• Dr. Jill Bakke


When we were children, we used to think that when we grew up, we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable. —Madeleine L’Engle

I have been thinking about vulnerability lately. To be vulnerable is to take the risk of being wounded or hurt. No one is totally invulnerable. There are always areas where a person feels less secure, and research has shown that acknowledging vulnerable areas is the beginning of healing them.

Many people think of self-disclosure and vulnerability as going around naked. That is incorrect. Being vulnerable is NOT the communication equivalent of showing all your hidden feelings, taking off your emotional armor and exhibiting your anger, your intense personal feelings, or private pain. Nor am I talking here of deeper vulnerability which involves true intimacy and happiness in primary relationships. Vulnerability issues which occur in those relationships would create their own book.

Very often I discovered a vulnerability issue was of my own making—it was how I felt I would look or perform a task. I didn’t want to look incompetent, unattractive, or unable to do a specific something. My escape was not trying some things where I felt vulnerable. However, you can’t escape all those times either. And sadly, when I didn’t give myself the chance to try, I missed a lot that could have given me pleasure.

Vulnerability has another aspect, one of boundaries and balance that deals with being true to your own values. Sometimes you might want to disagree with a societal or family line of thought and practices. To do so makes you vulnerable, and that takes courage. Ask yourself if your differences are important enough to speak out. Are the rewards worth the risk?

When you are requested to do things that make you uneasy, saying no is important. But it also can make you vulnerable. How do you handle a situation like that? Do you agree to act and conveniently forget? Or do you speak up? Who are you true to: self or another?

In speaking your truth, it is unwise to be aggressive or blaming. The intent is not to start an argument, but to be truthful. If you feel you don’t know how to speak your truth, take the time to learn good communication skills and how to control your emotions.

Sometimes we must take the risk that we might not perform perfectly, someone may no longer like us, or we may look ridiculous. Do you recall the first speech you made before your classmates in school? I do. Mine occurred approximately seventy years ago, and I still remember how I trembled because I was so frightened. The first financial class I taught to a room full of enlisted military personnel wasn’t as bad, but I was nervous. Each time we show up the tasks become easier. Whether I was forced, as in school, or persuaded myself to take the risk, the fact that I did the task allowed me to grow.

In the beginning, it may help to have a cheerleader in your life, someone who believes in you and pushes you to take a chance to do things that appeal to you. Is there a trusted friend willing to take on that position? It also helps to hone your skills if you need to give a speech or teach something. Practice your presentation before a mirror, ask a friend to critique you, or videotape it. Join Toastmasters, a nonprofit educational organization promoting communication skills and public speaking. Take lessons if you want to play golf or tennis. Obtain the skills you need to accomplish your goals. Remember relaxation techniques help. Learn to ease your stress by consciously breathing and relaxing your muscles.

Once you know the core issues of (1) where and how you are vulnerable and (2) how you act when you are vulnerable, you are on the road to taking real steps to conquer it. I suggest you use a journal to examine where vulnerability fits into your life. Here are some items to consider:

  1. Recognize we are all vulnerable. It is part of being human.

  2. In your journal, list the areas where you feel you are vulnerable.

  3. How do you feel when you are vulnerable? List those feelings in your journal.

  4. How do your feelings lead you to react when you feel vulnerable? List your reactions. Do you attempt to control the situation? Do you make judgments, point fingers at other’s faults to make yours appear less? Or do you shut down and run away from the risk?

  5. Select one item from your list of vulnerability areas that you would like to overcome.

  6. Recognize that balance and boundaries may be required. Too much information about things that make you feel extremely vulnerable needs to be shared only with those you implicitly trust. It is essential to set appropriate boundaries.

  7. Acknowledge and remember that when you mask your vulnerability with perfection, you are placing yourself in a position of stress and stagnation. Where are you stagnating? List the areas. How is your vulnerability or perfection stagnating you?

  8. What are you going to do about your vulnerability? Brainstorm and list all possible actions. Choose one or two of the best ones and implement your choices.

  9. If choosing an activity or working with your vulnerability is new to you, choose something you really want to do or begin with your creative endeavors. This is an area where many people are vulnerable. Do you have art in a closet, manuscripts in a drawer, a voice that sounds like a bird’s lush song? Are you a phenomenal cook, an expert gardener, seamstress, or flower arranger? Ask yourself what would happen if you could gather courage to step forward to share these gifts. What is holding you back?

  10. Remember, you are not alone in feeling vulnerable. Some of us just hide it better.

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