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Why showing vulnerability is good for the soul

Have you ever stood in front of an audience and thought, wow, I really hope they can’t tell how nervous I am…?

By Lucy Nichol

Have you ever stood in front of an audience and thought, wow, I really hope they can’t tell how nervous I am…?

We’ve all been there. Hoping our hands are not shaking and our cheeks are not burning as bright as a cherry red lipstick. Instead we try to emit some kind of fierce confidence to encourage our audience to respect us. But in my experience, this just makes the entire event ten times harder.

Vulnerability isn’t a weakness. It’s human. And, conversely, it’s usually the one thing that will demand far more respect than putting on a fake front.

A front is like a stone-cold shield. A barrier that comes between you and your audience, your friends, your colleagues. It strips us of the human ability to connect. And how can you demand respect if you don’t connect?

I often tell this story, but this was a real light bulb moment for me…

Back in 2016, when I was just starting out in mental health awareness raising, blogging and media work, I attended an event at Time to Change. The event was opened by the Executive Director, Jo, who began her welcome by telling us about how she’d had a wardrobe malfunction on the way in. Immediately, I liked her.

Then we were greeted by the guest speaker, blogger and author, Claire Eastham. Claire opened by telling the audience she was ‘shitting’ herself (not literally of course). I immediately warmed to Claire as well.

I reflected on the words of Jo and Claire and realised that I still held them with great respect. In fact, if anything, because of how warm and open they were, that respect was amplified.

So why is that? Why is it that in showing our vulnerabilities we are more likely to succeed?

Ruth Cooper-Dickson, a positive psychology coach and founder of Champs Consulting, said: “In demonstrating vulnerability we are allowing people to see our authentic self, flaws and all, and this is something that inspires connection, warmth and empathy in others.

“Of course, you don’t need to feel compelled to give a warts and all approach to it. I know from experience that this can sometimes cause what I describe as a vulnerability hangover – especially in the early stages of re-authoring your story.

“However, if it does make you feel uncomfortable after demonstrating vulnerability just sit kindly with yourself and allow these emotions to flow to help you understand and perhaps recognise what is going on underneath.”

It can feel slightly strange and awkward when you start to own up to the fears you have or the nerves you are experiencing. But, believe me, it’s worth pushing through that because you’ll find so much relief in the long term.

And this isn’t simply about practising vulnerability when public speaking or presenting in a meeting. I think vulnerability can play a role in overcoming imposter syndrome more broadly as well. I was recently voted in as Chair for a small charity. I was encouraged to stand, but I was incredibly nervous about what was involved. Surely I wasn’t the right person to do this role? I didn’t have enough experience. However, when I was voted in, I decided to just be vulnerable. To thank everybody for putting their faith in me and to admit that it was a steep learning curve but that I promised I would give it my all. I now no longer feel like an imposter. I was authentic in who I am and what I could bring to the table. I’ll learn more each and every day and that’s perfectly OK.

It’s strange that we have such a warped idea as to what is endearing or deserving of respect. It’s the same with body image. We get these ideas that we have to look or act in a certain way in order to be loved, but our distraction with these things only serves as a big barrier.

Ruth added: “If we can truly begin to unlock our authentic self and embrace our vulnerabilities, we can very quickly feel more at home in whatever situation we find ourselves in.” 

It’s taken me a long time, and I’m certainly not perfect with loving and owning my vulnerabilities, but I’m getting there. And it’s making life a much more satisfying place to be.

To find out more about how to embracing your vulnerability and your ‘mental wealth’ more broadly, check out Ruth’s:

online coaching course

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