“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
– Brené Brown – Daring Greatly
I’ve been at this gig of counseling and coaching for a few years now, and what I know for sure is that there isn’t one tried-and-true method, intervention, change or action that promotes growth. It’s more complex than a one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s really very simple.
I have seen this concept paralyze a conversation between a couple. I have heard it fill a phone session with heavy silence.
I have also seen those who embrace vulnerability and how that can fill a chasm with forgiveness, understanding, clarity and deep, unconditional love.
This Valentine’s weekend, some of us collectively celebrate and step into vulnerability by communicating our love, affection or positive regard for another person (or several people if you share the day with your friends, parents, cousins, grandkids, etc.).
There’s the vulnerability of a young man or woman falling in love and offering words, a gift or flowers to the object of their affection. They want to be seen and known by that person and share a connection.
There’s the vulnerability of a long-time couple who decide to participate in this “silly” holiday and end up at a Taco Bell because every place is jammed with couples that night (you really got to make a rez, people — even for White Castle).
They could go to an emotional place of blaming one another for lack of planning and drift into eye-rolling and resentment, but instead, they lean into their love and history so they end the night laughing and exchanging stories and memories. And they’ll also remember the Taco Bell Valentine’s Day as one of their more transcendent observations of the holiday.
And what if you’re alone this Valentine’s Day? First, I don’t ever really think we’re alone; however, some of us may be unattached in terms of a significant other. Some would say that’s feeling the most vulnerable of all — alone in a sea of red and pink hearts and balloons and prix fixe dinner-for-two menus.
I think the vulnerability we have with ourselves is our most significant work in the world. Even those of us in committed relationships must know this; I think it’s really difficult to be vulnerable (in the best sense of that word) with another person if we’re not able to do that with ourselves.
What does that look like?
- True vulnerability is not a weakness; it’s about really knowing yourself, and knowing that your journey is ever-evolving.
- It means you can recognize truth and be honest with yourself — not brutal and unforgiving.
- It’s being open to the world and what’s possible for you versus hiding out and worrying what people will think if you are authentic.
- There is vulnerability in caring for and accepting your body instead of shaming yourself, because you choose to believe what’s possible for your health and well-being and work towards it.
- It’s knowing what you want and making it happen. It’s being open to what comes with that: the joyful stuff, the painful experiences, the habits that get you where you’re going even if you get bored sometimes.
There are people, I’m sure, who will read this and feel that being vulnerable in life has only gotten them a shit sandwich. Maybe there’s a history of pain that stems from showing up in the world or for someone else and you weren’t seen, heard or understood. How does one cope with that?
- Be present. Be here now. Acknowledge the wisdom of what you’ve learned. Experience what’s happening in your life right now instead of believing you’re shackled by past hurts or that the future only holds fear and emptiness. It begins and ends with gratitude.
- Let go of who you or someone else thinks you should be and just be yourself. When you feel yourself hiding or pleasing, pay attention and gently ask yourself if that’s who you are and where you want to be going.
- Do it. Whatever it is. Even if you’re not sure you’ll be successful. Or reciprocated. Or that you’ll get a flat out rejection. I’m proud of what my loving risks have brought into my life (or kept out of my life, as in the case of flowers I sort of anonymously sent 20 years ago to a guy in my English class in college; if he had reciprocated my affections, I wouldn’t be with my main squeeze of 17 years — see?).
- And hey, my sister perfectionists? I see you. I know another member of the Achievement Club when I see her — you guys hire me a lot! Lean in. I am here to give your permission to let go of striving for perfection before you open yourself up. I know from personal experience that that’s where the good stuff is anyway.
In the spirit of vulnerability — with myself and with my readers, I am sharing something with you in this post that abides by every bit of what I’ve offered to you with my words.
In October 2013, I went on a trip to Paris, France with my mastermind group and our mentor. We were also accompanied by an incredibly talented photographer, Carson Jones. She is a gift far beyond the images she creates. Each woman in our group spent an hour alone with Carson in Tonya’s rented apartment for our Underpinnings session (aka boudoir photography).
Talk about vulnerability. The images I am sharing with you are very PG (at least I think so, because I have a whole bunch of naked shots you’re not seeing — I’m not that vulnerable yet : ) and I think they show a couple of things:
- My body language, serene countenance and smile spell out the truth about the genuine vulnerability between Carson and myself. There’s was openness, trust, laughter, appreciation and respect. I knew she was taking care of me in terms of honoring who I am and capturing my spirit in her art.
- I treasure these photos. And not because I told my husband that when I die after I’m 100, that he has to display life size prints of these at my wake so people can say “day-um.” It feels good to look beautiful (and I’m not completely joking about the display part), but I treasure these because I was present, open and loving towards who I was that very day. I embraced the experience exactly where I was with my body and my mind.
I know I was supposed to write this post today with these very photos because I have been struggling with my own vulnerability lately. Not feeling as good about my body this winter. Eating too much of things I know don’t leave me feeling good physically. And I’m about 10 lbs. up from how I look in these photos. But I’m so much more than a number, and so are you.
I’m willing to be vulnerable — to envision and create what I want with my health and well-being while loving myself right in this moment. And I want that for me and not what someone else or another entity tells me I need to look like. There’s a quote I love:
This is my commitment: to live up to the spirit that is within me.
Those photos aren’t really about a woman in a camisole and red shoes. They’re about her spirit. And that’s the essence of vulnerability.