We could all do with being more vulnerable. My daughters have taught me so much about being vulnerable and I’d like to share a story and ask: how can you be more vulnerable?
I collected my middle daughter from school yesterday and I could hear her playing a game with her favourite teachers. I heard them laughing as I wrangled the scooter and snack for my eldest. Something made my mummy senses tingle and I looked up to see my five year old - her eyes looking frantically for me, with a slightly odd grin on her face. This is her brave face. Her eyes met mine and she hurried out, crashed into my legs and started sobbing.
I held her tight as she cried and waited for her to be able to tell me what was going on. As is often the case, her tears weren't really about the situation that had triggered her disappointment (thinking the teacher was laughing at her) but about the fear of moving into the unknown of year one. She was safe and she was able to be vulnerable.
How do you hide your vulnerability?
This got me thinking about how we often hide our vulnerability as adults. I've been listening to Brené Brown's Dare to Lead book and she talks about armour.
"The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear. The real barrier to daring leadership is our armor—the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability."
As adults, we have layered up our armour under the guises of hustling, perfectionism, numbing, not letting ourselves feel joy (to name but a few) - because if we stop working, if we start feeling, if we allow ourselves to fail or celebrate - people will judge us, right?
How do you hide your vulnerability? (I don’t ask for help when I really should)
What if being more vulnerable was a superpower?
But what if being more vulnerable was a superpower and not a weakness? Being vulnerable is a part of being human, it’s hard and it feels scary. We avoid it because if we put ourselves out there we might fail, we might get hurt, we might let other people down (or we might succeed and berate ourselves for not doing it sooner!)
"How can you be brave if you don't put yourself out there? You can't. … Vulnerability is showing up without your armor.”
When we put on our armour we are trying to protect ourselves but over time, this ‘protection’ can grow heavy. We become weary in carrying it and long to put it down but the longer we wear it, the more we feel we need it. We start to believe that we aren’t enough without it.
There is a way to remove your armour
What if I told you there was a way to remove your armour? Brené writes
“…it appears that believing that we’re ‘enough’ is the way out of the armor—it gives us permission to take off the mask. With that sense of ‘enough’ comes an embrace of worthiness, boundaries, and engagement."
Self-worth vs hustling
Perhaps one of your armour pieces is hustling? By which I mean working all the time and never allowing yourself to rest? Or maybe subscribing to presenteeism in the workplace? The antidote to this is recognising that your worth is not related to the number of things you get done in a day. Instead measure your self-worth by who you are, your values. This way you incorporate your self-esteem and have that deep knowing that no matter what happens you are a 'good' person. Which incidentally I believe is true for (almost) everyone. Measuring in this way allows you to experience a more peaceful life, one with meaning and purpose.
Self-compassion vs perfectionism
If you find one of your pieces of armour is perfectionism, start with self-compassion. This involves being kind to yourself, recognising that you aren’t alone and acknowledging the guilt, shame, fear associated with the need to be perfect, without letting them overcome you. Accepting that you are enough is enough to start melting the perfectionism armour.
Acknowledging emotions vs numbing
Is numbing your go-to piece of armour? I definitely do this sometimes! I am mad at my other half and so I go and binge-watch TV or eat an entire bar of chocolate. I shut down and avoid the feelings. If you do something similar then I would recommend journaling or talk to someone about what’s going on. Let the feelings come and acknowledge them and then set boundaries to protect yourself rather than activities that stop you from feeling.
Practising gratitude vs foreboding joy
I love the story Brene gives around experiencing joy. She asks if you’ve ever looked at your child and thought you love them more than life itself and then instantly imagined something terrible happening? I have. In fact, 90% of us have. This is because joy leaves us vulnerable because we all know that happiness doesn’t last forever, right?! Our brains look for evidence to back up what we believe so if we believe that we can experience joy in the moment, we find the data...and if we don’t, we look for the data to back that up too! Practising gratitude helps us stay open to joy because we can find moments of happiness and joy every day, whether they are tiny moments of reflection or celebrating a new job or project milestone.
It's time to remove the armour and be more vulnerable
My daughter is developing her armour, she will need some of it, but I want her to keep her vulnerability, celebrate it even. I want her to choose a different kind of flexible armour that protects her - like boundaries, gratitude and choosing self-care. I want her to know that she defines her worth, not anyone else. I want this for you too.
It’s time to take off the armour and be more vulnerable - at home, at work, at all times.