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Being Vulnerable is the New Strength

Why is being Vulnerable important? 

My clients tell me they want to feel heard and seen, so they weep in sessions. Usually, the tears come with a cathartic feeling and apology; to me, it feels like they’ve done something wrong by crying. Deep down, we all know no one has done anything wrong by weeping. I was one of them.

So what makes us feel so wrong to cry, to be vulnerable? I remember my first personal therapy session. I told my therapist, “Can you teach me how to cry?” He looked at me in shock. “Okay? Tell me how you feel when you cry.” I went silent. I guess crying means weak?! I went, “I don’t know.”

Growing up hearing the idiom, “Softness overcome hardness (以柔克刚).” I don’t like this translation. Let me try to use my own words. Softness means Ying, feminist, the element of water, being vulnerable, knowing your limitations, or knowing when to rest; hardness means Yang, masculine, the element of fire, being strong, pushing over the limits, or keeping going and never stopping. In grad school, I remember during my first Art Therapy course, Art Explorations, Dr. Anthony Bodlovic asked us, “What are your strengths?” We were excited and confused; some of us made a list on paper, and some didn’t know what to write, “I want you to know your strongest strength is knowing your limitations.” This time, I went silent again. 

Dr. Gabor Maté talked about what is vulnerable. He thinks, in Mandarin, vulnerable is “Wei Ji (危机),” the two characters, one means danger and the other means opportunity. There will be opportunities after the danger. Vulnerable can be “Cui Ruo (脆弱) means easy to break” in Mandarin, but I get what he meant. Things that are easy to break can also be flexible and can be transformed into different shapes. Like the Microbots in the movie Baymax, they are easy to break and, easy to reform, hard to capture. In Latin, vulnerable is “vulnerary, meaning to wound,” so healing and growth come after getting wounded. In nature, trees grow from soft shoots but not hardened branches. So the soft shoots can grow bigger. Arthropods, such as crabs, shrimps, insects, and so on, which make up 80% of all animal species, grow from softer shells into hard ones. So they won’t stay small.

Without being vulnerable, there is no growth.

Courage, in Latin, means telling your story with the whole heart. According to Brené Brown, the power of vulnerability is the birthplace of joy. You can only have courage after you fully embrace vulnerability. 

It’s time for us to unpack this untouchable emotion—-at least admitting we can be vulnerable.

(Collage made by Chao Zhao in Dr. Anthony Bodlovic's Art Exploration course)

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