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The Paradox of Vulnerability

Updated: Jan 29, 2018


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure!"

- Marianne Williamson -


He followed the trail of blood up the long hill through the new developments being built. His friend ahead of him somehow remained silent as he ran like a cheetah chasing down his prey, as the blood gushed profusely from his mouth. That boy bleeding was me after a horrific accident where I caught my four front teeth on the net of an adjustable basketball hoop. I would end up needing to have an oral surgeon rushed into the emergency room to miraculously put my palate back together and flip those four upper teeth back to their original position since they were facing the sky when he walked in. The surgeon then attached a metal wire from the back of one side of my mouth around to the other like a horseshoe, in attempts to hold the teeth together. Those four teeth have been dead since that accident and my crooked smile has become a part of my character.


My silence was due to the fear of my father seeing me with tears running down my cheeks in complete agony. I couldn't cry and show weakness, no matter the fact that my mouth looked like it went through a blender. Hyland’s weren’t allowed to cry and we certainly were too macho to ever be vulnerable. Vulnerability did not exist in our household. I learned my lesson a year or two prior when I put my fist through my next door neighbor’s cellar window, beating my friend to the punch. All seemed well as I puffed my chest out for winning the silly contest, but then I saw the blood. Blood must mean pain, so I thought, and I let out a loud cry, running right past my father standing in the driveway and into the house to my mother's aid. As she consoled me and wrapped my hand up my father walked in. I knew I was in trouble. Not for breaking our neighbor’s window, of course, but for sobbing and showing pain. “What the fuck are you crying for?” he barked at me as my mom grabbed the keys. I ended up with nearly a dozen stitches, which I can still count on my right hand to this day. The art of stitching certainly has improved since that day nearly twenty years ago. But I am still a Hyland and weakness is not allowed in my vocabulary. Instead, ingrained in me is that I can never show vulnerability and let my feelings be known. All from that sunny summer day when I was just an innocent eight year old.


Vulnerability is nearly always synonymous with weakness, but in reality you cannot have one without the other. If you’re vulnerable you’re weak. If you’re weak you’re vulnerable. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, vulnerable is defined as “susceptible to physical injury or attack”. Weakness, however, is defined as “the state of being weak or personal defect or failing.” A person who is seen as weak “lacks physical strength, energy, or vigor, and is likely to fail under pressure or stress.” Based on these definitions, being vulnerable, to me, means you’re more prone to pain, suffering, and shame because of your weaknesses. Of course, I am not focusing on the physical pain when determining vulnerability. Our vulnerability is inside of us, eating away at our self-esteem and building up our ever-growing shame. All the hurt, guilt, and shame we are holding in are due to our fear of being vulnerable. No one wants the stigma of being vulnerable attached to them, especially all of us macho men. With all of this unnecessary rubbish being thrown around inside of us, what are we supposed to do?


There are many things we can and must do if we want to accept who we are, believe in ourselves, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Dr. Brene Brown wrote a fascinating book on vulnerability, Daring Greatly that was instrumental in helping me to learn acceptance during the early stages of my recovery. She states that if we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel emotions that come with it. We need to go ALL-IN. Life is vulnerable, ladies and gentlemen. People are going to have their opinions of you, good and bad, whether you like it or not, and you have little to no say in the matter. That is simply life. I have practiced living by the mantra of the Serenity Prayer for many years, well before I turned to abstaining from drugs and alcohol. If we can learn to "accept the things we cannot change" our lives will have much more potential and freedom. All we are in charge of is how we respond to other's behaviors, which means we are always in charge of our actions. Not them.


One of the great speeches in the history of our great country was by Teddy Roosevelt back in 1910 in Paris, France called "Citizenship In A Republic. During the now famous excerpt known as "Man in the Arena" Roosevelt powerfully delivers a message that resonates with me and has with millions of others in the past century plus.


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


Why should anything that anyone says about us even matter? They have no clue what we have lived through'; they just live with their false pretenses and assumptions. They never have stepped foot into our arena nor have they a clue about the daily battles we are forged in. They are not the ones shedding sweat and blood, battling life! Forget them! Go on striving for greatness, living life on your terms, shedding those tears, facing uncertainty head on, and knowing that YOU will succeed. You will get up off the ground, time after time, never giving up and never giving in. You can. You will.


Society has built this idea that vulnerability is a bad thing, when in all reality it is a necessary part of the growing process of human beings. To me, being vulnerable is an exceptionally strong characteristic for one to possess. It takes a lot of courage to show vulnerability as it is an acceptance of all sorts. We are accepting our flaws, our defects, and owning up to our stories. We are admitting to our mistakes and that we do not have all the answers. When vulnerability can be damaging is when we hold all those aforementioned feelings of guilt, shame, and hurt inside of us. The more they fester and grow within us the more we begin to isolate from society because we are scared of the outcome of owning up to who we really are. We fear the past will define who we are, that people will see us only by our defaults. We start to get a strong sense of unworthiness and our isolation only gets further entrenched as part of our everyday lives. What we need to do is become immune to other's opinions limiting our suffering. Everyone has their own belief system and there is no need to focus on anyone's other than our own.


Why is it not okay for us to show our real feelings? To show we care? To show tears? When we become vulnerable we allow our true character to come out showing that we do not fear fear. That is what strength is. The man with the biggest ego is very rarely the strongest. The man who shows on the outside he is indestructible is usually one of the weakest inside. There is nothing wrong with either if they allow vulnerability into their life. The strongest men and women are the ones who accept who they are by accepting their positives and negatives because we ALL are full of both. Fearing inadequacy is the fear we have of the unknown, of the limitless ability we each possess. We must be willing to defeat adversity, every single day, conquering the stuck-up neighbor who looks down on us, the opinion of the in-law who wishes we never married their child, the co-worker always talking about us at the water cooler, and the friend who tells us to give up on our goals because we are not worthy. Adversity is not going to give you a call and


tell you when it is going to visit you in life. There is no premeditation as adversity comes unannounced packing a punch. It may take blood, sweat, and tears to face the adversity, but that is what being vulnerable is all about.


Are you willing to go out of your comfort zone? To ask for help? To cry on another's shoulder? To simply say, "I don't know."? When you are willing to do these things, you are willing to become vulnerable. You are willing to show you accept YOU! And that is when our potential becomes limitless. The knots in our stomach begin to slowly untwist, the gaping hole in our chest begins to fill with fresh air, and we begin to open up the curtains that we have been scared to see behind for far too long. The light has now broken through the darkness and we no longer see our goals in double vision. We start to believe we can do whatever we put our mind to, just like our mothers have always told us. The only person who can get in the way of our dreams, aspirations, and visions of joy is the person looking back at you every single day in the mirror. When we defeat the opinions of others and accept the person in the mirror, we are well on our way to living a limitless life, full of vulnerability, and courage, and worthiness. A limitless life is worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears we used to be scared to shed.


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