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Finding Strength in Vulnerability Through Loss

Hi, I'm Tessa–licensed therapist, mother, fiancée and enneagram Four (see the enneagram tattooed on my left forearm below).


Most of the photos of me online these days look like this:



Pretty nice, huh. But also, so what? Let me explain. Last week a client asked me, "What's so strong about vulnerability?" And we explored the apparent contradiction together, looking for explanations and definitions that made sense. But in the end, I don't think she was quite satisfied, and neither was I.


During therapy sessions, I often turn to analogies, nature, and illustrative stories to help broaden or clarify perspective. But in this case, I was somewhat stumped.


A metaphor that came to mind since, is one of nature's finest examples of vulnerability as strength: trees that bend, but do not break. Overstated? Maybe. But also so very true. If trees were rigid and stiff, they would snap with changes in the weather. It's their softness that makes them resilient and strong.



Trees are also one of the best models of collective support we're aware of, besides fungi, in how they communicate and collaborate for the good of all. Even when individually vulnerable or threatened, they nurture each other's well-being (See Fantastic Fungi, available on Netflix, for more on these incredible phenomena).


Another therapeutic measure I take from time to time, is to share personal snippets from my own life, when appropriate and potentially helpful. It builds connection, relatability, and models vulnerability! In this vein, as I pondered my client's question further, a story from my college years came to mind.


In my early 20's, I went through a breakup. I felt devastated, raw and exposed. Yet the reality of emotional pain is it's invisible unless we share it, and no one could really tell what I was going through. So, I decided to do something to make my loss more, well, visible:


Tessa

Revealing ourselves, opening up, and sharing our tender spots is scary, because it makes us vulnerable to being hurt; and when already hurting it's even harder, because we're afraid of feeling more pain.

And it's partially true––the feeling more part. But herein lies some of the strength of vulnerability: when we risk revealing ourselves in our pain and shame, especially in the presence of trusted others, we also make ourselves available to healing! And we offer up a gift to anyone else who is going through something similar.


That's what the authors of How to Survive the Loss of a Love: A different kind of guide to overcoming all your emotional hurts did. This little book is a lifeline to anyone suffering loss, afraid their broken heart might kill them. It's provides hope, and evidence you're not alone and you'll survive. It's also full of helpful tidbits, like this visual of how we tend to think healing goes, versus how it actually goes:



It was on an upswing of my healing process, while volunteering in Katrina's wake (another great antidote to loss: helping others), that I was powerfully moved to share my vulnerability with anyone who saw me, meanwhile making good on an intention to shave my head at least once in my life. So, off I went to a local barbershop, much to the southern barber's amusement, and asked them to cut off my long hair. Then I posted some pictures online looking something like this:



Initially the bangs and bandana stayed on; I was afraid to fully commit right away! Sometimes we just have to take vulnerability in steps. As was that case for that 20-something girl, who was hurting inside and doubting her worth, yet took a risk anyway to try and discover her beauty beyond some of society's norms.


There's a great conversation between Brené Brown, expert researcher on vulnerability and shame, and Oprah, where Brené defines the title of her book Daring Greatly as, "the courage to be vulnerable... to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. Talk about what you're feeling. To have the hard conversations."


Oprah responds with her realization that her success comes from living in the space of vulnerability! And she calls vulnerability, "the cornerstone of confidence, where we recognize we're just like everybody else".

So there you have it.


Being vulnerable is the way we open ourselves to connection with others and the world around us.



When we hide behind our masks and defenses, no one can see who we really are. And any connections we make can't be tried, tested or deemed true.



Yes, there is the risk that we'll be hurt when we take off the armor, drop our weapons, bare our bellies and souls–


–but the potential to be hurt doesn't mean we are weak. It means we are human. It means we are alive.



In daring to reveal our "true" selves and be seen, we have the opportunity to know we are fully loved, even while taking the chance we'll be rejected.


But rejection isn't evidence that we're unfit for love; it just means someone else didn't have the capacity to embrace us in our fullness. And that we, as social animals, didn't give up on ourselves or our search for "our people."


Every experience of vulnerability has the chance to teach us about our strength, our support systems inside and out, and our ability to face, carry, endure, resist, hold out, hold on, or whatever other words you choose to define what it means to be STRONG.

Shaving my head taught me unequivocally that I didn't need hair to be feminine, beautiful or loved, even though now I now have long hair again, and I do love it. Vulnerability does not strip us of our power of choice, it expands it!


The strength of vulnerability is about choosing our moments, people, and places to take risks and the time to find out who we really are, what we're made of, and who'll be there through it all 💓 And that's about as strong as it gets.



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Guest
Apr 15
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Wise words--

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Guest
Apr 04
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Very nicely written Tessa

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