When we hear that word most of us will cringe, laugh or dismiss being vulnerable. Gender roles might come into mind. Males aren't supposed to show emotion, they should be tough, be a rock or simply just put aside their feelings. It's okay for females to cry, be sensitive, and allow ourselves to feel “within reason”, of course.
I had a young male client who once told me that he couldn't show emotions or talk about them because that's not what boys did. If he talked about how he was feeling he felt that the boys would tease him, think that he was being too " feminine". It was not okay; he didn't want to seem like he was weak and not appear confident.
I had a young woman client tell me, that crying is a sign of weakness. She was only to cry in the privacy of her shower. She couldn’t be too sensitive; it was frown upon at work.
When did vulnerability become attached to a sign of weakness or gender roles? How does this play into our self-care?
When someone reaches out and asks for help, wants to discuss how they are feeling regardless of gender, that's a sign of strength. Brene Brown states that " vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but of courage". When we are vulnerable, we are opening ourselves, being non-judgmental, and exposing pieces of ourselves we normally don't. It’s allowing that space for ourselves to accept and acknowledge what has been happening isn’t trivial, but important to us and that ties into self-care.
When we hear self-care, there is so much literature and opinions on what works and doesn’t work that comes to our minds. For someone people, it can mean small things or large grand gestures. I know when I speak about self-care with my clients who are single moms with children with disability, caring for an ailing parent and working, they look at me like I have eight heads. We laugh about it but we really dig and discuss why it’s important. I can feel the resistance and the thoughts tumbling: “Do you see the life I am living; when do I have time; showering is self-care for me, and so on.”
How do we then cultivate vulnerability and self-care? There are plethora options that someone can do regardless of their busy and hectic lifestyles. Here are some tips on how you can start your journey on cultivating vulnerability and integrating self-care into your daily lives:
1.Being self-compassionate towards yourself- Ok, you didn’t do the dishes for a week or the laundry (insert whatever it is that is bothering you), change that thought around. Instead of beating yourself up, try to be gentle with yourself. Okay, I didn’t get (xyz) done, I had a busy week, I can get to it tomorrow when I have some time. There is no shame in that and I am a human being, not a robot.
2. Being mindful towards yourself- when we are tired, hungry, frustrated (label any emotion) we might react to situations differently. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you haven’t slept well, you probably aren’t going to function at your optimal level. So, how do you take care of yourself during that way? How do you take care of that emotion (what does the emotion need so it can be comforted)? Perhaps you need a hug, a phone call to your friend, some healthy food, or even a nap. It’s okay to take care of your needs.
3. Gratitude journal- Vulnerability is scary at times because we can’t always control every aspect of our lives. So, how does the gratitude journal work in this? Well, creating and cultivating that mindset of things we are grateful for – it doesn’t have to be something big i.e. I saw a beautiful sunrise- can help alleviate that perceived sense of losing control, looking at situations in a different perspective, acknowledging the situation, and seeking to find something positive. It doesn’t mean you are putting on rose-tinted glasses, but it does make us feel more appreciate of the things and moments.
4. Connecting with someone- When we vulnerable we may experience many emotions. One of those emotions that Brene Brown talks about is Shame. She talks about in her Ted-Talks and her books, how shame does not like social connection but really prefers isolation. Share your story with someone who will be empathic and someone you trust. It will help shut shame down but also normalize what you are feeling and validate it. A connection is vital and when we isolate and withdraw from others, we allow our internal thoughts that might be not based in facts to take over. Talking to your best friend or someone you trust allows you to take care of yourself in a great way.
5. Learning to have healthy boundaries- Why are boundaries so important for self-care and vulnerability? It’s way of taking care of yourself. It’s not allowing others to take control of our lives, but rather we get to say, yes, I can do this, no I can’t do this and have authority over our lives. Saying NO is hard but what’s even rough is putting so much on our plate that we burn ourselves out and are spread too thin. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person, friend, sibling, etc… It shows people that you value yourself and your time. Before you say yes to something, take a step, be mindful, and let the other person that you will get back to them before you commit.
To wrap it all up, I want to remind you that you are a human being and striving for that “should perfectionism” can be dangerous. Allow yourself to feel emotions, acknowledge, take care of your spiritual, emotional, and physical being. There’s a common statement out there which I wholeheartedly agree with, “You can’t help others until your cup is full”. It’s so vital and so true. We need to have that gas tank full because running on empty doesn’t help the people around and it takes a major toll on you.
I would love to know how you take care of yourself daily!