On Vulnerability and Going First

I once heard Dr. Sue Johnson say on The Knowledge Project the following about vulnerability:

We need connection with others like we need oxygen. We’re way too vulnerable without it.

I love this because she isn’t wrong—we need connection with others or we will literally die.

These relationships and the communities that form act as a barrier, a shield, a system of protection against the inevitable storm of life. And, they also provide a source of healing, restoration, and renewal. Who are we, really, without community?

Ironically, many of us believe in the power and importance of relationships and yet we don’t fully buy-in to what they necessarily require. Vulnerability, for instance, is a fundamental ingredient in the formation of new relationships (and friendships!).

Another way of putting it might be:

A gradual escalation of self-disclosure and intimacy-related behavior by both partners.

If you do this, over a long period of time, connections are made, affinities are aligned, and in time, a relationship (and then some)! This isn’t rocket science, it’s just behavior!

And, it’s an invaluable skill which I believe can be trained and taught, as long as it’s in the right environment—that’s why I’ve built a small bootcamp to train others on how to do just that.

The reality is that we’re already vulnerable—the coronavirus is a particularly-useful reminder that we’re all still very susceptible to disease and things that are outside of our control.

Again, as Dr. Johnson so aptly says, relationships are like an immunity boost for us, a protective covering, antibodies that give us strength and courage to face all types of harm—physical, emotional, psychological, and everything in-between.

But we intentionally must choose to be vulnerable with others to make these connections work; and someone must always go first.

That’s why I believe in the gift of going first, being the first out there to be uncomfortable, to risk rejection and even scorn. We do it because we need it (remember, literal oxygen!) and without it we simply cannot maintain any meaningful tie or social bond with others.

Because when we go first, we create a safe place for those that follow to be vulnerable too. I mean, it’s always easier to jump off the high-dive when we see someone else (perhaps even smaller or younger!) go first!

In the end, vulnerability creates the very pathway to unlocking trust, the relational glue and currency that allows us to operate, fully, with one another. Besides, without others, we simply can’t go straight — it’s as if we were biologically designed to do life with others!

Finally, a consistent practice of being vulnerable with others creates resiliency and fortitude, just like repeated visits to the gym (and a healthy diet!) over a long period of time eventually and inevitably yields results.

It doesn’t make the practice, itself, any easier as being vulnerable is an intentional decision and choice that must be made, anew, each and every time the opportunity presents itself.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but, you do learn a thing or too! And overtime you may even learn to be vulnerable with yourself, a mix of relief and excitement because you’ve come to realize that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

But someone has to go first.