Vulnerability - something we don't often talk about

Recently, I have noticed that the following topics keep popping up as challenges for clients in quite a few of my coaching sessions:

  • shame
  • the importance of what others think of me and above all
  • not showing any weakness

All of these three points are holding people back from becoming the best they can be.  Let us take a closer look at the underlying motivations behind these aspects. Whilst doing so, we might gain an understanding about who we would be without holding on to these three beliefs.

Think about a situation in your life that, thinking about it now, has triggered the feeling of shame in you. Perhaps this was a situation where someone had an expectation of you to behave in a particular way. When the situation happened you totally "misbehaved" and you felt like others thought bad of you as a result.

This happened to one of my clients, who went to an office do and instead of being all grown up and business like, decided on the day to get up for a karaoke sing and dance. Another client example was where this person freely and passionately admitted to a colleague how much they fancied their boss without realising they are stood behind them, when they actually wanted to say how much they admire their style of leadership! Another again was in a client meeting and didn't want to admit that he wasn't sure what the client was actually talking about out.

What from your own experiences came to your mind just then? Can you remember how you dealt with such a situation then? If you are anything like most of us, then you probably turned around, did as if nothing happened and carried on as normal, right? That is because the feeling of shame is underpinned by fear, particularly fear of self-exposure. Deep down we all have a need to belong. With that in mind, we discover that it is important after all, what other people think of us and to "fit in". So what's happening when we would want to be seen to cope, to be seen as competent and strong, to impress with a resourcefulness or knowledge?

Above all, we live in a society that is striving for more, where self worth is coming from what others think about us. So we keep wanting more that we have just achieved, more than just invented, just bought, just earned, just loved...for example a better car, a bigger house, more intense love, more beauty or even youth, a bigger job, more money, more expensive clothes and assets, more and better holidays... more and better of everything, bigger and better!!  On we go and get on that hamster wheel, in which no weaknesses are tolerated.... Perfection and achievement becomes our mantra until we find out we have all. But..... with which kind of meaning?

This is when we sometimes hear people say: Now I have my master title, my shiny new car, my new house, my designer gear, my posh title etc...., but somehow I still don't get any respect from people or s/he is being disrespectful, but I have no power because s/he is the boss....or....I don't agree but it is not my place to say anything.... s/he has een obnoxious but who am I to get involved....  if I admit that I made this mistake then s/he will think I am complete numpty... I can't be honest with her/him, she is my best friend and might think I am not good enough to be her/his friend.

Everything that matters to us in the examples above is on the outside of ourselves. It's almost like wearing a mask at all times. Exhausting really, isn't it? Imagine for a moment losing all of this external gratification, who would they be? Would they be feeling just as strong as they did with the external gratification - or is it the opposite and you feel very lost? Where is the self worth?

All of a sudden we then experience a feeling of high vulnerability and don't know how to get off the hamster wheel that according to research (Brenê Brown, Blinkist, Vulnerability) disengages ourselves and others around us, hampers relationships, hides opportunities from us and disables innovation and creativity.

How would it be if we were to embrace this feeling of vulnerability and acknowledge its existence? It is a risk of course, particularly since we cannot overcome vulnerability. We can merely mask it with behaviour just like shown in the examples above, by numbing ourselves with strategies such as perfectionism and satisfying external agendas.

So in order to embrace vulnerability and with it forge strong relationships, open the space for innovation and creativity, improve performance and gain charisma, it requires us to practise the following four behaviours:

  1.  Talk openly about feelings of shame and verbalise them
  2.  Recognise when the feeling of shame is created by others judgement
  3.  Know and understand who you are, where the boundaries are and what is important to you is an important foundation to 
  4.  Develop self compassion and self esteem 

Practising these behaviours will allow us over time to become satisfied with who and what we are on the inside as well as with what life have in store for us. It takes incredible courage to show vulnerability but the rewards are invaluably satisfying.

Just imagine how life would be different for you if you were to make yourself vulnerable in your personal relationship for example? What will change?  Are you willing to give it a go? I can only recommend this way of living and I have witnessed personal and professional relationships develop into a bond of trust that weathered all uncertainty and change whilst enriching the lives of all parties involved through increased authenticity, meaningless, with massive growth and innovation opportunities.