What Does Being Vulnerable Actually Mean?

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I think it feels so vulnerable to share our shame because we’re essentially offering the world the very weapons to destroy us. We’re giving up control and saying, 'Here are what I believe are the worst parts of myself, and I’m offering them up to you.'"

For accessibility and ease, you can listen to this post narrated by Mike:


We visionaries carry a lot of shame.

I’ve been thinking about shame a lot this week, since starting the “Vulnerability week” of the Unique Genius Experiment—the conceptual art project in which I do something outside of my comfort zone, led by my genius, every day for a year.

And, this week, that genius is Vulnerability. So, naturally, I’m thinking about shame.

I think, at this point, we’ve been beaten over the head with the importance of vulnerability. We see “vulnerable” posts happening all over social media. And maybe we’ve even shamed ourselves for not pushing our boundaries or not being vulnerable enough—I know I have.

But, if there’s anything this week has taught me so far, it’s that vulnerability has very little to do with the disclosure or vulnerable act. And a hell of a lot more to do with the shame associated with that vulnerable act. And that’s personal to each of us.

For some of us, writing an article online is vulnerable. For others, talking to a stranger might be vulnerable. And, still for others, calling for pizza delivery might be vulnerable.

There’s no way to objectively determine what’s vulnerable. Because, like genius in general, it’s never about the act itself. It’s about us.

Vulnerability points us to where we feel shame, even if it seems irrational or ridiculous to others.

And we visionaries carry a lot of shame.

After a lifetime of being told we’re “too much” and “not enough,” we tend to think we’re wrong and broken and shameful. Maybe we feel our bodies are too big, or our bank accounts are too small, or our ideas are too flighty.

We’re misunderstood. And never quite fit in. So we’re dripping in shame.

And the great irony of life is that we tend to feel the most shame around areas of our genius. Of course we do. Because those are areas where we’re most sensitive. We literally sense more in those areas. It’s what makes it our genius in the first place.

If our genius is Successful, we tend to see our failures more than anyone else. If our genius is Beautiful, we tend to harp on our perceived imperfections more than anyone else.

We carry our greatest shame in our areas of genius. And, therefore, sharing them feels deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

I think it feels so vulnerable to share our shame because we’re essentially offering the world the very weapons to destroy us. We’re giving up control and saying, “Here are what I believe are the worst parts of myself, and I’m offering them up to you.”

We’re saying, “I fear that I’m annoying. That’s what hurts me the most. And I’m letting you have access to the thing that can destroy me.”

If shame is akin to death—to the parts of ourselves we wish we could kill off—then vulnerability is looking death straight in the eye with tremendous courage.

It’s saying that maybe we could be destroyed—at least emotionally—but we’d rather be ruined as all of ourselves than protected as just a fragment.

It’s betting on ourselves. Saying we deserve more. That we are worth something, independent of our individual features. We have an essence, a genius, that is worth fighting for.

And it doesn’t really matter how small or insignificant or silly the sharing might feel. If there’s shame associated, then it’s an area where we’re still wishing we were different, that we weren’t us.

And being vulnerable is choosing life. It’s choosing to look our shame in the eye and say, “Maybe it will destroy me, but without transmuting it, I’m never fully living anyway.”

It’s choosing our genius. And declaring that we deserve to access that genius. And so does the rest of the world.

It’s not some cutesy Instagram post. It’s not for the validation we get for posting the “brave” thing. It’s for us. It’s for the knowing that we’re owning and claiming all the parts of ourselves, even the “shameful” ones. Even the ones we swear will make us less worthy to the world.

Where we carry shame, we’ll always believe our worth is conditional. That we can somehow increase our worth by doing the right things. By gaining or losing weight, or saying something smart, or wearing the right outfit.

And we’ll spend our lives hiding the parts of us that don’t fit that image perfectly. We’ll tell ourselves that the world could never love us if we were fully ourselves.

Shame teaches us where we’re hiding from who we are. Because we have stories that we’re less worthy or unsafe to fully be ourselves.

And vulnerability is the transmutation of that shame with a witness. It’s owning it and claiming it and integrating it as a part of ourselves.

We can never fully claim our genius if we refuse to look at our shame.

My shame over being too emotional my entire life is how I’m so good at the work I do now. My shame over being too playful is how I have fun and create safety for people.

Every element of my genius is something I’ve been deeply ashamed of at one point or another. Of course it is. Because it’s where I’m unique, different, special. That’s what genius is, after all.

Of course I’m going to be “too much” and “too sensitive” in that area, because it’s where I can literally sense more than anyone else. Where I am a genius.

And it might feel vulnerable as hell to share that with the world, but not sharing it is depriving the world of my genius. And, more importantly, depriving myself.

To love ourselves, we have to love all of ourselves. Even—and especially—the parts where we feel the most shame. Because those are the parts that need the most love. The parts that we hide for fear of destroying us. When, in actuality, they’re our salvation.

We can only ever truly live if we’re willing to risk destruction. Because that’s when we put all the cards on the table. When we refuse to hold ourselves back anymore. When we know there’s nothing more worthy or powerful than being ourselves. And when we live from the place of our genius.


Questions for Reflection:

*Answer in a journal, in the comments right here, or take it over to the Sacred Branding® Facebook group where we can support one another:

What does being vulnerable actually mean?

— We hear about “vulnerability” all the time—but what does it actually mean to you? Where do you hold shame in your life? What feels like it could destroy you if you shared it with others?

— What parts of you have always felt “too much” and “not enough”? About what issues or topics do you feel “too sensitive”? Could those be areas of your genius? What shame do you have around them?

— What if vulnerability is simply the transmutation of shame with a witness? And it doesn’t matter what the vulnerable act is so much as how much shame is associated with it for you? What if claiming your shame is the only way to truly claim your genius?

Mike Iamele

Mike Iamele

Mike writes about how artists, entrepreneurs, healers, and visionaries of all kinds can actually build a life around the genius inside of them.

He's CEO of Mike Iamele LLC and Creator of Sacred Branding® and the Sacred Circle.

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