Vulnerability is defined as "the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally." It's a word I was quite familiar with for years as my wife was always using it in conversation on such a regular basis. If I'm being completely honest, it kind of drove me nuts! It was almost as if she was trying to tell me what to do, or how to act. It was like she was trying to persuade me to be more "vulnerable."
Well, this didn't interest me in the least. I saw vulnerability as a sign of weakness. I would be better off to just toughen up, keep things to myself, and move on with my life. In addition, it seemed like such a risky thing to do. What if I opened up to someone and they didn't like me? Or they made fun of me?
After my brain injury, I continued to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. I didn't want people to think I'd grown soft or that I could't handle things anymore. I was worried people would think less of me if they knew that I wasn't as strong, smart, or independent as I'd once been.
But this game of charades started wearing me down. I was getting tired of trying to hide the truth, to be somebody I no longer was. I started to think my wife had been on to something. Maybe there was some real truth to the importance of living vulnerably.
I began making an effort to be more open with my struggles which proved to be difficult for a few different reasons.
On a personal level, it raised some questions about how I saw myself.
Had I not tried hard enough to get back to who I was before?
Was I being overly dramatic with how much I'd changed or what my brain injury had done to me?
Did I just need to "get over it" and be thankful for how well I was doing?
On a relational level, I was worried about what others were thinking of me.
Were they, too, questioning my effort?
Were they doubting the changes I was claiming to have had?
Did they think I was exaggerating everything?
Did they question what had happened to me and think it wasn't really that bad?
The more I tried to make vulnerability a way of life for me, the easier it became. Now, it will never be "easy" but living a life of transparency proved to be a more freeing way to live. Being honest with others about the things I was dealing with gave me a sense of freedom that I had never experienced before. It was so much better when people knew what I was dealing with and how I was feeling.
With that being said, please don't assume I always do this now. I didn't magically change overnight. Vulnerability is a relatively new concept for me so I am definitely still a work in progress. My natural tendency is to hide my weaknesses, doubts, and struggles. I continue to spend way too much time and energy trying to hide my limitations and trying to be someone I am not, or in my case the person I used to be.
There's also been another added benefit I've seen at living this way, at least one I hope is true. When people you know or encounter recognize you as "imperfect" or someone who has struggles, they are much more likely to open up to you about theirs. I can guarantee you this; if you become more upfront with people about your problems, you will find people who will say things like, "You struggle with that, too," or "I thought it was just me!" There is a deeper level of connection when you know someone is going through the same things you are, or when someone understands where you're coming from.
It's like pastor and author Craig Groesechel once said, "We might impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our weaknesses."