Vulnerability is our capacity to be wounded, emotionally or physically.
Many of us believe that we must do whatever we can to avoid such suffering. In doing this, however, in staying ‘safe’, we may miss the discovery of our greatest strengths and invitations to actualize our potential.
Human nature is paradoxical. Our bodies are at once incredibly fragile and enduring. A body can recover from 13 rounds of chemotherapy or rupture unexpectedly because of a tiny clot in a blood vessel. We live surrounded by stories of human fragility and miraculous endurance. It is our work to find a way to stand in our beautiful contradiction.
I like to use the term “holding both.” Part of coming into wholeness as human beings is developing the capacity to hold what seem to be opposites, to develop beyond black and white thinking, to integrate the right and left hemispheres of our brains. To hold our vulnerability with as much respect as our capability is the beginning of a courageous life voyage that leads to growth. A teacher once defined for me the edge of growth as 50% safety and 50% risk. No deep change occurs without true vulnerability and acceptance, whether it’s changing your weight, your self esteem, your profession or your patterns in relationships. We must cross vulnerable thresholds time and time again in order to stay on our growing edge.
It is vulnerable to come into therapy. It is vulnerable to express yourself in relationships when you hold the fear that what you’re about to say could change everything. It is vulnerable to admit fault. It is vulnerable to not come in swinging when you feel angry or afraid. It is vulnerable to feel something that you don’t understand yet. It is vulnerable to let go of who everyone knows you to be so you can become who you know you’ve been all along, but were to afraid to express. It is vulnerable to reveal our wounds. It is vulnerable to fully accept our gifts. It is vulnerable to speak of what we hold shame around.
Yet, when human beings do any of the above, amazing life opening experiences tend to follow. I notice that the most powerful moments in cinema are when the character, whom the audience has developed an intimate understanding of, stands on the edge of speaking what they have not been able to speak. It is mesmerizing, and when the words come trembling through for the first time, its the edge of the cliff we all wish we had the courage to stand on. There is a universal human truth playing out. This is the moment that precedes freedom: the moment that precedes the truth that will set that character free. And we all feel it, physically and emotionally. It is a visceral knowing.
Bell hooks once said that what is most important is what is left unsaid. We must listen for what is left out. I hold therapy as the unique sacred space to begin the conversation with what has been left unsaid. John O’Donohue, the Irish poet and philosopher, defined therapy as a fierce conversation of vulnerable integrity.
There is a fearlessness in being with our most vulnerable selves and from this act real strength is born. We tend to go through life creating shields and armor to protect us from what we fear and cannot control, in others and in ourselves. Strength is coming into something new with defenses down, with the trust in ourselves to know that we will have the capacity to respond from our intuitive and knowing selves. And if we are wounded, we will know how to tend to the wounds.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh…