If you’ve ever played the game ‘TRUTH or DARE’, you can well imagine how caught up it feels to be between the devil and the deep blue sea! Those less daring ones who choose TRUTH are often tested with questions that make them vulnerable. That momentary jostle within – to speak up the truth or settle for a half-truth or lie altogether – can be quite unsettling for some people.
In this blog post, I won’t go into the reasons why people hesitate to be vulnerable. Rather, I’ll talk about when and why do people make themselves vulnerable and how their vulnerability needs to be handled.
WHEN AND WHY DO PEOPLE MAKE THEMSELVES VULNERABLE?
Vulnerability is the pathway to intimacy. When we share our hearts out with someone, there develops a sense of bonding with that person. However, this heart-connection cultivates when one is naturally vulnerable. Making oneself vulnerable is a conscious decision. Forced/ simulated vulnerability create insecurity and discomfort. That is why most of the Truth-tellers in the game TRUTH or DARE report discomfiture.
- People make themselves vulnerable when they trust. The trust might have been developed over the years (i.e., a familiar person) or might be instant (i.e., a stranger). A husband is vulnerable before his wife when he opens up about his infidelity. A passenger on a railway platform on a dark night might be vulnerable when s/he asks a stranger for a lift home.
- People make themselves vulnerable when they face crises. Making oneself vulnerable is one of the survival mechanisms of the human brain. No matter how introverted a person may be, crises are natural forces to make him/ her open up and seek help.
- People make themselves vulnerable when they are happy. A person winning a hefty sum in a lottery makes himself vulnerable when he shares his happiness with his family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances.
- People make themselves vulnerable when they are in dilemma. To do or not to do, this way or that – when the mind gets clouded with such thoughts, one makes the self vulnerable.
- People make themselves vulnerable when they feel to. Natural vulnerability is largely intentional. And so, there are certain people who make themselves vulnerable at all times irrespective of circumstances.
- People make themselves vulnerable in love. A person’s best guarded secrets are often with the people s/he loves. It may be a parent, a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a child or a romantic interest.
- Genetic predisposition – There are some people who are prone to making themselves more vulnerable than others by virtue of their genetic endowment.
- Venting pent up emotions – Unspoken words stifle the mind. Making oneself vulnerable helps unclutter the mind. A victim of abuse makes himself/ herself vulnerable by sharing his/ her emotions to a friend or Counsellor or social activist.
- Seeking suggestions/ advice – Often making oneself vulnerable is all about seeking suggestions/ advice. For instance, a lone explorer in a foreign land makes himself/ herself vulnerable by sharing with the localites that s/he is a lone explorer from another land while seeking directions to tourist spots, currency exchange counters or hotels.
- Socialization – Being vulnerable comes easily to gregarious people. They do not build walls around them and are adept at handling the consequences of their vulnerability.
Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.”
When someone makes himself or herself vulnerable before us, how do we handle it?
- Keep the trust – Most people make themselves vulnerable before those whom they trust. Hence, confidentiality is an unspoken clause that accompanies vulnerability. Gossip and spreading tales leads to breach of trust and might compel the vulnerable person never to express vulnerability before others.
- No blackmailing – Taking advantage of vulnerable persons victimizes them. Just because a person expresses his/ her vulnerability gives no right to the confidant to intimidate, threaten or victimize the vulnerable person for emotional or financial gains.
- Respect personal space – Though respecting personal space applies to all relationships, it is crucial when a personal is vulnerable before you. A foot in the door need not mean forceful entry indoors.
- No scathing criticisms – Criticisms taken and given in the right spirit build up the self-esteem and shape the personality of people. When a person makes himself or herself vulnerable, the least that is expected is scathing criticism to be heaped upon him or her. Vulnerability gives no license to criticism.
- Don’t judge – Judging vulnerable people often does more harm than help. It makes a gregarious person recoil, a happy person question happiness and a victim question self.
- Help or connect to a helper – Be a keen observer to notice if the vulnerable person needs help beyond being just vulnerable. Act smart and connect to professional helpers.
- Don’t feel jealous – A person who is being vulnerable before you might also make himself or herself vulnerable before certain others – either because s/he is too open or because there is a desperate need to vent out. Hence, it is unwise to expect that you are the sole respite for the person.
Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Internalization of thoughts, emotions and feelings might prove detrimental in the long run when a person resorts to repress them. To be agents of healing for people around, the art and science of being effective handlers of vulnerability needs to be mastered. If you feel you are a person who can handle vulnerability, create the ambience. Don’t impose vulnerability. Forced vulnerability is hedonistic!