I was very familiar with the word “vulnerable.” That’s because my wife, Jacqui, found a way to include it in what seemed like nearly every conversation we had following my brain injury. It was almost like she was trying to tell me something! And because I didn’t understand exactly what the word meant, one day I decided to look it up in the dictionary. I thought that by doing this I might be able to figure out why my wife kept bringing it up.
Vulnerable: the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”
Well, the words I saw and read in the definition of vulnerable did not interest me in the least little bit. Being more vulnerable certainly didn’t sound like something I ever wanted to try. Exposed. Attacked. Harmed. Thanks, but no thanks! I mean, I’m sure it works for some people but it seemed like such a risky thing to do. What if I opened up to someone about my new struggles and they didn’t believe me or they made fun of me? What if they started telling other people? Plus, I really didn’t want to bother other people with my problems because I knew they had their own to deal with.
Because this was how I chose to deal with my brain injury, I knew that I wasn’t being completely honest with other people about how it had affected me. I wasn’t even giving them a chance to understand and accept my “new normal.” I also didn't want to give others 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 the game of charades I was playing eventually started to wear me down. I grew very tired of trying to hide the truth. I didn’t want to continue acting like I was the same person I used to be. So I started to think my wife had truly been on to something when it came to me being more vulnerable. I finally decided to give it a try, to just give it a chance and see what happened.
Well, since making this decision, I’ve discovered that being more vulnerable, that living a more honest and transparent life, is a much healthier way to live with my “new normal.” It’s given me a greater sense of freedom 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 still a relatively new concept for me and I am definitely a work in progress. My natural tendency is still to hide my weaknesses and I spend way too much time and energy trying to do this. However, this is something I will continue to work on and I’m confident can improve.
I’ve also found out that me being more vulnerable seems to be helping other people as well. I’ve learned when others recognize you as being "imperfect" or as someone who has their own struggles, they are much more likely to open up to you about theirs. When you become more honest with people about your problems, you will often hear them 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 they might better understand where you're coming from.
Pastor Craig Groeschel once said, "We might impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our weaknesses." Me and my “old normal” would have just laughed at such a statement. But not my “new normal!” I’ve learned that I no longer need to hide my weaknesses because connecting with people is much more important than impressing them!