I have spent much of my life learning that my greatest vulnerability is my greatest strength. I cannot overstate the value of this fact. Once you can accept and embrace it, your ability to be a force for good in the world will unfold in a staggeringly powerful way. You will discover that your ability to be more entirely present with others will improve exponentially. Additionally, much of your own pain will begin to fall away.
The definition of vulnerability is being â€œcapable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt.â€ You will notice that nowhere does it prescribe that one must be or will be hurt, only be capable of it. Vulnerability is too often equated with weakness. This deeply embedded misconception strongly discourages surrendering to it. This promotes physical and emotional armoring, fear-based decision making and defensive or hostile relationships with others and our environment.
Shielding ourselves from the feeling of emotional exposure is something that is both fed by fear and, simultaneously, feeds fear. Think about what happens when you are in a state of fear. Your mind feels confused and cloudy, and your vision literally and figuratively narrows, limiting your options. Clarity and equanimity disappear. Our body becomes more rigid and we find ourselves physically and mentally less flexible and adaptive to circumstances. Fear is never a place of strength.
If we can overcome our fears around being hurt and step into capacity to accept the possibility of being wounded, we can create a state of flexibility and resilience that is stronger, tougher and quicker to recover, than any shield we create by anxiety or dread.
One time a client was experiencing a great deal of deeply internalized stress that was manifesting externally in painful physical symptoms.
Sometimes I get these ideas in my head when Iâ€™m working. I call them â€œcosmic downloads,â€ because thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re like. Sometimes theyâ€™re straightforward and other times obviously metaphors. This time, I had a clear image of the scene from the original Star Wars movie where Obi Wan says to Darth Vader, â€œIf you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine.â€ In the end, he drops his guard and allows himself to be cut down. It was a great metaphor for the power of allowing oneself to be vulnerable. You may remember that, in essence, by being unguarded, Obi Wan defeats death.
Opening the heart and allowing oneself to be open to pain also allows one to be open to deep connection.
A friend was telling me about a problem she was having with her main support staff person. This support person was subtly disparaging and judgmental with her and was becoming hurtful. My friend wanted to keep her support person happy since her own work lives and dies at this womanâ€™s mercy. She asked me for advice.
I suggested that the next time it happened, she say, â€œI know you probably don’t realize this, but when you say things like that it hurts my feelings.â€ I knew that I was asking her to take an emotional risk with someone who is attempting to manipulate her, especially given the setting and relationship structure.
A couple of weeks later there was another occurrence, and my words came to my friendâ€™s mind. In desperation, she decided to try my suggestion. The employee grew very sad and told her that she had no idea she was being hurtful, she was very sorry and that she valued their relationship, and would be more considerate.
A couple of minutes later she came back and said that when she behaved in this way, it was really about her own pain, and she went on to share it briefly, candidly and appropriately. She said this was not something she had been able to explore much before and appreciated the opportunity.
When we surrender to our vulnerability, we give other people permission to be vulnerable, a state necessary for healing. We felt a softness and compassion in our heart for her as we were able to see her pain and understand how wounded she was. We witnessed the pain without an attempt to resolve, share or experience her trouble. Thatâ€™s the Healing Presence.