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Risks Of Being Vulnerable

Being vulnerable can be so rewarding. It can also be horrifically disappointing. Stereotypically for guys, being vulnerable with thoughts and feelings is simply against a man's nature. It doesn't come naturally. Emotions are saved for when men are alone or to share only with spouses or best friends. I think of the Tom Hanks line from A League of Their Own: "There's no crying in baseball!" Anger seems to be permitted but not fear, worry, or tears. More often I've seen people apologize for getting upset or tearing up than for showing an angry or passionate reaction. 

The more reflective emotions seem to be reserved for women. It seems stereotypically more natural for women to be shedding tears or showing concern. Yet, too much or too frequent emotional displays can also bring scoffing or ridicule.

It's like there's no winning when it comes to being vulnerable. This is why being vulnerable is hard and requires intentionality. 

The reality is that being vulnerable and sharing what you're feeling comes with risk. These risks are both imagined and real. Often, I hesitate to be vulnerable because of what I perceive could happen. In some cases, what I imagine does become reality. However, more often, it's just in my head.

Here are risks of being vulnerable:

Apathy - You share and no one seems to care. Sometimes this perceived apathy is based on expectations. For example, the person or people don't respond in the way you expected. They don't ask questions or the questions they do ask are shallow or not probing. They don't meet your expectations. The reality is caring requires an investment. At a bare minimum, to care requires time to listen and process what's been shared. Beyond that, more time and thought may be required. Depending on what someone has going on in their life, they may be unwilling or unable to process your vulnerability. 

Silence - You share and no one responds. Your text, email, or social media post is met with silence. The reality is people are distracted and sometimes they just don't know how to respond. Maybe they need to process what you've shared. Maybe it really surprised them. Your being vulnerable should be about your sharing - period. It should not be about getting a response from a certain person or persons. 

Changed View - You share and people see you in a different, negative way. For example, if you know or believe others view you as a leader and you're vulnerable about something...you perceive that vulnerability will cause them to view you as weaker or less qualified for a role. The reality is how others view you will and should change. You've exposed a sensitive, raw area of your life. Some will cherish, some will be uncomfortable, and some may turn away from you. You cannot control their response - that's on them.

Unsolicited Advice - You share and it leads to a lecture on what you should do. I avoid sharing with certain people because to me they're more interested in fixing what I'm going through than listening to me. They're more interested in sharing how I should fix it (which is how they would fix it) but don't have the situational experience to offer the advice.  The reality is that unless you've been through a specific event - the loss of a loved one, extended unemployment, being in the wrong line of work, getting a divorce, sudden illness -  there’s really not a lot of advice you can offer. You should listen. Just listen. Then listen some more. And maybe offer a little feedback. I believe that when someone is going through a loss or grief and trying to process something, they really just want to know that they are not alone.

Job Loss - You share and it leads to your being fired. This is a very specific but not unrealistic fear. In today's "small world," what you share with someone verbally could get back to your employer just as easily as what you text, email, or post on social media. Wisdom and discernment are critical here. If you need to be vulnerable about your job, coworkers, or management - and you cannot do that at work - the audience for that has to be trusted. Just "grin and bear it" at work is appropriate if the issue is temporary. But often foundational issues need to be examined.

Wrong or Not Enough Prayers - You share and someone expresses that you need to pray more. Or that you haven't been praying correctly. I think of John 9: 1-2 "Now as Jesus was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth, and His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him." Praying for someone's wisdom, discernment, and comfort while they are struggling is appropriate. But because they are struggling doesn't mean they aren't praying, they aren't praying enough, or that they are praying about the wrong things.

Vulnerability cannot be forced. When you are ready - share. When someone else is ready, they'll share with you. Often, vulnerability attracts vulnerability. If you're willing to share, others will.

What I've learned is that through my being vulnerable, many others have been encouraged, worthy, and included. I will take the risks every day if one person can benefit.


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