The Stigma of Vulnerability and Why it Can be a Beautiful Thing

By Kayla Blanchard

If you have ever seen Lizzie McGuire, you know the animated version of Lizzie who performs Lizzie’s inner dialogue. The animated version of Lizzie is how the real life Lizzie wants to react to what is happening in real time. She’s the one who screams and runs across the screen when something bad happens. I think we all have our own Lizzies, and like many Lizzies, mine tends to run when I am faced with vulnerability.  

So here’s my story of how I stopped running from vulnerability and finally embraced the practice of being seen. 

On the first day of my junior year of college, I wrote in my journal, “I want to take what I have learned over the years and apply it to my life. I want to feel worthy again.” I was overcome by shame, anxiety, and fear. The past few years had been rocky and I was desperate for a change. 

So I did what I did best. I pulled up a TED Talk and tried to find a little inspiration for the new semester.  

With little belief that I would find anything life changing, I came across Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk. I can honestly say Brené Brown’s work changed my outlook on living wholly.

After watching the TED Talk, I immediately Googled “Vulnerability” and found this: “Vulnerability is the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are. It might be emotional, like admitting that you're in love with someone who might only like you as a friend, or it can be literal, like the vulnerability of a soccer goal that's unprotected by any defensive players.”

For the next few months I was fixated with  Brown’s work. I found that my take on vulnerability is when you are seen completely and fully for who you are. Vulnerability is when all your hidden struggles are out in the open for someone else to see and critique. It’s heavy, hot, uncomfortable and, scariest of all, unavoidable. 

The stigma with vulnerability is that it is portrayed as a weakness. Most people believe that being vulnerable is a call for help when one can no longer take care of oneself. Serious conditions include the belief that vulnerability is unacceptable or a form of egotism. We want to protect others and ourselves by keeping our struggles secret.

Being overly discreet is an acceptable but muted role that has formed in our society. In this century we are increasingly dependent and self–aware. As Brown states in her book, Daring Greatly, “we connect judgment with receiving help.” The idea of walking alone with our vulnerabilities is a heck of a lot more comfortable than sharing our struggles and being perceived as weak. There is a chance of withdrawal, judgment and loss of trust when sharing your story but the act of being discreet is the birthplace for disconnection. For many of us, disconnection is a form of protection. 

The problem with disconnection is that it leads us astray from our relationships. Brown believes that the opposite of disconnection, connection, is the link to all relationships and a wholehearted human experience. Connection is scary. It requires us to be fully seen and share the raw and ugly truth with someone else. But when it comes down to it, the first things you look for in someone else are their vulnerabilities. 

Although you are uncomfortable being vulnerable, you want to experience someone else’s vulnerabilities in order to feel less alone.

Oftentimes we hide our story with perfectionism, which is the most dangerous of all. We hide by having a perky personality, the hottest clothes, the best grades and tons of extra curricular activities. The practice of perfectionism leaves others on the outside wondering what it is like to be you. Being perfect does not make you beautiful or inviting, vulnerability does. Exposing your struggle to a friend is the core to connection and respect. Your story makes you human; your story makes you relatable. 

Being vulnerable is courageous. It’s scary and it’s a dive you don’t need to make every day. But when that person comes along that you want to connect with on a deep level, vulnerability is necessary. In Daring Greatly, Brown quotes author Margery Williams: “ Once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” This quote is the essence of true friendship. Choose to be vulnerable with those that matter, those that will be with you in the midst of your story and not try to fix you but simply sit there with you and say “this sucks but you’re okay.”

There is nothing more exhausting than walking around in fear, anxiety and pain. When something wrong happens to you, which something will, you will feel lonely and scared. Don’t allow yourself to sit alone when you need a hand. It will take some phenomenal courage to ask for help but it will be all the more worth it.

Not too long ago I experienced a heavy amount of vulnerability when I shared a secret with a close friend. In the moment, I was immersed in panic and fear. I had never been so uncomfortable and helpless in the face of someone I admired. But I knew I had to let myself be seen in order to rid the anxiety and get on with my day, heck, get on with my life.  

So what happened? My friend was there for me. She didn’t try to fix me or make me feel better. She was just there and listened. Not only is our friendship a lot stronger, but it’s also  a lot more real. My action encouraged her to be courageous, too. Another quote from Brown that I love is, “Vulnerability begets vulnerability.”

So what is vulnerability? It’s the feeling of your guts spilling out of your stomach. It’s when your own animated Lizzie starts running away. But it’s also the key to compassion, connection and worthiness. 

I will leave you with this: you have your own story and you get to decide what happens in the end.