Vulnerability, Shame and Courage

Over the last few years of my training as a Mental Health Professional, I have grown to find myself attracted to books, podcasts and discussions that talk about vulnerability, shame and courage. Every one of us has a story of courage, shame and vulnerability. Whether they have all co-existed in your story or have impacted your experience with the other, I’m certain that we can all relate to feeling vulnerable, ashamed and courageous at some point or the other.

Now, there are definitions that I can explain here but really, I would like to just talk about the fluidity of the definitions and of the experiences. What vulnerability might look like for one person may not necessarily look the same for another. And more importantly, what one person may think and believe about vulnerability may not be the same as what someone else thinks and believes about it. It is so easy for us to associate sharing our feelings and being vulnerable with being weak. And with that, comes the association between vulnerability and shame. Feeling ashamed of yourself or beating yourself up and thinking “Why did I share how I felt? I could have just kept it to myself” All the while not realizing how strong you are for choosing vulnerability. How strong you are for being honest with yourself and with people around you about how you feel. And how much your vulnerability inspires people around you, how it helps people realize that it’s okay to talk about feelings. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, frustrated, happy or excited.

A lot of what we think and believe about vulnerability, shame and courage come from what is taught and modelled to us. What we are conditioned to believe and most importantly the language that is used to talk about it. Among other commonly used phrases, is the phrase “Don’t cry like a girl”. Now why is crying (a common human action) associated so strongly with one gender? Why do we shame men for showing emotions? Why do we shame men for crying? These toxic beliefs and practices have been doing more harm than good for years and it is time that we challenge these beliefs and begin believing in the power of vulnerability and letting people feel their feelings without shaming them for it.

I can’t help but think about how courage not only looks different for different people, but it can look different for the same person on different days. For someone struggling with depression, simply getting out of bed and taking a shower on a day when they’re not doing so well is courageous. For the same person, practicing self-care and showing up to therapy on another day is courageous.  For someone struggling with anxiety, simply admitting that they’re feeling anxious on one day is courageous. For the same person using grounding techniques and coping mechanisms when feeling anxious on another day is courageous.

It is so important for us to remember that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable makes us strong, not weak and that being courageous can be something as simple as showing up for yourself.

On that note, I would also like to share a link to one of my personal favorite author’s Ted talk on vulnerability:

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