Being Vulnerable

For the last few weeks I’ve been questioning myself. Why on earth did I allow myself to be excruciatingly vulnerable in my last post? OMG! What would potential clients think?  But before I became totally panic-stricken, I remembered an amazing YouTube video on the power of vulnerability that a friend had shared with me. “This is perfect,” I thought. “Now I won’t feel so self-conscious about being imperfect.”

Seriously, researcher-storyteller, Brené Brown, unravels the mystery of “not good enough” in this poignant, funny 20-minute talk at TEDxHouston. You’ve got to watch it if you’ve ever struggled with feelings of inadequacy. Now tell me, you’ve never felt this way?

Brené Brown’s work has become central to my philosophy as a psychotherapist.  At the core is the belief that we are all worthy of love and belonging, and that through compassion, courage and connection, we can reclaim these essential truths. We all enter the world as precious infants in need of closeness and bonding, acceptance and approval. Yet many of us question our worthiness, because somewhere along the way, we were told that we weren’t good enough or that we didn’t fit in–not necessarily intentionally, but we were. We were criticized by our parents, diminished by our teachers, embarrassed by our peers, or bullied by our coaches. Some of us were not only criticized for doing something bad, insane, or stupid, but were shamed into believing we were bad, insane, or stupid–the worst version of “not good enough.”

These experiences chipped away at our sense of worthiness, festering into a false belief that we were unlovable. So we started to  pretend to be who “they” wanted us to be. We thought we had to, to gain “their” acceptance, approval, and yes, their love. We wanted to fit in. We wanted to belong. We wanted, and still want, deep and meaningful connections. But unfortunately, the more we keep pretending to be who others want or need us to be, the less connected we become, not only with others, but with ourselves.

I can’t tell you the number of clients I’ve worked with who’ve felt deeply flawed and unworthy when they first stepped into my office. But within a brief amount of time, those false beliefs begin to fade. The more my clients share openly and honestly, the more deeply acknowledged they feel. The more they risk being vulnerable, the more courageous and self-compassionate they grow. Their need to numb painful feelings lessen. They stop making unhealthy choices and learn to embrace a lifestyle that is self-affirming, ending a vicious cycle of self-defeat. Over time, they transfer the relational skills gained through our connection to the significant relationships in their lives.

It’s been over twenty years since I first walked into a therapist’s office myself. It was scary to be vulnerable then, and it still is now (especially when I’m writing a blog post that potential clients might read.) But tell me, how could I ever help a client go someplace I’ve never been. The truth is folks, I am vulnerable. And because I am, I can honestly say that I’m imperfect. And guess what? I bet you are too.

Learning to be vulnerable is a process, a powerful one that is essential to changing our lives and relationships. If you’re tired of pretending that you’ve got it all together, then now’s the time to act. Click on the link above. You’ll learn a lot and laugh a good bit, too. But don’t stop there. Tell somebody you trust something you’ve been afraid to say out loud. Take a risk. Be vulnerable.

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