I heard an interview with Bruce Springsteen about his autobiography from a few years ago. The thing that stayed with me the most was a reference to having absorbed the message growing up that, as a man, he should never let the mask down all the way – always keep something held back.
In some way, we are all taught about the danger of exposure, even to ourselves. We mistake the illusion of safety for power, and attempt to find it in mystery and distance. Strength is understood as the perceived absence of vulnerability.
Our need to avoid vulnerability, then, obstructs our ability to connect, to trust, to deeply know self or other.
But what is it that we are so invested in protecting?
What are we preventing from being revealed?
Our vulnerabilities show up in a wide variety of ways, but underneath most of them boil down to the same thing:
I’m not good enough.
And for those of you who read this and feel like it doesn’t apply to you at all, I would say congratulations on having created such a persuasive illusion. Underneath your impressive exterior of culturally sanctioned strength is a well-hidden reservoir of shame, self-hatred, or unlovability.
That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, though.
The world is deeply invested in keeping you from your power – and vulnerability is the new frontier of empowerment.
We are constantly being hypnotized to make sure we play by the rules and stay in check. Too many conscious and engaged souls is threatening to the system.
It’s why we ostracize those who are different and attack what we don’t understand. It’s why we ask the rhetorical question “Who do you think you are?!?”
It’s why we punish those who seem weak, sensitive, or fragile.
It’s one of the reasons we might teach that we are born in sin – inadequate, unworthy.
Whether we have learned to hide it from ourselves or others, it is often hard to put a finger on this “not enough-ness.” It’s a painful thing to face, much less share with the world.
A good place to start, though, is wherever you feel you bring value in your life. Without knowing it a lot of people feel they need to earn their place. Our self-esteem is frequently derived from demonstrating what we do well, and as long as we deliver we can remain unaware of the conditionality of our confidence, sense of worthiness, or being accepted by others.
How would you feel if you weren’t the one who:
- Fixed everyone’s stuff
- Had all the answers
- Took care of everyone all the time
- Kept the peace
- Made all the money
- Helped others heal
- Held everything together
- Rescued people
- Came up with all the great ideas
- Helped others feel safe
- Always brought the fun
- Took care of the kids
- Made other people feel better about themselves
- Always cleaned up the mess?
Would you still feel “good enough”?
As long as vulnerability is seen as a weakness, we will remain highly disinclined to risk discovering our inherent worthiness. We will stay attached to the need to continually prove our value and earn love…from both ourselves and others.
If your spirit is prompting you to have a conversation about turning your vulnerability into a strength, I encourage you to consider working with me.