“Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability”
I love this quote from Brene Brown from her fantastic new book “Dare to lead”.
Vulnerability is often misunderstood. From a young age we are taught that vulnerability is a weakness. We believe that we have to hide away any sign of weakness in order to fit in and to feel that we belong. This can lead to the suppression of emotions that need to be expressed, resulting in a deeper feeling of anxiety, depression or other mental health related issues later on in life.
In my own life I felt deep shame around who I was resulting from experiencing deep levels of trauma as a child. I didn’t want anyone to see how badly I was feeling inside. I put on lots of masks to appear confident and to pretend that I was ok, when in reality I felt like I was falling apart.
Interestingly now, the parts of me I was ashamed for anyone to see back then are the things that I now talk about very publicly, on stage and in a book that I have just completed.
So what has made the difference between absolute fear and dread of anyone seeing those parts of me I was ashamed of and now sharing them in public? By opening up to other people and allowing myself to be vulnerable I have step-by-step accepted all those rejected parts of myself and have developed compassion for myself.
However, and in line with the subject of this blog, I also along the way opened up to the ‘wrong’ people. There were those people who told me I had to just get on with life, to forget the past, that I was just stuck in my story. Turns out I had undiagnosed PTSD for many years which explained why I couldn’t just move on with my life, as hard as I tried to do so. And I had beaten myself up with the unhelpful comments some people had made to me along the way.
Vulnerability is not a sympathy-seeking tool. Sharing just to share, without understanding your role, recognising your professional boundaries and getting clear on your intentions and expectations, Brene says, is just propelled by hidden needs.
And so I completely agree with Brene Brown. It is so important that when we have the courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable that a) we are sharing our vulnerability with a trusted source and b) we are sharing only what we feel is productive and appropriate to do so. We have to create clear and strong boundaries around who and what we choose to share.
I now accept that vulnerability (with boundaries) is one of my greatest strengths.