This word is attracting a lot of attention lately. And it’s earned it. By its presence, vulnerability has a unique potential to expedite deep connection and intimacy within your closest relationships. But just because you’re stripping yourself down and risking yourself by becoming vulnerable, doesn’t mean you’re practicing vulnerability in the way it’s earned its due respect. I believe I’ve got enough personal experience to base this conviction off of. I have explored venturing out into the territory of vulnerability. And overall, I have had enough good experiences of becoming vulnerable, to counter the painful experiences, to give vulnerability much respect. But at the same time, I’ve had enough painful experiences to teach me to avoid practicing vulnerability in a reckless or uncalculated way, albeit I’m continually learning as I go.
I’ve learned to practice calculated vulnerability. Even though I’ve experienced wounds after being vulnerable with people, or within certain contexts which were not suitable for me to do that in, it’s undeniably still worth it to me. The small but growing evidence of experiencing vulnerability’s dividends paying off are so rich and rewarding, that the wounds cannot override the rewards. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel the fear or am acutely aware of the risks, or it wouldn’t even BE vulnerability in action. I still feel the fear, yet I can do it anyway.
Vulnerability is a very rare and indispensable quality when a trusting connection is valued in a relationship. Even if the word is heard and talked about a lot, the actual embodiment of it is not commonplace, but there’s more to it than just becoming vulnerable for the sake of becoming vulnerable when bringing conscious awareness to it.
Conscious vulnerability comes from a place within, where there is enough inner strength and courage to take that calculated risk within a relationship, for the desired outcome of moving closer and feeling more connected. This is what makes it worth it. If it doesn’t go the way you want though, you will feel some pain, to varying degrees depending on the context. If you would not feel any pain, there is nothing to risk and therefore you are not being vulnerable.
Calculated vulnerability is not demanding that you relinquish your personal power. A conscious choice to make yourself vulnerable and take a risk with someone stems from your personal sense of power and courage. This is one reason I believe, many people avoid it, at least it was for me. When there is a void within, there’s no footing to provide the solid grounding to hold one up when the storms come. Like a tree with deep roots, the wind may blow hard, but it will not uproot it because of its deep, strong roots underground. Without being rooted in your own personal power, you are rooted in something else, perhaps subconscious fear, which likely will result in you feeling like a victim if it doesn’t go the way you want. Self-resentment is likely to ensue, as well as feeling resentful toward this other person for victimizing you.
I used to think people were weak for being so “needy” or when they seemed to have emotional pain and needs or longings. I see things differently now. Vulnerability takes great inner strength. Knowing, seeing, and accepting me and my human needs while surrounding myself with others who are pursing that for themselves and others, nurtures inner strength.
I have been vulnerable with others, not always from a conscious place that was rooted in my own personal power though, and I felt like I needed to control the outcome and the other’s response. It rarely went well, if ever. But when I am making the conscious choice to uncover a covered part of me and to bear my soul to another, while it still renders me feeling vulnerable towards being rejected in some way, I can do it with receptiveness to seeing how the other person receives me. I don’t take it as personally, even though I can still feel an initial sting, it isn’t so much about just me anymore.
Relationships involve taking risks. I am learning how to take calculated risks when I’m being consciously aware of two dynamics coupled with each other. The first is what I want for and in the relationship; my desires and longings. And second, what I’ve observed myself experiencing within the relationship thus far with said person. Meaning how much I trust and feel this is suitable to warrant taking this risk. Nothing is for certain but I am consciously calculating these two dynamics and self reflecting as I go.
I also have learned that I have a role to play in how this may turn out by how I approach the other person. How can I be honest and true to myself, while doing my best to set them up to get it right with me? If I am hurt or somehow put off by something the other person has done or left undone, do I approach this with harsh criticism, passive-aggressive jabs, or stonewalling (an extreme avoidance)? Or, do I approach this with opening up from a curious (giving the benefit of the doubt) and vulnerable position, sharing how I am struggling and feeling this out, while trying to more fully understand what’s going on. When I am afraid, angry, confused, and set off, it is very hard to come to the other person from a vulnerable place. My tendency has been to come out with either my boxing gloves on or to resentfully withdraw with my middle finger up, in an attempt to protect myself. Yet I am learning that is how intimacy is usually sabotaged, not protected and grown, in the inevitable midst of conflict.
Owning my power by being vulnerable, which is actually more emotionally honest and straight-up, I can then move forward and not fall back into wanting to either fight or shut-off. I am putting enough trust in myself to handle whatever comes and being ready for it, even if it stings for a little while. I don’t do this with all of my relationships to the same degree. No, I’ve learned I need to exercise discernment based on those two parts of the equation for calculated vulnerability to show up – 1) My desire for the relationship 2) How much I trust this other person and the capacity of the relationship to carry this, even if it gets messy. It’s a calculated risk.
Calculated vulnerability comes from a place of empowerment, not helplessness and it takes both courage AND wisdom.