Vulnerability can be scary. In fact, most of us spend the majority of our lives trying to hide from it. We are so scared of putting ourselves out there that we constantly manufacture obstacles to put in our path to keep us walled-off and protected. The thought of exposing your true, unguarded self to the world and risking the raw emotional pain that could ensue from leaving yourself defenseless can be daunting to say the least. You can’t bear to think of not being accepted, of being judged and found not-worthy, of being disliked. And so, you hide. You pretend. You wear masks and play a role. You waste so much energy trying to be what you think the world wants you to be. It’s exhausting, and you lose your self in the process. Worse yet, it prevents you from sharing your gift with the world…whether in art, friendships, work, or everyday interactions. That’s a big price to pay for a false security net.
But, vulnerability is not just about leaving yourself open to the possibility of being hurt. It's also about leaving yourself open to accepting the good things in life, too. When you take your walls down and let yourself be seen, you make yourself available for pleasure, love, and happiness to seep in. You can’t experience the extent of these pleasurable emotions if you have your guard up all the time and are constantly questioning and doubting the motives of others, holding them away from you at a safe distance.
How many times have you brushed off compliments about your dancing because you were stuck in a cage battling it out with your demons? You were so consumed by their tormenting whispers of, "I'm not good enough; I'm so ugly; I'm a terrible dancer; they all hate me," that you couldn't even entertain the possibility that someone just gave you a compliment. Even if you did hear the positive feedback, you are too guarded to let it in. The walls you built around yourself for "protection" are so thick that the positive energy from that compliment will never reach you…let alone nourish you.
Meanwhile, you are missing precious opportunities to connect and be fueled by human interactions. People are right there in front of you telling you that they see you and appreciate your art...but you won't let them in. Instead, you let your demons run the show and spin their narrative in your head about how you are not enough and why you should stay small and restrained. You are the only one keeping yourself trapped.
Worse yet, it’s not just you that is hurt by this. The ones complimenting you are affected, too. They are reaching outside of their comfort zone in an effort to connect and share a piece of themselves. They are taking a risk by sharing their feelings and emotions with you. When you don’t accept their compliment, it leaves them feeling rejected and shut-down. So, this artistic endeavor that you got into in the first place to bring beauty to the world winds up taking away from it. Your dancing, something that has such potential to foster connection, joy, emotional openness, and creativity, ends up being destructive and adding to the fear and coldness that is already so rampant in society.
The next time you receive a compliment, instead of immediately resisting and brushing it off, take a breath and let it in. No matter how loud your demons are screaming, "It can't be true; they must be lying,” remind yourself that this is an opportunity to let your walls down and let the good in. At first it will be uncomfortable because you are so used to resisting, beating yourself down, and hiding away. But once your protective shields start to melt away, you can recognize the power behind the vulnerability and openness. It's an opportunity for connection and growth not only with the world around you, but with that magic that is already inside you, waiting to be recognized after years of being pushed down and kept secret.
Your life and art can either add to a world that is shut-down and cold, or one that is creative and hopeful. Ask yourself, what kind of energy do you want to nurture? The change starts with you. And, vulnerability is worth the risk every time.
"...numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn't just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can't selectively numb emotions. Numb the dark and you numb the light."
- Brené Brown, Daring Greatly