Vulnerability as Empowerment

By Paul Dunion | April 25, 2014

A common view of vulnerability is that it is simply unfortunate and should be avoided. That understanding of vulnerability works only if we pretend we are not on a deeply insecure and unpredictable journey. However, if we get honest about the nature of life, it becomes obvious that we have no choice. If we are to be fully alive, we will feel vulnerable. We can do our best at not being unnecessarily vulnerable, but we remain sojourners on a vulnerable odyssey. Tragedy, disaster and betrayal are ever-present in the drama of life.

An ancient definition of the word vulnerable is to wound. We disempower ourselves when believing we can escape being wounded while traveling a deeply insecure journey. Denial of the inevitability of injury leads to:
*Excessive shock when misfortune reigns down upon us.
*A loss of faith in life accompanied by cynicism.
*An attachment to pretense in order to conceal the impact of the injury.
*Self -deprecation (Blaming ourselves for our misfortune).
*Excessive confusion about the nature of life and how to live fully.
*Unconscious use of defenses which block a capacity to receive love.
*An attachment to medicating with drugs and alcohol in order to demonstrate that we can control how life impacts us.

What does it take to be willing to be vulnerable? 
*It takes acceptance that being wounded or injured is inevitable when traveling a deeply insecure journey.
*It means holding the faith that when we fail, get hurt or betrayed, we won’t turn against ourselves, deciding that we are somehow defective.
*It means asking the question, “What is this injury asking of me?”
*It means being committed to get the acceptance, understanding and encouragement we need from others when the wounding occurs.
*It means being willing to be risk-willing rather than risk-avoidant.

What does it mean to remain risk-willing? An insecure and unpredictable journey can only be lived by being willing to take risks. However, it does not mean approaching risks in some reckless fashion. It does mean exercising discernment in order to get our best wisdom behind the risk. It does not guarantee glowing results. It only means we do what we can in order to not act in some arbitrary fashion. Our discernment can be guided by asking: What is the predicted likelihood that this risk will generate desired consequences? Have I adequately accessed available resources that would help to understand this risk? Am I prepared to forgive myself if the outcome is discouraging? It is helpful to note that we do not typically fear a risk. We do fear the shame and criticism we might reign down upon ourselves when a risk does not work out according to plan.

When we are attracted to the illusion that we are safer not taking a risk, we can slide into a pattern of being risk-avoidant. However, since life can only be lived fully from taking risks, being risk-avoidant equates to being life-avoidant. And avoiding life moves us toward death-oriented postures reflected by increased passivity, helplessness, inertia, loss of opportunity and collapse of passion.

Being willing to feel vulnerable empowers us by allowing us to:
*Be emotionally touched and moved.
*Be able to open our hearts.
*Be able to accept that being fully alive is dependent upon being willing to take discerning risks.
*Be able to be clear about where there is love attempting to reach us and allow it in.
*Be more able to empathically relate to others who feel vulnerable.
*Be more engaged with life as we understand and accept that feeling vulnerable is simply part of being on an insecure and unpredictable journey.
*Be more self-accepting as we acknowledge the appropriateness of feeling vulnerable on an insecure journey.
*Be more capable of healing as we accept wounding and injury as inevitable occurrences in life.

In order to accept the power of feeling vulnerable, we need to accept that there are no guarantees. We are traveling a risky journey with illness, loss, failure, death, betrayal and desperation woven into the fabric of our experience. Feeling vulnerable is unacceptable when we are pretending that life is essentially secure and predictable. Hence, understanding vulnerability as empowerment does call for confronting idyllic visions of life that are best left in childhood. For example, as fulfilling as love is, its only guarantee is loss. Someone will either die or walk away. Hence, opening our hearts is a bold act and becomes an attractive option when compared to the losses endured when we close our hearts. Once we are willing to get honest about the journey we are on, we can stop protesting life’s challenges. Vulnerability becomes a source of power as we accept the journey for what it is.

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