Embracing Vulnerability: What You Cannot Reveal, You Cannot Heal

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Article by: Steve Muthusi

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When was the last time you did something for the first time? Be deliberate on learning a new skill, or identify something you are really bad at, and improve on it.

Botshelo, born and raised in the sprawling hills of Ede, was an adventurous boy who loved his childhood games. One game stuck defyingly during his adolescence. It involved a hand-made three-wheeled wooden play cart that he would sit on, and ride down the winding paths of Ede hill.

His father complained of the rides because his son’s clothes, especially the sitting area of his shorts, eventually wore out leaving gaping holes. Botshelo, being the boy he was, still managed to sneak out and secretly have a thrilling 'ride' downhill.

On one such day, however, trouble came for the defiant boy. The front wheel of his play cart slid on loose soil, bringing his ‘cruise car’ to a sudden halt. Newton’s laws of inertia took over, thrusting the boy forward forcefully. A protruding nail tore into his shorts and flesh in his rear side as he flew over and rolled on the dusty path. Botshelo let out a tamed scream, just so his parents wouldn't hear, but his butt hurt, and that was impossible to tame!

His father wasn’t supposed to know, as the boy was guilty of breaking a rule. His mother wasn’t going to hear of it, either, because Botshelo was ashamed of showing his naked injured part. But soon, his mother noticed that the boy walked a little different; a pained walk. Mothers are always good at knowing when their children are keeping things to themselves. And so, she made him some nice Mogatla oxtail stew, and they had a mother-son conversation…a connection that brought healing!

What you cannot reveal, you cannot heal

Guilt and shame make us cover up things until they start to blow up, then we break down. The antidote to this state is embracing vulnerability, that is, first, the COURAGE to be imperfect, which is the ability to own and tell one's story with their whole heart.

It is the understanding that what one is afraid to reveal, one cannot heal. The second antidote is the compassion to be kind to oneself first, then to others, and third, the ability to let go of who one thought they were expected to be, in order to deeply connect with who they authentically are. It is the realisation that WHAT MAKES YOU VULNERABLE, MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL!

After decades of research in the areas of courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, Brené Brown writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

By definition, Brené Brown conceptualises vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and/or emotional exposure”. Vulnerability is about the only way we can put our talents out there and with them, serve the world, even at the risk of being judged as not good enough. It is about the only way we can start a business venture, trading a product or a service, at the risk of not breaking even. Vulnerability is about the only way we can express our love to another, even when reciprocation is not guaranteed. It is vulnerability, that ensures we don’t need to wait to be perfect in order to do a thing that we are passionate about. This same vulnerability allows us to open past wounds, let in healing, and ensures that in the future, we suffer not the pains of regret for we were afraid to try.

Without experiencing vulnerability, we can never explore all possibilities, and we can never express our highest, authentic, powerful selves. We can never taste the full spectrum of all human experiences. Vulnerability allows us to expand the horizons of what’s possible, break real or imagined barriers, and challenge views that may be based on nothing other than past conditioning. As Stephen Russell would put it,

Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty.

Flexing the vulnerability muscle

The vulnerability muscle is the least flexed, yet it is the most needed to push through limits, and maximise human potential in relationships or in the marketplace. Vulnerability is the pathway to all that is possible, helping us dare the new and deepen the familiar. It is the fueling factor when one leaves a job that doesn’t satisfy them, to venture into a new one they are passionate about. The very fence of certainty we like to surround ourselves with so that we are not emotionally, socially, or financially vulnerable, keeps us away from the joys of succeeding at any given undertaking or trying out something that we are not familiar with. The good news, however, is that one can exercise vulnerability, and by so doing, one is able to connect deeply with oneself and others.

Also read: I Trust the Unchanging In the Changing: My Little Birthday Essay

Simple ways you can flex your vulnerability muscles

i) Attempt new feats: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Be deliberate on learning a new skill, or identify something you are really bad at, and improve on it. Find something that scares you, then dare it. Learning new things, especially as adults, exposes us to the beautiful feelings of vulnerability. Asking for help to learn a new thing or improve an area you are poor at or daring a scary thing is an exercise of vulnerable courage.

ii) Sell something: By default, we are all marketers. And whether it is you selling yourself to a suitor or an employer, we all feel vulnerable when we have to be evaluated as fitting for a relationship or a job. So, why not go on a limb; decide to sell something. Ask yourself, what do I have to offer? and then go out there and be you. Sell it, even if it is socks or cassava!

iii) Share your creative work: Whether it is a piece of art you are working on, some dance moves you are attempting, the piano piece you are learning to play, a poem you just wrote and committed to memory for a recital or a song you have recorded; share your creative works! This exposes you to judgment, and when you learn to do it, you are exercising your ability to take criticism, and not let the possibility of it stop you.

iv) Ask your crush out: One thing that scares everyone is rejection, or simply being told no. And so a majority of us wait until they are certain of a yes, or try to work so hard so that they are accepted. Go on and limp if that's what it takes, but express yourself to your crush and ask them out. And don’t let the answer 'no' crush you. You will have done a courageous thing, and that is enough.

v) Be honest about how you feel: If you are frustrated, say you are. If you are afraid, say you are. If you are offended, say you are. If you are sorry, say you are. If you are grateful, say you are. The result is a deeper and more meaningful connection with self first, and then others.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is allowing yourself to explore all that is possible. It is having the courage to show up and be seen even when the outcomes are not in your control. It is understanding the necessity of both victory and defeat. With purposeful clarity, cultivate the willingness to own and engage with the things in your life that make you feel vulnerable. The extent to which you protect yourself from vulnerability is the extent to which you sink into fear, discontentment, and disconnection. These throw you into a pit of negative emotions which may summon other related negative emotions. They support neither your personal growth nor your professional development.


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