I am a therapist. In my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood I’d experienced a variety of things that had felt awful to endure. I was hurting, lonely and needed a safe space. So, what could this inspire me to do for my career? I’d become a therapist. Brilliant! I would be the person who could be there for those who needed it in the same ways that I did. It was, and always will be my goal to “sit with” people who are in their darkest moments so that they feel seen, heard, validated and not so alone in their encounters with the more difficult parts of life. I would not judge on what clients choose to reveal about themselves, as I understand that it takes a great deal of strength to do so. In fact, I would look upon it as an honor that someone may feel trusting enough to share their inner selves with me, in their attempts to learn and grow from talk therapy. Speaking our truth is freeing, healing.
I am a therapist. I know about vulnerability. It is defined as the quality or state of being exposed, even to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, potentially physically or emotionally. It is the willingness to show emotion or to allow one’s weaknesses to be seen or known. Professor Brene Brown (has anyone heard of her? just kidding!) is a well-known speaker and advocate about the importance of being vulnerable with ourselves and with those around us. She posits that in order for us to be vulnerable, we have to be able to take an honest look at ourselves and we have to be willing to extend compassion to our own person. At that point, there is a significant opportunity to achieve a better state of positive mental health. Vulnerability, non-judgment and trust are key to successful talk therapy, and in interpersonal relationships in general.
Anyone want to hear something that isn’t very surprising? I am a therapist. One of the first characteristics that I look for in those around me is their ability to be vulnerable, or not.
How about a real surprise? I am a therapist who has, for the most part, avoided showing any real vulnerability to her own therapist(s).
I am a therapist. In masters and doctorate level teaching programs, it is strongly encouraged that counselors engage in their own counseling services. As everyone’s heard at one point or another, “You can’t take care of anyone else, unless you take care of yourself first.” I didn’t hear that message. In my mind, I looked at it as, I should probably experience what receiving counseling is like before I counsel someone else. Makes sense! It was going to be superficial, and I could DO superficial. I already had my stuff together, right? WRONG. But why would I want a stranger knowing any of my personal business? I didn’t even like my personal business. Why would I want them to know about my inner thoughts and feelings or outward behaviors? I wanted to keep those things a secret. Why would I want to share anything that could lead me to feel embarrassment, guilt, shame or fear? I wouldn’t want to do that. I already feel enough of those things on a regular basis and I definitely didn’t want to tell anyone else about it. Either way, I held strong and continued to engage in counseling services, though I was inconsistent in my treatment attendance and quickly became frustrated feeling that, “nothing’s working.” I’d blame my therapist and switch to a new one, expecting different results. Different results weren’t coming, because I was the one causing the impasse.
I’m a therapist. It took a few very debilitating life events in adulthood (caused by my own self) to realize that I was not behaving in ways that aligned with my core values. Ultimately, I hurt a lot of people, even though I had always wanted to be the person to help others mend from their struggles with life. I also realized that I had been asking clients to do something that I had been unwilling to do myself. To be vulnerable. The only way that I could stop hurting myself, stop hurting other people and find more congruence with my values, words and actions, was to be completely open and honest with my counselors about what I’ve done in the past to bring shame upon myself and how that’s impacted everyone else. I had to make myself uncomfortable, because that’s where the opportunity for change is. Did these revelations make me do a complete 180? Absolutely not. Being vulnerable takes time and practice. It’s about leaping and having faith that you’ll be caught by yourself or someone near and dear to you. I’m still in counseling and I have to continue to work on this daily. There are still things that I don’t want to share but, will myself to anyway. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding myself that I spent a whole lot of hard-earned money taking part in counseling services for almost no reason. I had wasted my time and didn’t give my therapist(s) the opportunity to do their jobs effectively.
I’m a therapist and I keep saying this because I would like to emphasize the point that vulnerability is difficult for EVERYONE, until we trust that we can be vulnerable without being looked down upon. Vulnerability has always been considered to be a weakness, until just recently when people are starting to realize how very courageous it is to share yourself with other human beings. Protecting ourselves is important but only to the extent that it no longer allows us to build meaningful relationships with others, or with the world around us. Vulnerability is at the core of human connection. According to Professor Brene Brown, if we can be vulnerable with others then it creates a space for joy, belonging and love. We can learn how to accept ourselves and recognize our own worth.
I am a therapist and it is my goal to NOT ONLY expect some level of vulnerability from others, but to also be vulnerable myself in order to build healthier connections and to continue down my own path of growth and change.