Vulnerability and Authenticity

In today’s modern world, we rarely get a chance to allow our truest, authentic selves to breathe. We are encouraged to be like someone else or we are lead to admire someone else more than our own amazing selves. Simultaneously, we live in an age where our online persona is just as important as our real life presence. Our lives are played out for the world to see and we can edit how people perceive our realities through selecting the best photographs and applying the most flattering filter. We tweak our selfies to fit the mould of the desired aesthetic and hope to win approval from others – mostly strangers. We hide behind these little, handheld screens which, as a result, give us a safe distance between us and everyone else. We write contemplated responses to heart felt pleas, delayed reactions to conversations whenever it is convenient for us to respond, and only offer the most flattering images of our lives.

All this we do mindlessly; day after day, after day…And then, when we are faced with real life situations, we shrink back through fear. We meet someone on one of the variety of dating apps on offer and become afraid of disappointing them, fearful that online conversations won’t translate into reality, and paranoid that our online presence will be viewed as a poor façade for our legitimate personality. Some of us fuck and chuck; terrified of any prolonged vulnerability but craving that closeness with someone else so that, for once, someone can see us for all we are…but we force them out so we don’t have to endure any further judgement. We grow evermore insecure within ourselves, scared to leave the house without our full selfie face on. Others of us portray an amazing, close-to-perfect life online but find it increasingly harder as time goes on to admit we’re struggling and we are unhappy.

Whilst I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, we all know there’s an element of truth in this. Perhaps we know someone who has lived it, is currently living it, or we have lived it ourselves. Sometimes we need to embrace the crappy parts of this modern life inasmuch as the good parts because, by working through the crap, we can start laying the foundations of something new. Farmers spread shit on their fields so things can grow, right? Let’s do some shit spreading, then, because it seems to me that we spend more time curating an image of ourselves than we do on connecting with our true, authentic self. We are obsessed with becoming someone, rather than being content with who we already are. All this does is lead to a disconnect with our true selves and a deep fear of being vulnerable – allowing people to see who we truly are in all our glory (not talking about sending nudes, here. Although I’m sure your birthday suit is just as fucking fabulous as you.) When we forego vulnerability, we lose our ability to act as our most authentic self, and we shine less brightly as a result.

Vulnerability and Shame

Being vulnerable is a daunting prospect in a time where we are constantly encouraged to strive to be someone else and live someone else’s life. We adopt the lies around us as our personal narrative and allow them to dictate that we should be more this or be less of that; perhaps try this socially acceptable career and stop wasting your time with your dreams, or don’t get married and instead save for a mortgage, or why are you saving to travel around the world when you should be saving for your future. All these voices, all these opinions, and all it does is feed our insecurities and make us ashamed of who we are.

Let’s pause there and talk a little bit about shame because, if we’re honest with ourselves, it can be the main driving force in our life and it really needn’t be. Way back when we were aged between 18 – 36 months, we learnt that we were separate entities from our parents; that we were our own people whose actions could evoke reactions. This gave us a new power and liberty in our young lives, but it was also a scary prospect. All of a sudden, we were starting to learn that not all of our actions had positive reactions in the world.

At this stage in our lives, love, acceptance, and belonging were crucial to our development. We needed the reassurance that our actions were understood but, above all, we needed to know our behaviour did not cause us to be unloved or unlovable. For some of us, this did not happen in our childhood. For others, it did, but personal traumatic events later on in life caused us to start doubting ourselves. When this happens, and when we are unable to logically understand why we do what we do, our shame only gathers momentum.

If shame was handled correctly by our primary care giver as a child, or by the influential people in our lives, we would have begun to understand that the ‘naughty’ behaviours we committed were unacceptable but we were still worthy of love and kindness. For example, we hurt the family pet and we were scolded. We felt that burning shame for a moment until our care giver explained why it was wrong and continued to reassure us that they still loved us (a hug, some kind words, etc.) It is through the explanation of why a behaviour was wrong that we felt guilt (which is an emotion which takes into consideration the feelings of others compared to an internal sense of shame) which lead us to develop empathy. Through these feelings of empathy, we were able to develop real connections with the individuals around us. We began to view our behaviour as a series of cause and effect, began to weigh up decisions in our minds of how we ought to act, which decisions brought the most positive results, and, overall, we acknowledged the capacity to act good as well as bad.

When this process is omitted from our experiences, our sense of shame only grows. This impacts our identity, understanding of self, our place in the world, the influence we have, and the development of positive relationships. We are left feeling that we are naughty, not our behaviour…or maybe you were labelled as something else? Either way, we seem to believe that, at our core, we are difficult to love. That we have little to offer. That everything we touch seems to fuck up. That we have to earn respect. That we have to earn adoration. That we have to earn kindness. We begin to feel worthless and we find it difficult to truly expose our true personalities…because, the last time we did, we were scolded and left to feel ashamed. We spend years and years building walls, keeping others at arms length, because if we allow ourselves to shine again the shame will return and that would be unbearable.

Liberation for the Real You

Whatever words were spoken to you, whatever you were made to believe, it can stop here. Listen…

You are worthy of being loved.

You are worthy to receive kindness.

You are worthy of being adored.

You are worthy.

You are worthy.

You are worthy.

Regardless of the things that have been spoken over you, or the thoughts that continue to dominate your mind, it doesn’t deny the spectacular being that you are right now, in this very moment, as your eyes read these words. A lie doesn’t extinguish the truth, it merely covers it up. And we are so quick to believe the lies, aren’t we? Or we are so quick to believe the bad behaviour of other people meant that we deserved it…

You didn’t deserve it.
You did not deserve to be treated like that.

Words and actions that other people inflict on us only have power if we give them power; in other words, if someone calls you a ‘stupid twat’ one random Monday, you’ll believe it for the rest of your life if you agree with it. Who says that what they say is true? Who says that how they acted was your deserved justice? You are allowed to disagree with people’s limited judgement of you. The same goes for major institutions that hold some kind of (sometimes unhealthy) influence over our lives.

The church who tells you that you’re nothing without god?
Nope. Reject.

The boss who constantly undermines your efforts day after day?
Nope. You’re badass already.

The partner who says that you’re too emotional?
Nope. You’re the perfect balance of you.

The parent that hurt you time and time again?
Nope. You never asked for that.

The bully that constantly undermined you?
Nope. They were battling demons that weren’t your fault.

In his book entitled The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz states that nothing anyone says (or does) to us in life is because of us; it’s a reflection of themselves. Hurt people, hurt people. The moment we agree with what they say, or we agree that their actions were warranted, is the moment those things have power over us and we allow them to cast a shadow over our light.

Time to make yourself shine brighter, honey. You’re better than all of that. Time to let your real self out of the closet. We’ve been waiting for you.

Your time to shine is now.

Vulnerability vs. a Life Less Vulnerable

When we’ve put up barriers around our true selves, when we spend our time trying to be someone else because we feel that the person we are is either too much or not enough, when we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we lose the ability to allow our authentic self emerge. We start being honest and up front with other people about how we feel, about what we like and don’t like, about what boundaries we have. We stop trying to please others and we learn to please ourselves. There’s nothing more liberating that living a life that is more true to the real you. We’ve spent too much time and energy into the self that we have curated at the orders of society, or because we have accepted the judgements of others, or because of the hurts that we have endured. Our true self is hidden under all these layers and is starved of light to blossom, bloom, and flourish.

Rebecca Campbell, in her book Light Is The New Black, she admits “the more layers I shed, more liberated I felt. The more of my authentic self I revealed, the more effortless work became because I was able to show up completely as me. Instead of fitting into a mould, I let myself overspill and expand.”

No doubt the same will be true for you as you start to tear down the wall to allow yourself to truly shine. Allow yourself to emerge. Allow that big, bright light inside you to blind people. It’s not too much because, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we learn more about who we are and what truly makes us tick. We start spending more time with who we truly are instead of this false image. We start uncovering the things we have done and why we did them. We begin to forgive ourselves for the hurts that we have caused, and we can start to forgive others for the hurts they have caused us. We discover the depths of our soul where our deepest wisdom lies, where our greatest gifts lay dormant. And when we flourish, the whole world begins to blossom into colour. A change on the inside causes the world to change on the outside.

When we start being honest with others, we stop hiding behind our big wall that we may have spent years building. Bring it down, darling, because while you were busy manning the fort to keep other out, you also shut yourself off from life itself. Open up the gates and let life flood in. Or maybe you need to take it moment by moment, brick by brick. First to the people we trust and then maybe a few others…but start the process. When we have our defences up constantly, we can miss out on meaningful connections with people and the opportunity to establish deep relationships. Our experiences have taught us to be defensive and not to reveal ourselves but, as humans, we are hard-wired for connection; for relationships based on empathic understanding of each other on subtle levels. This strengthens community and, back in our cave dwelling days, this was key to our survival.

It’s still true. No man, woman, or otherwise, is an island. When we start removing our defensive wall, we stop giving out defensive reactions. We start asking questions and stop making assumptions. We pave the way for a deeper understanding of others around us and begin to forge genuine connections with others. When someone asks how you are, answer honestly instead of the ‘Fine, you?’ And then watch them respond in the same manner. Vulnerability encourages vulnerability; authenticity sparks authenticity. By allowing ourselves to be fully open with who we are, we invite others to do the same. This process of honesty allows us to delve into new levels of trust and invite others to share this with us. Withhold judgement, seek understanding, and you begin to create a new compassion for the world.

Many of us have dreams, hidden deep within the core of who we are, of what we would like to do with our lives. Those dreams are attached to our authentic selves and were probably forged at a very young age when we were discovering the world and unapologetically awakened our interests and passions. What happened to those dreams? Did you bury them with your true self? Let them out, love. By not allowing ourselves to pursue our heart’s desires, we miss out on life changing opportunities. The talents that lie dormant in us are waiting to be discovered outside our comfort zone. We’re scared of putting ourselves out there, literally, because we fear ridicule. We let life happen to us instead of recognising that we are the authors of our destiny. We feel trapped and supressed because we don’t allow ourselves to thrive and we have only touched the perimeters of what we are capable of.

If you don’t put yourself out there, no one will see how bright you can shine. The greatest adventures are outside your comfort zone and deep within the realm of fear. Go to the audition. Attend the class. Reach out to that co-worker for a mate date. Message an old friend on Facebook you had a bitter fall out with. Just do it! You don’t need permission from anyone but yourself. By doing this, you can discover the hidden gems of our soul. You have nothing to be scared of.

‘What will other people think?’ you ask? Fuck them. People who pass judgement are only reflecting the callousness of their own heart and sometimes you just need to let others stew in their own negativity. There is a whole new freedom awaiting you if you just allow yourself to fully go for it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Through doing so, you will discover strengths you never knew you had, talents that you always wanted, and you begin to trust yourself more and more. If you can do it once, you can do it again…and again…and again. Learn to pick up the pen and author your own life. Don’t wait for it to happen to you…make it happen for yourself!

Feelings of Vulnerability

Of course, being vulnerable and living in our most authentic state means that we will probably encounter a lot of emotions we have suppressed, or we start to experience things that cause us to feel a whole array of things that we would rather avoid. You may feel rejection when you put yourself out there, you may experience anger when someone rejects your opinion, you may feel discomfort when you reach outside your comfort zone…but you have spent so long trying to isolate the negative emotions that you didn’t realise you were shutting yourself off from the positive ones, too. We start to feel afraid of being joyful because we’re expecting things to come crumbling down again. We are hesitant of sharing our achievements because we feel we don’t deserve them.

Emotions – all emotions – are a natural part of the human condition. Unfortunately, you can’t isolate the negative ones without effecting the positive ones, too. As John Steinbeck mused in his book Travels with Charley, “for how can one know colour in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”

Or we may not want to be vulnerable with life because we are fearful of making mistakes. We may not want to admit how we are truly feeling because it will cause an argument. Or we may not want to say to that person how much they mean to us because we may get rejected. We play it safe and remain within our comfort zone and don’t allow ourselves to make those mistakes that evoke those emotions…but making mistakes allow us to learn, to grow, and to create a better day tomorrow. As Oscar Wilde stated in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “as for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.”

Being vulnerable means being vulnerable to life itself. Yes, it will be painful at times. You will cry. You will feel afraid. You will feel betrayed and sad. But these are all part of the human experience. One of my favourite quotes is by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love. When struggling with the feeling of loneliness, she states “when I get lonely these days, I think: ‘so be lonely…Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.’” I always remember this quote when those negative emotions come flowing, whether its loneliness, betrayal, heart break, etc…

By allowing an exploration of these emotions, you learn how you cope with them. And by learning how you cope with them, you will be able to comfort yourself. Some of us cope in negative ways…learn this too and adopt healthier habits. Indeed, make a map of it. Negative emotions will come to us time and time again; learn how it feels so that the next time you face it, you can greet it like an old friend and be comforted by the fact that it all makes you stronger.

We are a generation living under the weight of fear that the mask will drop and someone will catch a glimpse of the real us…But the authentic you is something that you should never be ashamed of because you are a wonder to behold. You are here, at this time, to flourish and grow. You inspire the world simply by being yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable because you have nothing to hide. The world desperately needs people, now more than ever, to be more in touch with themselves and to be their most authentic self. We need you to be you. Supressed selves need to be set free.

When we take the step in to vulnerability, we are the people who say ‘I love you’ first. We are the ones who offer an apology despite the sacrifice of pride. We live and learn and grow. We stop looking upon things as regrets and start to understand them as lessons. We open our arms to someone who needs a hug. We say the things that need to be said to build people up. We speak kindness over the people who are hardest to love because we understand that we were once them and we needed those words to give us life. We follow our passions and dreams because it lights us up and brings us closer to our true self. We create a better tomorrow by being fully present in ourselves. We become bold in ourselves. And we invite others to do the same.

In allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we open up new paths that we would have never thought we’d ever walk down. Outside your comfort zone, deep within the realm of fear, is where your adventure begins.

NB: For those who would like to know more about vulnerability, take a look at Brené Brown’s TED talk entitled ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ below.
Grab a brew and learn how to be wonderfully you in this world.

Suggested Reading

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Light Is The New Black – Rebecca Campbell

The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz

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