Finding Strength in Vulnerability

As human beings, we are often forced to face certain life circumstances which is not just challenging but also prove to be extremely stressful and energy draining. Since we are a part of the vast community and society, it is expected of us to behave, think and adapt to certain lifestyles, cultures, beliefs, etc which when not adhered to can really make an individual feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, scared, etc of how it would be perceived by the larger society. Such instances in general are enough to make any person feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability as a part of human life seems to be long overdue. We all experience and speak about the aspect of vulnerability at all points of time but the intentions behind this might be different and the acceptance of it seems to be such a tedious task. Vulnerability in psychology has had an important place and context. It might not be wrong to say that in the definition of a human being, the word vulnerability almost always has to have an important function. We often hear how the patient/client who walks into the clinical setting is the most vulnerable at that moment and it is the collective efforts and contribution of the client and psychologist which brings about a major positive change in the client’s life. Psychologists, psychotherapists, and the like are often perceived as being superhumans with there being no emotions whatsoever in the situation.

In our society, there are in place pretty hard norms especially in terms of masculinity and femininity. While feeling vulnerable is thought of as an integral part of the feminine personality, vulnerability is thought of as something equivalent to being abnormal in the masculinity dictionary. Why is it not okay for men to cry, to feel nervous in front of life challenges, to decide to explore options not assigned to one’s gender category? For instance, I remember that not long ago, boys taking the Humanities/Arts was considered an unbearable thought. It is high time that we normalize the most commonly used word ‘vulnerability’ in our everyday vocabulary. This is important because taking a step towards acceptance empowers an individual to feel comfortable with the varied emotions/feelings one is experiencing at the moment and lead him/her towards loving oneself. If one is not encouraged to do, he/she might get caught in the endless cycle of disavowing the vulnerable parts of the self and projecting it onto the external environment. In this way, they may keep seeing those vulnerable parts in others thus isolating themselves not just from themselves but also others. This cycle might create issues in balancing the positive and negative aspects of the self and thus psychologically start affecting him/her.

A very common statement or rather a question encountered by people in the psychology field is: How can you become so emotional? If you become emotional, then how will you treat your clients? This statement/question is in itself a problematic one. While on one hand, it suggests a perception about the psychologist becoming a superhuman capable of saving people from distress, on the hand other, it also suggests that person’s a panic/fear regarding the consequence of feeling vulnerable at the moment. ‘You cannot afford to become vulnerable. It is our work to feel vulnerable and your work to make us feel empowered. We both cannot experience vulnerability.’ the statement seems to suggest.

Having gathered knowledge through personal experiences; be it assignments, internships, case studies, etc, a major learning process has been the reality that it is okay to feel vulnerable at times. It is a moment of togetherness, a moment wherein truth can be conveyed in the simplest of the words; a space from where a person gains strength can feel empowered. I noticed that in interacting with a person in the clinical setting, it is not often the cold face that works in rapport formation; rather an honest display of emotions that are not too extreme really helps in trust-building and rapport formation. Emotions play a key role in therapy. And the feeling of vulnerability is an aspect that is a very crucial part of therapy and which helps us become humans first. During the pandemic, we observed how there was a lot of verbal abuse in place more often than not, a visible display of people experiencing vulnerability. It is often misunderstood for people playing a victim card to get attention, seek revenge, etc. But underlying such abuse is the reality of disavowal. Showing our vulnerable sides is to show oneself as weak which in turn might instigate isolation from society, from our loved ones. To avoid such a dilemma, it is only ideal to disavow or isolate oneself from the experience of vulnerability and put on an invisible shield of fearlessness, courage, etc. Such a thought needs to be taken away from the roots and instead normalize and put to practice the feeling and acceptance of vulnerability.    

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