June 23, 2017

Vulnerability and Authenticity—Partners in Your Inner Life

vulnerablemanMax seemed so perfect. When he would first meet a woman, he gave the impression of a truly accomplished, confident man. He had a “perfect life” – great job, nice car and house. He played a perfect golf game and he was good looking and in excellent shape. Why couldn’t he hold onto a relationship for more than a month? When he came to me as a client, he presented that same cocky Max he gave to the world, but pretty soon I realized he was living a lie.

He confided that even friendships seemed fleeting and insignificant in his life. He called relationships his “only failure.” In other words—he was telling himself the story that he was “perfect” except for this one minor glitch called… human attachment. (Many would argue that without human attachment, life is pretty meaningless.) Kudos to Max, though. He was tired of being lonely. He wanted to get help with developing—and maintaining—a serious relationship. I told him the big secret: “You’ll have to tell the truth.”

He spent so much time trying to convince the world (and himself) that he had no needs, fears, or vulnerabilities that he was lying to everyone. He was so anxious that no one would like him the way he was—with flaws—that he could not let anyone get close enough to find out the “truth” about him. He denied himself his own authenticity by not loving himself enough.

Both men and women fall victim to a fear of vulnerability. Men are often socialized to sweep any weaknesses under the rug… and as a result often seem arrogant and egotistical when in fact they are just masking their true vulnerabilities. Women are socialized to be perfect, non-complaining mothers-lovers-wives who live to serve, and even when you add a demanding career to the mix, they are supposed to handle it all without a crack in the marble… let alone a complaint. For many people, facing the reality of vulnerability, flaws, and fears is tantamount to “failure at life,” but the inauthenticity of that lifestyle is damaging in the extreme. Max, who was lonely and depressed, needed help.

So why is it so hard to be vulnerable? When we are young we understand that being vulnerable is part of being human. We cry when we get hurt, are hungry, or sad. We need and ask for reassurance and help when we are anxious or scared. We tell those we love that we love them—generously, with no expectation of something in return. When does that change? What happens? It all comes down to fear…

∗  that people won’t like our authentic flawed selves
∗  that we will be rejected
∗  of being judged harshly
∗  of others seeing our insecurities
∗  of losing control
∗  of being hurt or abandoned

Don’t let fear of your vulnerability prevent you from being real!

If you are one of the many people who struggle with showing your vulnerability, you may be fully aware of this fact about yourself and still unable to make the change. But in case you don’t know it, there are some very real and very life-affirming benefits to being vulnerable. For example:

√  You gain the ability to truly love and accept every part of you, the oh-so good, the not-so good, and the “gotta work on that.”
√  You can open yourself to being deeply loved, seen, and heard for who you truly are. (Even if our “inauthentic self” does find love…how long do you think that will last?)
√  You find you are able to love someone else fully and joyfully, without holding anything back.
√  You realize that even if love fails (this time), you have the freedom and power to be yourself.

Okay, so how do we learn to be honest with the people in your life… aka vulnerable? I’m not saying it’s easy. The messages we receive—from society, our own heads, our parents, partners, bosses—about how we have to be perfect, show no flaws, and stay calm and carry on. But here is a starter list for being vulnerable:

♦  Take a look at yourself. Honestly. Interestingly, most people find it easier to identify their flaws than their strengths… to themselves, though they project the opposite to the world. So when you take inventory of your qualities, be sure you acknowledge strengths and Caveat: accepting a weakness or flaw does not mean you can’t work on it. It just means you don’t hate yourself for it!
♦  Know that you are enough. Look in the mirror. That person, there, is enough.
♦  Face your fears. Dig down and find your courage. Whatever you are afraid of—say to yourself, “Yup, that scares me,” then do it anyway.

There is a lot on the line here. I don’t intend to oversimplify this concept—it is at the root of happiness, in my opinion, and not easily reduced to bullet points. But this is a start. The risks to your ego are balanced by the great rewards for the real you. You don’t want to miss out on the love, the connection, and the beautiful, rich life waiting for you to be vulnerable and open to receive them.

 

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