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Vulnerability and the fear of being yourself

Why being authentic is an act of courage, but first we must attempt to know ourselves.

It’s a scary thing, being vulnerable, which is why most of us don’t like doing it and we will avoid putting ourselves in such positions with a vengeance. What is it that makes us so afraid of these moments? Is it the fear of being rejected? The fear of not being understood? And the inevitable feeling of loneliness that comes with either of those. Or is it the uncomfortable feeling that comes with not wanting to release a deep-seeded and repressed pain? Or perhaps it is the fear of expressing an authentic part of yourself and not knowing how people will react and that we might be opening ourselves up for potential ridicule? We don’t wish to appear vulnerable and be thought of that we cannot handle things, we want to appear strong and capable.

Vulnerability has always been tied to things like weakness, susceptibility, something that is defenceless or that has been exposed and is a liability. These associations conjure up negative ideas around being vulnerable and help to make it a less desirable state for people to enter. I think it may not always be easy choosing between when to be a bit more stoic and persevere through a tough patch and when to stop and realise there is a problem of greater concern here that needs to be attended to. Obviously, people are complex and very different from one another and have many ways of dealing with things, but I think it is imperative that you have at least one person that you can fully open up to about anything.

To me, this is where knowing/understanding yourself is crucial, and I find that a lot of people are either simply not interested in examining themselves and/or they are afraid to dig too deeply – possibly anxious/fearful of what they’ll find (or not find). To be yourself, you must know yourself and similar notions of self-awareness and self-knowledge have echoed throughout civilisation ever since the Ancient Greek Delphic maxim “know thyself” came into existence. Perhaps the most famous of the Greek philosophers, Socrates, said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, except some people seem content to bury their collective heads in the sand dunes of fear and blissful ignorance. I guess fear really is the mind-killer.

“A simple test is to ask yourself whether what you’re saying and doing is making you feel stronger or weaker.”

Revealing something personal about yourself is nerve-racking. The vulnerability required when speaking from the heart should be viewed as an act of courage – in essence, an exercise in authentic expression. This is obviously very important, but as I’ve elaborated, can also very difficult to do and I understand why.

I understand why people are hesitant to express themselves and find it challenging to put themselves in a vulnerable state. I feel we live in a very confused and anxious society and this in turn plays havoc with the concept of trust. It seems we are both non-judgmental and extremely judgmental, interchangeably, sometimes instantaneously and this doesn’t help anyone trying to understand and put forward their true selves into the world.

People are often dealing with the remnants of problematic childhoods, frequently left undiagnosed and untreated. The pain of revealing/discussing such trauma can sometimes be thought to be too much for people to try and work through and thus shut down any possibility of overcoming it or at least dealing with it more effectively – vulnerability arrives; walls go up. This can be the case even towards loved ones, perhaps even especially to loved ones as we don’t want to appear weak and fragile, we must show strength and an unbreakable spirit and unperturbed demeanour.

As I said before, It’s scary/fear-inducing being vulnerable as you don’t know how people will react, they may even mock and ridicule you, which is a terrible feeling particularly if it’s by someone you hold dearly. The major questions when choosing to be vulnerable and reveal authentic parts of yourself are: Will you be understood? Will you be loved and cared for? Will you be abandoned and isolated? The last one is a great fear for many as it usually signifies death (certainly from an evolutionary perspective, but also still now in our more socially interactive civilisations). No one wants to feel lonely, discarded or be isolated or thought less of. So, a lot of people avoid the (immediate) problem altogether and hide their true selves away/adopt a persona/conform – though this usually leads to (greater) problems in the long-term.

“Mass fear of being yourself – a genuine individual – drives people to conform.”

As an extremely private person, I have a reluctance to share myself, in large part due to reasons explained in my own “exercise in vulnerability” post titled it’s not easy being green. Despite my good qualities and character, in my experience, people have generally ran from me rather than towards me, sadly, when I have chosen to open up to them. I am a person with very few friends, though as my mother always says, “if you can count your number of true friends on one hand you’re doing better than most.”

I prefer deep and meaningful relationships which I find difficult to foster in today’s current climate as I feel people don’t take the time to really understand someone. So where Shakespeare says, “nothing is more common than the wish to be remarkable”, I say it is ‘to be understood’, that people most commonly desire. And how can we allow ourselves to be understood (by others), if we aren’t willing to try so ourselves and permit us to be vulnerable (on occasion), in pursuit of an authentic and distinctly flawed-human life.

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