Strength and Vulnerability

by Lore Peters, MA, ATR, LMHC

“Never let ’em see you sweat!” That’s what the deodorant commercials instruct. And those band-aids that are clear, are supposed to “hide the hurt”. We live with many messages, subliminal and overt, that tell us to hide the sick, hurt, unpopular, depressed, unusual and weak parts of ourselves. We often walk around pretending we’re fine when we’re not, avoiding help when we need it and all in an effort to appear “FINE”.

“Hi, How are you?”
“Fine, and you?”
“Fine, thanks.”

Sound familiar? This is a dialogue we have almost all become accustomed to. We smile and plow through the day, superficially greeting and meeting but not really connecting with each other in an authentic way. There is a shallow quality in this type of communicating and in never letting people see the depth of our personalities. Living in hiding from people’s opinions or criticism’s isn’t really living life to it’s fullest. In order to be emotionally healthy it’s important to feel you can be genuine in your day to day existence.

Now, I’m not saying that we should tell everything to our neighbors, co-workers, friends, etc. Nor do we want to know absolutely everything about what’s happening in their lives. I do think however, that we are under the mistaken impression that we are at a disadvantage and have something to be ashamed of if others see our vulnerability. Why is it that our strength and virtue seems questionable or somehow compromised if we don’t appear to cope well and feel fine all the time? Is it true? I don’t think so.

Think about the people you trust, like and admire. Do you ever see them cry, stumble, falter or appear foolish. I bet the answer is Yes. When we see the authentic and multi-dimensional view of a person, we tend to feel more comfortable with them… more able to get close to them and develop a relationship. We can relax and trust that we can just be ourselves with them. This authenticity in relationships is essential to our ability to thrive and it is nourishment for the soul.

In “Care of the Soul”, Thomas Moore writes, “The soul presents itself in a variety of colors, including all the shades of gray, blue, and black. To care for the soul, we must observe the full range of all its colorings, and resist the temptation to approve only of white, red, and orange-the brilliant colors. The “bright” idea of colorizing old black and white movies is consistent with our culture’s general rejection of the dark and the gray. In a society that is defended against the tragic sense of life, depression will appear as an enemy, an unredeemable malady; yet in such a society, devoted to light, depression, in compensation, will be unusually strong.”

Living more openly with the murkiness of life may actually be an empowering source of strength. We normally hide or deny our “bad” parts so that we can be or appear “good” and be accepted. When the dark or shadowy parts we possess are seen as integral to our personality, we may find that it actually unlocks what is missing from our lives. “We may discover that the very impulses we most fear in ourselves are the keys to creating a life worth living.” Debbie Ford from Dark Side of the Light Chasers.

To be authentic, strong and virtuous, we sometimes have to resist pressure from outside ourselves. Be mindful of your genuine feelings and let the actions you take reflect your true inner experience. We must be willing to risk others’ disapproval and dare to be ourselves. Helen Keller said “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Staying in the “safety zone” of life can lead to problems with self-esteem, lack of motivation, resentment, boredom, etc. See the risk to be vulnerable as a part of what makes you strong.

It is, however, very appropriate and healthy to have good boundaries and make conscious choices about who and what we open up to. I often ask my clients to…”Imagine a zipper that goes all the way up the front of your emotional self. Picture it open and closed, ½ way, etc…” You are always in control of how far up and down it goes. In what situations do you feel comfortable mostly unzipped or safe to open up? Perhaps you’re all zipped up at work but have a few friends you can relax and unzip with at lunch. This is taking care of your Self.

All of the answers you need are most likely residing inside yourself. In the end, I believe that the key to living a vital, healthy and authentic life is to trust your gut. Listen carefully.

And speaking of keys, the comic guru Swami Beyondananda says, “If you’re looking to find the key to the Universe, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is – there is no key to the Universe. The good news is – it has been left unlocked.”

Remember to have a sense of humor and to appreciate and respect your vulnerability. See it not as a liability but as a tender, necessary slice of your whole self. You are strong to see it in this way and to approach seeing others in this way.

It’s OK to:

  • Be wrong
  • Make a mistake
  • Ask for help
  • Be seen
  • Take a stand
  • Show feelings
  • Appear foolish
  • Be different
  • Be beautiful

Lore Peters, MA, ATR, LMHC is a psychotherapist, expressive arts therapist and clinical consultant. She has been providing services to individuals and groups for 20 years and has a private practice in Arlington, MA.

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