The Paradoxes of Vulnerability

Oxford’s Dictionary (I mean, define: __ in Google) defines vulnerability (noun) as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” Other synonyms include: powerless, defenseless, dependent, weak, exposed.

In self-helpy ways, the definition is more focused on the mechanism of getting to the exposed place as being one of surrender to your own negative states. And it’s supposed to be good for you. But talks* of vulnerability here are often too vague or trite to be much use. To me, anyway.  So I’d like give my own take on vulnerability and argue in favor of its main paradox: how vulnerability makes you strong while invulnerability makes you weak. In the self-helpy way. First, defining my terms:

Vulnerability, the noun, is the quality of admitting and expressing our dark, weak, ugly sides; unwanted feelings and erred ways when they come up. Then there’s exposing ourselves to situations where we can be challenged and potentially hurt as being vulnerable, the adjective.

Being the noun while doing the adjective gives us growing pains **. Being vulnerable without vulnerability is a hollow endeavour***.

**to hurt is to grow. You might have heard. But it’s only as long as you’re aware of what about your psychological condition caused the hurt in the first place, and why you don’t need to be anymore. You need to feel it first, though.

*** being invulnerable means we cannot get hurt or change, means we cannot learn the above, means that while our appearance might seem solid and mature, we are an empty product of our experience. And this product is weak****.

There still needs to be a balance, of course. Too much vulnerability (adj) can make you seem overly emotional and self-absorbed. Being vulnerable to the wrong person and in the wrong situation can backfire*****.

The problem is that when you want to express vulnerability, it means you are currently feeling vulnerable and thus at the mercy of your emotions. This weakens your judgement and makes it more likely that you will indulge inappropriately. Here, emotions must tempered with logic (paradox #2).

Does too little vulnerability make you invulnerable? I don’t think so. Invulnerability is a different beast from mere ignorance; the quality of actively denying our dark, weak, ugly sides, either knowing it exists but not wanting anyone else to, or having deluded ourselves into thinking they are not there.

****How does invulnerability make a person weak? I guess it ultimately depends on one’s definition of weak. The way I see it, the weakness of the invulnerable lies in not so much in what they are, but what they are incapable of being. As being invulnerable limits growth, they are weak in relation to their peers and their potential self. Weak in the way that when the opportunity for emotional intimacy presents itself, they are not strong enough to reap its reward.

It also depends on the possibility of there being a person who is without flaws. Then there’s nothing to offer in the way of vulnerability. I don’t believe such a person exists, but who’s to know.

*****It helps if the recipient of the vulnerability is also one who is comfortable with their own so that they are less likely to use it against them. Unfortunately, it’s often the people who are not who are most able to/wont to hurt the vulnerable (noun and adjective) (paradox #3…or is it a catch 22).

*except for this talk

3 thoughts on “The Paradoxes of Vulnerability

  1. Reading the paper this morning I ran into this advice:

    Here are the 5 questions from ancient wisdom that will make you emotionally strong:

    1. “Is it useful?” Most worrying isn’t. Make a decision to do something or to let it go.
    2. “Does the world owe me this?” No. Don’t be entitled. Have realistic expectations and you won’t get angry.
    3. “Must I have this to live a happy life?” Probably not. It takes little to make a happy life and there are many ways to get those things.
    4. “Is this who I want to be?” Act the way you do when you’re at your best.
    5. “Have I ever felt that way?” Respond to others’ problems with compassion and you’ll both have fewer problems.

    Like

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