The courage in vulnerability
‘Sorry, I’m silly. I shouldn’t cry over this’
This is something we often say me when we become emotional in front of others. We become apologetic and embarrassed by our own emotions, which are evidently an expression of our inner turmoil. The tacit rule behind is almost always the same: if I show how I really feel now, this will be perceived as a reflection of my whole being, and people will reject me or use it against me.
We tend to feel vulnerable when we express sadness or reach out for help and we regard it as a reflection of our own vulnerability.
Paradoxically, seeing raw sadness in people makes us feel closer to them. It ignites our proactive side even more and empathy reaches high levels. Seeing vulnerability fuels our wish to connect to others.
So why are we prone to hide our vulnerability? I guess a more pertinent question is, what is so bad about being vulnerable? Unfortunately, vulnerability is seen as an undesirable version of weakness. But do we really lack strength when we show our vulnerability to others? I strongly believe this is not the case. I believe that letting people see our vulnerability is the ultimate manifestation of courage. It means, ‘I’m strong enough to show what I feel, even if it is not pretty. I allow you to come close to me and see the whole me, made of contradicting emotions and views’.
This is why I suggest that vulnerability be a synonym of courage. The courage to let people closer, the courage to ask for assistance and empathy. We are beings built to thrive in the company of others, we feed off connection. Therefore, showing a seemingly invincible side to ourselves takes all the colours off the picture. We only allow people to see what we want them to see: a black and white picture with very defined borders. We push others away and – as a consequence of that - we may come across as detached, cold and aloof to them. What we feared the most - being rejected by people - has become a self-fulfilled prophecy. This might reinforce our belief that we are unlovable and unlikeable.
Therapy is a safe space when we can learn to show our vulnerability, because what happens in sessions is often a magnified and concentrate version of what happens to us outside of the therapy room. This is why it is important that we build a trusting relationship with our therapist, as our therapist can show us that it is ok to be a multi-faceted person with flaws and strengths.
My humble advice is to let people see who you truly are: a complex person with different colours to their personality. We are not square or static; we are fluid and constantly changing.
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About Francesco Bernardi
Dr Francesco Bernardi is a counselling psychologist registered with the HCPC and BPS. He has a background in research in the field of neuropsychology, and extensive experience in working in mental health settings. He works collaboratively with his clients in order to help reach their goals. He has a specialisation in CBT.