I am a huge fan of Brene Brown's work on vulnerability. I've put it up here on the blog, I've recommended it to clients, I've talked about it with friends.
But then sometimes people will come back to me and say things like this:
- "I tried being vulnerable all week long, and he didn't even notice."
- "I'm being vulnerable, but nobody else will be vulnerable."
- "This whole vulnerability thing doesn't work. Also it hurts. What's the point?"
And that made me think about why vulnerability doesn't always have the results we hoped for. Here are three things I can think of.
1. Vulnerability doesn't work, when we use it as a tool to meet our own needs.
Vulnerability does not give us control. It does not make other people do what we want.
Vulnerability brings us to the world as an open door, here to receive whatever is wonderful and living and incomprehensible and painful.
Frederick Buechner said it this way: "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen."
If you need a tool, find something else.
Vulnerability is going to frustrate you to death while you try to drive nails with a daisy.
2. Vulnerability doesn't work, when we use surface vulnerability to block soul-deep vulnerability.
Surface vulnerability presents itself as: "I want more from this relationship" or "We need to work on our communication."
Those seem like vulnerable things to say.
But I want to suggest that when we put the weight of vulnerability "out there" in another relationship, we block the deep vulnerability work we need to do within ourselves.
When we do surface vulnerability, there are two possible outcomes:
- The person responds positively, and that soothes us, so we don't have to face our soul-deep vulnerability.
- The person responds negatively, and we're very distracted by the drama and the anger, so we don't have to face our soul-deep vulnerability.
When we're doing soul-deep vulnerability, we're grappling with questions like this:
- Am I really lovable?
- Am I good enough?
- How do I live with disapproval?
- What do I do with mistakes and failure?
- What are my deepest fears and pains?
- What kinds of unhealthy things am I prone to do, when I'm not facing up to my fears and pains?
And when we bring that kind of vulnerability to another person, we say things like:
- I feel scared.
- I feel sad.
- I'm afraid that no one can really love me the way I am.
- My life has completely fallen apart, and I don't know what to do.
- When I'm sad and scared, I have these patterns of behavior that make a mess. And I'm sorry that I've done it to you.
And then there we are. Being vulnerable.
3. Vulnerability doesn't work, but it is working.
Vulnerability doesn't work as a tool. It doesn't work as a surface fix.
But when we're doing soul-deep vulnerability, it IS working, way down deep.
The little seed--down in the dirt, nurtured by vulnerability, watered by tears--that little seed can grow, as Brennan Manning said, "into greatness of soul."
We have been promised that the truth will set us free. And that is why real vulnerability--the soul-deep, life-sustaining kind--works. It's about the truth.
The truth is:
- I am not God.
- I am not in charge here.
- Often, I will not get what I think I need.
- I am broken and hurting.
- God help me, I need help.
- My Redeemer lives.
And when I can get down that deep, and live in that place, then I am completely vulnerable, and completely safe.
And then, strangely, it works.