What I Mean When I Say Vulnerability is Strength

“What happens when people open their hearts?"
"They get better.”
― Haruki MurakamiNorwegian Wood

I am a fearful person. That's hard for many to believe, as I work hard projecting a facade of confidence. I recognize that people look to me for advice and guidance, and I take that seriously in my push to improve my understanding of myself. I spend a lot of time challenging my fears and doing things that scare me, so you might think I'm relaxed or maybe daring... but I am actually internally clenched tight like a fist.

Actually, a fist is a really good metaphor, because I feel like it was through fisting I learned to be vulnerable. There's something about having someone's hand slowly slipping, finger by finger, into an orifice that reminds me how people want deep intimacy so quickly, but it takes time, and patience, and a lot of lube. If you try to push yourself too far, too fast, you can potentially hurt and/or traumatize yourself, so taking it slow is important.

I'm really impatient at times so taking it slow is hard for me. I want to learn all the things, experience all the feels,  get over all my hangups and I want to do it all right now. I have a tattoo that says "evolve or die", and I believe that through and through. Still, sometimes it might do me some good to take a step back, acknowledge what I've done, and feel safe for a minute.  I'm bad at recognizing my triumphs!

Thinking on it, I suspect that at least part of my desire to work on self improvement comes from a place of wanting to no longer feel vulnerable in those particular ways. Things like jealousy, helplessness, heartbreak, these are vulnerable spaces and there's no doubt in my mind that I hope if I learn to get over these things I won't hurt so much or so easily anymore. I hate the relationship anxieties I've developed, like laser security systems of PTSD that I can so easily trip over and trigger a panic attack.

Now, though, I'm teaching myself that it's ok to be scared. Vulnerability isn't just about me apologizing or stopping myself from defensiveness or putting myself out there in my art or my writing. It's also admitting that I feel jealous, or that I miss someone who was terrible for me. Vulnerability is complicated and living in my heartspace is so hard. I feel, though, that as I sit with my feelings, the muscle of my heart gets stronger. My suicidal feelings become lessened, because I don't feel the need to escape from them so badly. I can tell my lovers when I am hurting and they are present.

I guess this is more for my sake than yours, dear readers. But I am glad to be learning that I don't need to do some emotional alchemy for every nagging thought, for every doubt. That rolling that feeling around, getting to know it, being vulnerable with it, and then letting it go is ok. That I am, in fact, safe. That people mostly don't want to hurt me. My heart is tender, it's true, but most of the people I have chosen to surround myself with cherish that tenderness.

When I was in my early 20s, I thought vulnerability was weakness, that it opened me up to pain. I put up what I thought was armor to keep others out, but instead were walls trapping me in, and that caused me more pain than anything else. This is all very new to me, but I'm finding myself trusting others more, and holding onto suffering less. And I'm less scared of suffering, now.

I'm writing this to remind myself- it's ok. Be gentle with yourself, but keep your heart open for the good and the bad. You don't have to walk into situations that hurt, but you also don't have to hide from pain.

Categories: advice, anxiety, communication, intimacy, personal, psychology

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