Redefining Personal Strength

Written by Varouna Baroud on Monday, 02 October 2017. Posted in Inspirational, Self development


The myth of avoiding vulnerability

Are we so busy being strong that we have forgotten how to feel joy?

In her book “The Power of vulnerability” researcher Brené Brown talks about (spoiler alert) vulnerability.  And if you are like me, considering yourself independent with an active “ aim for the best, prepare for the worst” mentality that seems to stumble over being vulnerable over and over again, this book is a must-read for you too.

Avoiding imperfections

I know it is not just me. As a society,  I feel that we seem to struggle with vulnerability. We don’t like to feel vulnerable, let alone express it.  We feel an irresistible pressure to keep up appearances. To ourselves, to the people around us, even to people we don’t know and are not even the least bit invested in.

 Our Facebook walls, Instagram and Snapchat are perfect examples of our addiction to filter out all imperfections. How many of us share our failures,  our disappointments or loneliness.  Who posts a selfie of an  “eating–chocolate-in –bed-and-drinking-wine-while-crying-in the shower-moments”?

Everyone leads with their armor. We have fooled ourselves into thinking life should only be fun and positive. We are so focused on happiness that we feel like absolute exceptions whenever we are inevitably confronted with the cracks in our armor. Almost as if pain and vulnerability are unjustified or abnormalities.

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Vulnerability and joy

In her book, Brené (after reading her book 3 times I feel like we are on a first name base) argues we have to embrace our vulnerability in order to live a meaningful and wholehearted life.

She even goes one step further by saying that to experience true joy and happiness, you need to be vulnerable. And doesn't that make sense? It is hard to be creative without opening up the possibility to be rejected. It is nearly impossible to love with gratitude without being vulnerable to lose.

This left me wondering:  By constantly suppressing your vulnerable or negative feelings, don't you eventually also suppress all your true positive feelings? What if by avoiding feelings of unhappiness, dependence, guilt, shame or failure, we are actually cheating ourselves out of experiencing the exact feeling we are after: happiness and joy.

For a long time, I believed strength was about being strong, independent, invincible. I tried to sniff out and avoid situations that possibly could lead to vulnerability or failure or rejection. Always on the alert, ready to pull op the bridge, reinforce the walls and protect my castle.

I was convinced I could be the first person that would be able to hide all my insecurities so professionally that no one would see them. I avoided failures by not committing to any clear direction. In relationships, I worked diligently to always be 1 step ahead of the other person, as if it was a game of chicken. I believed that if I could just live my life freed from those pesky sensitivities, I would be truly happy.

Naturally, my focus on avoiding vulnerability like the plague, led to a total lack of ability to handle vulnerability when it unexpectedly sneaked up on me. Those who ever came close to me can vouch for the one women circus show that resulted in at times.  I denied it, fought it, struggled with it and many times I was taken down by it. In those cases, I usually rolled up in a ball for a while,  then got up, dusted myself and moved on without ever allowing myself really grieve or even look back on what had happened.

The result of all these brave efforts was an endless but unfulfilling and unsuccessful search for happiness. 

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Striking out

A couple of years ago, when a relationship ended in a unmerciful painful way, I decided it was time for a change.  I figured that since I already was forced to let go of such a big part of my life, I might as well make some other changes. For the first time in years, I took a huge risk and decided to move to the other side of the world to chase my passion: personal development and training. (Yes although I'm really bad in talking about my own challenges, I love sifting through those of others. We psychologist are a hypocrite little bunch.)

So I gave up everything and flew to the other side of the world to realize my dream. I arrived and posted proud pictures of my new home and the enviable sunny selfies at the beach. I did it! I came, I saw and I…… fell flat on my face. It wasn't all sunshine and dreams. The job wasn’t what I expected, my (now long distance) relationship quickly fell apart and I was homesick. I had never felt so alone and felt completely ashamed. There I was, Miss World Traveller, hopelessly failing, with no safe place to hide and no one to blame for it but myself. 

In the middle of feeling like a complete failure and desperately thinking of ways to get myself out of the hole I dug, something strange started to happen. In those rare moments I wasn’t crying my eyes out or feeling sorry for myself, I experienced real happiness.

Not in another job or a person or in a happy ending but in myself, in the little things that brought me joy in the midst of all the uncertainty. In reading a book in the sun, in working on my ideas for workshops, in feeling the sand between my toes. And yes that last one is a total cliche, but this is a very small, very sandy island so basically unavoidable. 

When things slowly started to turn around, I felt an immense gratefulness that has never left me since.

Although I feel more vulnerable I also feel stronger than ever. I don’t fear the exposure anymore. I know and trust that whatever happens, I can handle it.  I dare to take risks, to explore what happiness means to me, which enables me to make better choices and commit to them.

Instead of treating vulnerability like the enemy, I try to acknowledge it.  Sometimes I need to talk myself up, sometimes I need to give myself a kick in the but and other times I just embrace being vulnerable. I appreciate my vulnerability because it brings me closer to the wholehearted person I was intended to be.

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