• Shona Dee

How Heartbreak Taught Me to Embrace My Vulnerability

woman embracing vulnerability

‘To be human is to be imperfect’

Before the age of forty I was never really comfortable with the idea of being vulnerable. The idea of embracing my vulnerability? Laughable. I was brought up to believe that putting on a front of some sort was favourable to letting the world see how I really was. Crying was a MASSIVE no-no. And as a sensitive child who felt everything deeply, this was akin to torture at the time.

As a small girl I would marvel at my mother’s ability to change her mood – her face – as and when required, most particularly when we had company. I assumed that I wasn’t as good as her because I was always fundamentally bad at this.

Still, I did what I had to do. I did the safest thing and joined in the play-acting. I told myself that this was what grown-ups did. That only ‘babies’ or ‘wimps’ admitted that they were feeling scared, miserable, terrified or both.

And on it went. I grew up, got married, had children and, for the most part, hid any sign of weakness or frailty. I convinced myself that I wasn’t a loser – I was a winner. Because THAT was what was important in life.

Then in my fortieth year the unthinkable happened. My husband announced that he wanted a divorce and promptly left me. And just like that, I was no longer a winner. My world came crashing down around me, along with the carefully constructed defences – the defences that were near forty years in the making.

I was a mess. I suddenly no longer knew how to act – to pretend that I could still be a normal, functioning human being. I could no longer control the tears – they came at the most inopportune times, such as when I was lining up to pay for groceries, or seated opposite my boss during an important work discussion.

Yet, although I couldn’t see it at the time, I now see this period as one of MASSIVE personal growth. Of me growing into who I was always meant to be. Of shedding years and layers of false armour. Of learning how to be REAL. Of finally embracing my vulnerability. Of accepting the flawed yet beautiful mess that was me.

Two distinct yet equally important things happened during those early days of my separation:

  1. I felt a freedom quite unlike anything else I’d ever experienced, and

  2. I learned that generally, people don’t judge you for being vulnerable, for being real about the fact that you’re a mess. Because they are, in all probability, messes too. And those that do judge you? They’re not your people.

I now know that admitting to our shortcomings and allowing ourselves to be REAL is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, and for the people we love.

This is NOT to say that you should always be a hopeless, crying, vulnerable and complaining mess. It IS to say that it is okay to go through shit times. To admit that you are going through a shit time and don’t know what the f&*k you are doing. To admit that you may be in part responsible for the mess around you, and acknowledging that this is okay. To have enough faith and trust in yourself that you will get through it.

At a very core level, most of us are terrified of rejection. We don't want to be ridiculed, pitied or thought less of by anybody - ESPECIALLY not by somebody whose opinion matters deeply to us. So rather than admit that we may be 'less than' or that we aren't 'all that' we choose to do all that we can to quash any sign of vulnerability. We choose to pretend, as I learned to do in childhood. Embracing our vulnerability allows us to live a life which is authentic and REAL. It allows us to relax into the knowing that we are not perfect, and nor should we want to be.

As we embrace our vulnerable side we:

  • Open the door for deeper and more meaningful connections with others – especially when we teach others, and they learn, to respond to us in kind

  • Open the door for more opportunities – love, friendship, work – that would have remained closed had we kept ourselves closed

  • Become more emotionally available in our relationships – ALL of our relationships – leading to more fulfilment. A relationship where one or both parties have shut down is not a fulfilling relationship, and more likely than not will meet a miserable end

I know a lady, just a little bit older than me, who lives and breathes IN-vulnerability. She has an impenetrable exterior – try as I might I can’t recall ever seeing her unruffled. The younger me may have admired her – now, I feel sad for her.

I have seen her in stressful situations, and it is obvious at these times that she needs relief. Yet she will never allow herself to admit this. She wants to appear in control, in charge, strong – at all costs. The key word here being ‘appear’. Because none of us are all of these things at all times.

I believe that true strength lies in admitting to and dealing with our frailties. We are ‘strong’ through the way in which we handle our weaknesses. Not through denying that they exist, and attempting to control and manipulate situations in order to present ourselves in a more favourable light. This is the way I was (perhaps inadvertently) taught to live, and it is inauthenticity at its finest.

We simply cannot have it both ways. We can’t wish to have a fulfilling life, to be open to the experiences of joy, beauty and love yet closed to the possibility of upset, heartbreak and painful lessons. We cannot fully enjoy the good things without risking the experience of ‘bad’ things. To love is to risk. This is not just okay – this is LIFE!

I’ve cried, I’ve embarrassed myself, I’ve f*&ked up, I’ve lost. And I’m stronger because of all of this. NOT because of some false, carefully constructed defence.

Is the pain of childhood or relationship trauma keeping you from becoming your true, beautiful, healed self? Read about my journey to recovery from Narcissistic Abuse HERE.

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