For the longest time, I had the misconception that I was a vulnerable person. Why? Because I was willing to be “open” to experiences I had but unwilling to invite people into my struggles… that is until I had fully processed them.
The value of vulnerability was thrust into the spotlight when Brené Brown gave her Ted Talk in 2010. You can tell she struck a nerve given the fact that the video has been viewed to date over 27 million times since then.
Clearly, people are hungry for intimacy and are logically beginning to understand that you need vulnerability to meet the desire your heart is searching for.
That said, there seems to be a common problem. Even though vulnerability sounds good, I’ve found most people are running around being transparent but are unwilling to risk vulnerability. At their core, they believe they are being vulnerable, but still feel a longing to be known and understood.
Where does this longing come from? It originates from the reality of a warped perception that the way they are living is vulnerable when in fact it’s transparent. Thanks to Brené we now know that vulnerability is key, not transparency.
So the question is: What’s the difference and why does it matter…??
Let’s start with the definitions. They will give us a great foundation to build on.
Vulnerable: Susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. In need of attention, support, or protection because of age, disability, risk of abuse, or neglect.
Transparent: Free from pretense or deceit. Having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived.
When you look at the definitions, you’ll see some pretty glaring differences:
Vulnerability requires you to invite people into the moments you need help, feel insecure, shame, or don’t “have it all together.” It requires a significantly higher level of trust in the person you invite into your process. In essence, it means you have to lower your walls of defense and invite people into areas you feel weak.
With transparency, on the other hand, you can still have your guard up, but not hold back what you’re feeling in that moment. You are expressing your emotions, but you’re not letting people have an impact on your heart.
Ways to identify if you’re hiding within transparency:
1. You are willing to tell people about experiences in your past whether it was yesterday or 10 years ago.
For example, you say things like, “last week was horrible…! I was depressed and didn’t want to get out of bed” or “this morning was rough, but I’m doing much better now.”
This showed up in my previous marriage with pornography more than anything. It was always “I’m so sorry babe, I looked at porn last night… but I realized why I did it and it won’t happen again”. I was being honest with her, but not vulnerable.
Vulnerability would have been to invite her into the emotions I was feeling the night before and let her see my insecurities/pain/fears real-time.
2. If 90% of your process is just ‘you and God’, (and please try not to hear anything more than what I’m saying).
Obviously, I’m all for inviting God into your pain, but if you exclusively process with Him, then the reality is you’re not willing to be vulnerable. God is unconditional love… so there’s very little risk to “pray through your problems” and let people know after the fact.
I’m sure you know people who fall into this category. Most of their relationship is laced with conversations that sound like this. “Just this month/week/day, I had the revelation that I’ve always pushed men away because of X (in my past)… God showed me the root and healed me!”… but they stay stuck in the same cycles.
3. If you are someone that “wears your heart on your sleeve” but you can’t identify 2-3 people that intimately know your struggles and just because you are willing to express your emotions, this doesn’t mean you’re vulnerable.
Remember the definitions… vulnerability requires that you lower your guard with the potential of being hurt.
Ways to identify if you’re living a vulnerable lifestyle:
1. You can easily name 1-3 people of the same sex that you run to when you feel out of control, depressed, less than brilliant, inadequate, excited, have a breakthrough, face fears, and the list goes on.
A key point I want to highlight is these people need to be of the same sex. If you find yourself intimately processing with the opposite sex, it will only lead to confusion, unhealthy soul ties, and misguided expectations. The only exception is your spouse or if you’ve been dating someone for an extended period.
2. You can give examples of experiences with God and people you’ve invited into areas of your heart that have experienced pain.
Your pain comes from moments when you were vulnerable. It requires vulnerability within safe relationships to reverse the effects of pain. I don’t know who said it, but I love the quote, “Relationships have hurt you, so relationships will be the thing that heals you.”
3. In life, you feel known, seen, and understood.
This doesn’t have to apply to every relationship. There are always going to be people that don’t know how to connect to you in a way that validates your emotions.
That said if you’re living a lifestyle of vulnerability then you won’t feel the need to be heard by everyone in your world.
4. You don’t have any area of life that is hidden.
This one can be tricky because you could say, “I don’t have anything hidden. People get what they see!…” We now know this is transparency disguised as vulnerability.
What I’m referring to is the fact that you don’t have anything in life that you’re trying to solve on your own. You can pause, do a scan of your life, and honestly say that there’s nothing that’s hidden from relationships. (Going back to point 1… it doesn’t have to be several people… but it does need to be someone).
Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re reading this and identify that you’ve been transparent. The goal of this post is to highlight the need for vulnerability, not shame you if it’s something you’ve been avoiding. Just like any area of improvement, simply adjust and embrace health once you’ve been shown a better way.
You will not be able to access the level of intimacy you need for healing without vulnerability.
The reality is your heart is longing for intimacy. You’ll only find that level of connection on the other side of risking disappointment and hurt. My word of caution is not to prejudge your current relationships based on your past pain.
Let me challenge you to take time to go through each point above. Ask yourself HONESTLY (no one but you will see the answer) whether or not you’ve embraced a lifestyle of vulnerability.
The real work begins if you realize that you’re a master of transparency but terrified of vulnerability. If this is you, identify two or three people of the same sex… Share this post with them… and ask them to be a part of your exploration of vulnerability.
Then choose to lean into the uncomfortable process of letting those trusted people see the real you. You may be surprised by how uncomfortably transformative it can be.
If you have any questions about what we talked about in this post, please reach out to us through Office Hours and we will be sure to answer your questions!