I’ve always been familiar with the word “vulnerable.” My wife seemed to find a way to weave it into most our comversations. It was almost like she was trying to tell me something?
So one day I decided to look up the word in the dictionary and find out exactly what it meant.
Vulnerable: the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”l
That sure didn't sound like something I wanted to try! I didn’t want to be “exposed!”
To me, being “vulnerable” sounded a lot like a sign of weakness. I thought that I’d be better off to just toughen up and try to be a “real man.” Plus, I really didn’t want to bother other people with my problems because I knew they had their own to deal with. It also seemed like such a risky thing to do.
What if I opened up to someone about my struggles and they didn't like me?
What if they made fun of me?
What if they didn’t believe me?
What if they started telling other people about all my issues?
This was the same attitude and approach I took toward vulnerability after my brain injury. I wasn’t being honest with others about my new struggles and what had suddenly become my “new normal.” I didn't want to give other people the impression I'd grown soft and that I couldn't handle things on my own. I was worried they would think less of me if they knew that I wasn't the person I once was.
But this game of charades soon started to wear me down and I began to grow tired of trying to hide the truth from other people. I didn’t want to continue acting like the same person I used to be, the person I no longer was, and I started to think my wife may have been on to something. Maybe being vulnerable was something I needed to give a try.
I’ve discovered that a more vulnerable, honest and transparent life is a much better way for me to live with my “new normal.” It’s given me a sense of freedom that I‘d never experienced before and I believe it’s helped me become a better husband, father, son, brother, and friend.
Now, with all that being said, please don't assume I have this whole “living vulnerably” thing completely mastered. I didn't magically change overnight. Vulnerability is a relatively new concept for me so I am still a work in progress. My natural tendency is to hide my weaknesses and I continue to spend way too much time and energy doing this. But being more vulnerable is something I will continue to work on and something I’m confident I can get better at.
In addition to the personal freedom I’ve found from being more vulnerable, it seems to help others as well. When people recognize you as being "imperfect" or someone who has struggles, they are much more likely to open up about theirs. When you become more honest with people about your problems, they will often say things like, "You struggle with that, too," or "I thought it was just me!" There just seems to be a much deeper level of connection when you know someone is going through some of the same things you are and when someone understands a little bit more about where you're coming from.
I once heard someone say, "We might impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our weaknesses." Me and my “old normal” would have probably just laughed at such a statement. But not my “new normal!” I’ve learned that I no longer need to to hide my weaknesses because connecting with people is much more important than impressing them!