In the book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Some people may hear the term vulnerability and think that it means weakness. This blog is meant to further the discussion around vulnerability and how it is a strength, rather than a weakness. The definition above may sound intimidating, but it also encourages honesty, bravery, accountability and connection. Throughout my daily interactions with others, I am not often operating from this place of vulnerability, something with which, I think, most would agree. I am keeping the shades drawn, going with the flow, and performing the customary small-talk. When someone asks, “How are you?” my automatic response is typically, “I’m well” or, “fine, thanks, how are you?” Lately, I have been attempting to be more vulnerable with my answers; a little more honest and a little more transparent.
In order to be more vulnerable with others, we have to start being more vulnerable with ourselves. This would involve self-check-ins about our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. An example of a more vulnerable answer to the question, “how are you,” might be, “I am doing alright, but am feeling a little worried today because…” This slight change in response may be surprising for others but may cause others to react in equally vulnerable ways. Others may open up or take more time to respond in a thoughtful way, honoring the authenticity that was shared. I wonder how the potential benefits of this chain reaction would impact substance use disorders.
Anxiety, depression, fear, shame, guilt and isolation are feelings that many of us experience at various times throughout our life. These feelings are often associated with substance use disorders to varying degrees. Could vulnerability decrease the severity of substance use disorders or change the way we experience them? How about helping people heal from them?
There are many reasons people begin to use substances, one being to escape overwhelming feelings. If we were able to increase connection with each other, these overwhelming feelings could dissipate, making the feelings more manageable. We could learn that we aren’t alone; that it’s ok to open up and expose our emotions to others. We may even find safety in the process.
Many people who are diagnosed with substance use disorders experience judgments from their friends, family and community. While there is always a risk that vulnerability will lead to judgment and challenge by some, the majority will come with open arms, more comfortable in sharing their own story, and help lead to change. We cannot control others, but we can control ourselves. I ask you to commit one action today that exposes vulnerability. Reflect on it. How did it feel to be more emotionally exposed? How did people react? Notice what happens in the wake of vulnerability. I think we will all be surprised by the outcome.
By: Ryan Shook