I was at a retreat learning how to facilitate women’s circles. The woman running the program said to me, “Your greatest strength is your willingness to be vulnerable.”
I didn’t really get it and I certainly couldn’t appreciate her words.
I don’t have a choice. As a child among my family, the emotions on my sleeve made everyone uncomfortable. I was regularly reminded that emotional woman are damaged women. And I observed that emotional women received no one’s respect.
Thankfully, I have learned that my light and my shadow, (all aspects of myself) cannot be hidden. Not if I am to be the sane and vibrant woman I feel called to be.
I have learned (at times) to slow myself down. To consider my language, consider the audience, to employ empathy and compassion when sharing something of my emotional self. Marriage and parenting prove difficult terrain for this practice, yet I continue to learn and be cognizant of the lessons and their impact on those I love.
My greatest strength, in fact, is my willingness to be vulnerable. I understand and appreciate this now. It is a strength available to all of us. Telling our stories, sharing experiences, opening our real, raw, emotional interiors to others is a profound gift.
Yes, a gift. When I am open, real, and raw with you – I am giving you permission to be open, real and raw with me. Although, this is misunderstood daily.
Being vulnerable is not:
- asking for help
- giving permission to fix (or coach)
- seeking validation
- seeking love
- being needy
Being vulnerable is:
- being seen
- being heard
- being available as a possible reflection
- giving permission for others to be seen, heard, and reflected
Years ago I learned the practice of ‘spring cleaning.’ This is a timed ritual, exploring any personal topic while a partner holds space. The agreement is that the timekeeping partner simply answers, “Thank you,” and closes each session with this simple statement, “It was an honor to hold space for you.” Then the session is ended. No advice offered. No books, e-courses, or therapists numbers are exchanged. It is done, unless the women trade places to hold space for each other.
As a regular practice of exploring vulnerability, this ritual is transformative for women individually, and in relationship to each other. The power exists in this practice to transform dynamics among womankind in a huge way. We feel and recognize our struggles, we don’t strive to make each each other better. We deeply honor, and are present with each other.
My gift of vulnerability is no gift at all, if I don’t offer to share the strength I have found through my experience. Or if I fail to encourage women to take the risk, and honor the risk others take in exposing themselves. And so I’ll close with a few words on what it means to respect vulnerability.
Respect for vulnerability looks like:
- Eye contact
- Letting go of our inner dialog, while continuing to listen
- Not assuming we know exactly what that person’s experience is
- Not assuming that what worked for us will work for that person
- Not assuming that person is lost
- Not assuming anything
- Saying, ‘thank you,’ only
- If we feel a strong urge to share something of our own experience, not doing so
- Later, if (and only if) the opportunity to speak privately arises, asking permission to share a reflection
- Letting the person know it’s ok to decline our offer
- Respecting their answer
- Never fixing
- Never coaching
- Appreciating the reflection