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Strength has always been an admirable feature to have, I don’t think I know anybody who would be insulted to be called strong. I’m not talking about physical strength, I’m talking about emotional, mental and spiritual strength.
Being called strong means you’re seen as grounded and not only in touch with yourself, but what’s going on around you too. When things get tough a strong person gets going and gets on with life.
Vulnerability is not quite as admirable, it is usually associated with weakness and I’ve never heard anybody being referred to as weak in a positive way. Being vulnerable conjures images of someone cowering in a corner or being walked all over by people, it represents a certain level of failure or inadequacy no body wants to be associated with.
There are a lot of influences in our lives which tell us to be strong, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed these as well but I’ve become very aware of it recently. I’m guilty of glorifying the word ‘strength’ just as much as anyone else, especially when it comes to handling my own issues. When I fail or find something hard, the first thing I tell myself is “Be strong, Phoebe.” Most of the time these words are followed by a sharp intake of breath and then I get on with it.
While this process usually works, this week has been different because I do not feel strong. My usual internal rally has not worked and I have found myself trying to fabricate strength out of nothing. Realising this felt terrible, how could I not have any strength left in the tank? I should just be able to buck up and get on with life. This got me thinking, what if strength isn’t always the answer? What’s so wrong with a little vulnerability?
You can only be so strong for so long, there comes a time when you will be defeated, exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to give up and this is when opening yourself up and exposing a vulnerable side can really help.
I usually try to do everything myself, it’s hard for me to accept I’ve not been able to do something and even harder to expose the vulnerable side of myself by allowing someone else in to see the failure and help me get back up. It’s a lesson which has been hard to learn but every time I hit rock bottom and not only admit it to myself, but also let Matt in to help, things get a lot better a lot quicker.
In some ways it’s easier to keep being strong and pretending everything is fine, the difficult part is facing what’s inside you and opening yourself up to allow other people in to help. I suppose we are riddled with fear because vulnerability is terrifying. There’s an overwhelming concern the person we expose this to will laugh at us and we’ll be in an even worse position than we were before because not only do we know we’re weak, someone else does too! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never asked a friend for help and been laughed at.
It seems to me vulnerability has a bad reputation for all the wrong reasons. While it may not be easy to open yourself to letting people in, it’s a lot better than the alternative. This doesn’t mean we each have to run out and immediately start sharing our most intimate concerns with everyone we know, it can start small.
Recently I decided to start asking questions more, when I really don’t understand something I’ll ask a question and if I still don’t understand it, I’ll ask again. This terrified me, I was worried if I asked a question everyone around me would roll their eyes and think I was stupid for not getting it in the first place.
It turns out the opposite happened, in asking questions at work and being honest about what I had been doing I realised all my colleagues had been doing the same thing and, as my boss pointed out, we were all doing it wrong. My initial fear of opening myself up to being laughed at has been replaced by confidence, because now I know exactly what I should be doing.
If you’ve opened yourself up before and had it back fire on you, there is no other way to conquer that fear than to open yourself up and try again.
If there’s any doubt or uncertainty in you that you can’t conquer on your own, just remember that you don’t need to. No matter how small or big it is the old saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ will always apply. You don’t need to do everything, be everything or know everything. It’s okay to admit you’ve failed, don’t understand something, can’t do something or share your fears and concerns with a trusted friend.
I can’t recall how many times I’ve taken the risk and confided something to a friend only to find out they’ve had the same experience. It is a huge relief to realise you’re not the only person to have had a strange thought, questioned something or done something wrong. Your feelings are immediately validated and the shame and pressure are taken off you, replaced by relief at knowing someone else is as crazy too.
In many ways this is what littlegreybox has been to me, there are times I think nobody will understand what I’m writing about, understand it or care about it. Each time I post I expose myself to negative feedback or comments, but every single time there will be at least one person who says to me ‘I know exactly what you mean’ and immediately I know I did the right thing in taking the risk and sharing part of myself.
Rather than seeing vulnerability as a weakness, see it as a chance to open yourself up to the answer instead of isolating yourself with the problem.
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