whole life. I’ve always been a quiet person, coming out of my shell more and more as I got older. But, I’m still perfectly content to sit back and take things in. I like to observe and listen, but I do have a voice and I know how to use it. In fact, once you get to know me, I can be quite the blabbermouth. Get me talking about fashion trends or football, and you’re a goner. But, opening up and being vulnerable, putting myself out there and selling myself, is difficult and scary. When I was fresh out of college, I had a job interview with an especially outgoing interviewer with a strong personality. I was taken aback and lost some of my enthusiasm. As a result, I was quiet enough that the interviewer eventually asked if I was always this timid. I have never forgotten that moment, and have vowed never to be timid again. I hate that word…but, being a quiet observer is safe and comfortable for me, so it’s easier said than done.

The only place that I have been able to be truly vulnerable is this blog. I have always expressed myself better through the written word, and here I have found an incredible community of supporters and friends. Over the past few years, I have revealed some pretty personal stuff. I have dug deep and bared my soul. It feels good, and I love the responses that I get. But, I would be lying if I said that clicking publish still doesn’t scare the crap out of me sometimes. Thousands of questions scroll through my head, and I wonder if I’m a crazy person for writing about my personal life in such a public way. Writing these posts makes me feel very vulnerable and it definitely takes courage. The key for me is to translate that courage to my offline life. It’s something that I’m constantly working on, but it’s an uphill climb.

How do you define vulnerability? How do you get over the fear of putting yourself out there?

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  • Mehnaz

    I love Brene’s work. I was really struck by her first talk on vulnerability. I think to me, vulnerability is the ability to ask for help. I grew up in a household where you did things for yourself. Want a glass of water? Get up and get it yourself. So I never did learn to ask for help, and at times it has been detrimental, especially emotionally. So the process of becoming vulnerable has meant knowing when I need help, and then asking for it in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m incapable or weak.

    Great post!

  • Rebecca Thorman

    This was so timely for me, as you know. I was pretty terrified to start writing again. I got over it by just knowing that this was me 100% and that’s good. I think if you’re truly being yourself, it’s scary at first, but then feels soooo good. I agree, it’s much easier to do in writing than it is in real life! 

  • Kate

     I just read Brene’s book, “Gifts of Imperfection” and LOVED it.  She dives into all of that good stuff like shame and vulnerability and I have much respect for her because she took the time to do the research and she’s TALKING about it, telling everyone that it’s okay to be vulnerable.

    I also struggle with vulnerability, but it’s something I’m working on.  Blogging does help, to an extent.  One great thing that has really helped me is seeing a therapist and working through the things that, in the past, I have been afraid to talk about or own up to.  I’m really trying to be a little more vulnerable every day and learn how to BE OKAY WITH IT.  I also think it helps to know that other struggle with vulnerability just as much as I do.  Makes it…. less scary, ya know?

  • sameve

    Asking for help is definitely vulnerable, and I have a hard time with that as well. I think we’re all so worried about seeming weak when, really, needing help and messing up sometimes is human. Thanks for your perspective, M! 

  • sameve

    We are totally on the same page. I love what Brene has done with her work and her knowledge, and I agree that therapy is definitely helpful with being willing to be more vulnerable. I also think we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, fail, and see that we can get back up. That’s something I’m going to try and do more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! 

  • David Stehle

    I don’t believe it’s possible to ever get “comfortable” with vulnerability. But I do believe you can ease yourself into it. And a great way to start doing that is doing something everyday that scares you. Pushing publish on something that scares you.

    When you live and write from a place of vulnerability, it gives others the courage to do the same. And personally, I think that’s a beautiful thing. You don’t see that type of rawness and honesty these days…which is exactly why my new blog will center around this very theme – vulnerability.

    And of course it goes without saying, I LOVE BRENE BROWN!

  • sameve

    (Totally thought I responded to this already, sorry!) Doing something every day that scares you sounds cliche, but is actually really great advice. It’s something I need to push myself more to do. You make such a good point about showing other people it’s okay to be vulnerable. Love that, and can’t wait to see your new blog!  

  • Bob Oxley

    Hi Samantha – I ran across this entry of yours while doing a google search for Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability. It is somewhat dated, but I thought I would comment anyhoo.

    Vulnerability is scary as hell and crazy beautiful. And I am going to pursue it for all it is worth; even if I fail miserably at it. I am starting a community of people interested in learning how to do vulnerability together… talk about uncomfortable. But hey – I am going to show up and be seen. I want to say that it will be fun to see what will happen; but I would be lying. I am scared to death – go figure.

    2013 marks a venture into V365: a foray into 365 days of vulnerability, showing up to be seen at least once every day of the year a day. If you have any interest at all – feel free to check us out and join the conversation. Invitation to Fail

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