Sometimes vulnerability makes me squirm—particularly in my closest relationships and when the stakes are highest.
This is ironic, considering that as an author, vulnerability is sort of my jam. Readers who’ve read my very personal memoir have shared their appreciation for my openness and transparency. I poured my heart and soul into that book, as I often do while writing. On the page, it’s easy to be my full and whole self. When I’m writing, it’s just me and my MacBook and God, who seems to nod along and make space for whatever emotions need expression, whichever situations require words to understand. Writing for me is private … at least until I press the “send” button and catapult words into the world.
The Challenge of Vulnerability
When I write, I can come across as a vulnerability master … which my husband finds slightly amusing. At home, the scars from my infancy trauma play a role in the defenses I put up. With my closest loved ones, it’s easy for me to talk logistics, chat about the day’s events, or lay out criticism, but harder for me to speak about feeling scared, sad, or lonely. My brain decided at a preverbal age that I should be in charge and in control. Sharing vulnerable emotions challenges that narrative and I fear overexposure—particularly at home.
Something tells me I’m not alone in this. From the looks of my Instagram feed, a lot of people come across as fearless when it comes to public vulnerability. On social media, vulnerability abounds, with people sharing intimate details about their depression, weight, mastectomies, eating disorders, therapy, cancer, and more. But I wonder how many of us who share vulnerably in public are struggling to practice the art of vulnerability closer to home? Are any of these people like me, sometimes more comfortable sharing one-way to anonymous faces than with loved ones they see every day?
Brené Brown inspired a much-needed trend after her wildly successful 2010 TEDx Houston talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Her research seemed to liberate our culture, empowering many of us to embrace vulnerability and express our inner selves. Since her talk over a decade ago, vulnerability has gone mainstream.
In so many ways, this is a wonderful thing. We’re emotionally healthier when we’re expressing our inner selves. Sharing vulnerably helps to normalize dynamics that have long been private and wrapped in shame. We need vulnerability for spiritual health, too. It takes vulnerability to hope and to pray. It takes vulnerability to repent. For those, like me, most comfortable at the helm, it takes vulnerability to turn to God.
Boundaries in Vulnerability
While vulnerability is so widely embraced, what most people aren’t talking about is that vulnerability isn’t for everyone. By that I mean our vulnerability isn’t always meant for mass consumption. Sharing too vulnerably, too widely, and too much can be problematic—opening us up to bullying in the form of nasty comments, tempting us to overshare in order to amass followers, and making it difficult to discern and hold boundaries with what should remain private. What’s more, too much public vulnerability can leave us feeling empty. Deep down, we all have a desire to be seen, but it’s not satiating when we’re seen by strangers who don’t reciprocate or take care of us—and may not even remember us next month.
This isn’t to say that sharing vulnerably in public is all wrong. But it’s important to remember its core purpose. Vulnerability leads to intimacy, and it’s not feasible (or desirable) to be intimate with thousands. Vulnerability is designed to connect us not only to God, but also to the loved ones God has placed in our lives. It’s like honey in a relationship, sticking us together with its sweetness, setting us up to meaningfully know another on a deep level and feel truly known in return. In that way, vulnerability leads to love. Being fully and completely known is the only way to believe we’re fully loved.
Because I’m not a vulnerability master on the home front, there’s not a lot more I can say about it. In fact, it’s probably best that I stop writing right now to join my husband on the back patio—to put as much effort into sharing my inner world with him as I do crafting my thoughts quietly on my computer. For me, vulnerability doesn’t always begin at home, but home is where vulnerability has the biggest need for practice, and the most potential to bloom.