There are many ways in which a person can be vulnerable, but what does it mean for one to show their vulnerability? I had an experience today with a coworker who shared the story of the challenges they faced over the weekend. It was the sort of story that would normally make me want to offer advice and support, but the conversation was cut short because I got a phone call I had to take. Instead of returning to the conversation later, I got a text from my coworker apologizing for “over-sharing”.
People avoid situations that make them feel emotionally vulnerable because they are uncomfortable showing their vulnerability. The feeling of being emotionally vulnerable is similar to the feeling of being physically exposed. There is a protective layer between us and everybody else. And yes, it would not be advisable to expose yourself to a total stranger because trust does not exist in that relationship. Typically, we can only show our vulnerability to someone we trust. But, why is it that so many times we walk away feeling ashamed? Why did my coworker feel the need to apologize?
Building Trust With Others
As a recovering alcoholic, I have learned certain things about the manner in which I ‘protect’ myself now, versus the way I used to do it, and it is not unique to me. Those with alcohol addiction or any other type of addiction, tend to front a lot. I have heard it said many times that when in active addiction the addict was an ‘egomaniac with an inferiority complex’, and that they ‘felt all alone in a crowded room’. This was because the addict lived a fundamentally superficial life, ruled by immediate gratification, and driven by imbalanced levels of dopamine being released in the brain; a life that ultimately leads many addicts and alcoholics to a substantially lower standard over time, and in so doing all but eliminates the possibility of meaningful relationships in their lives.
Alcoholics and addicts also tend to hide a lot. Once they are far enough down the rabbit hole of addiction, the game changes from being about the next high to being about just getting well enough to function. Every observable part of their lives becomes a tricky facade requiring significant effort to maintain. Because it is so draining to keep up appearances, the addict or alcoholic naturally gravitates towards isolation. It is in this space that they forget how to derive strength from being vulnerable. Like any skill without practice, vulnerability must be exercised regularly for it to feel somewhat comfortable.
For the addict and alcoholic, showing up to a meeting or situation which requires additional vulnerability takes painstaking effort. It is often described as ‘running a marathon with a 100-pound backpack’. This is the reason why so many people opt to not seek treatment, though they know they need help. However, there are people who muster the courage and walk through the doors of treatment on their own volition. Recently, I was stunned by a woman who I spoke with before her first partial hospitalization program group. Prior to entering the group room, I told her I was proud of her. Her response was simply, “Thank you. I’m scared.”
Her example makes me believe that there is no excuse why our everyday interactions cannot be filled with meaning. There is also no reason why we should feel unworthy of that kind of connection. To all of you who have felt unsure about an interaction because it left you feeling exposed, I thank you for your courage. To all of you who have made a decision to dig your way out of addiction, I thank you for inspiring me every day to keep growing as a person; mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Lastly, to anyone who has yet to take these steps, there are many awaiting your arrival with open arms. All it takes is a little vulnerability to put that first foot forward. You can do it. You, too, are worthy of love and belonging.
One of my favorite leaders, Brené Brown, has dedicated her life to learning and sharing about vulnerability. Rather than paraphrase her unimpeachable discernments, I am sharing this video: