Vulnerability Is The Gateway
Kia ora, it’s me again Jenn Onyeiwu, your monthly columnist on black mental health. This month we're deep diving into vulnerability and shame.
If there’s one thing to know about me: I am a podcast fiend.
I’m constantly on the hunt for something new to listen to. Lately I have been listening to Brene Brown: the queen of vulnerability and shame shadow work. One of things that she was talking about that really resonated with me was that:
Vulnerability is the gateway.
The gateway to what
From my own recent experiences, the gateway to greatness. I know that sounds a bit dramatic and yes, I’m an actor, but stay with me.
At the beginning of the year, I was challenged along with my workmates to do something out of our comfort zones. Not necessarily a New Years Resolution, rather a call to action for 2021. I was drawing a blank thinking about big activities like skydiving (never) and dance es.class
To be fair, I did do salsa classes with my mate Logan so... check. The real big step out of my comfort zone was when I went and asked this guy for his number. Let’s be clear, it’s not like I was skipping over to him with Herculean confidence. I was sweating bullets and my heart was pounding out of my chest! I asked him for his number and surprisingly he gave it to me including his teammates. Granted he gave me both those numbers because he thought I was planning a dinner. Nevertheless, seeing as my mission was to ask him for his number, the fact that I walked away with two is simply overachieving.
In last month’s column I was talking about the power of your voice and I’ve been thinking more about that. I believe that vulnerability is the key to that power. I spent most of my teens and early twenties emotionally armoured up. I swear you would think I was in basic training for the war on vulnerability. It was a bit ridiculous.
Funnily enough, when I was more distant, my soul was yearning for emotional connection and intimacy. My inner child would be jumping up trying to get a seat at my table, but my inner critic would be shouting, “You will not be accepted if you are seen. You will not be accepted if you open up right now. Don’t do it, Jennifer!” Ironically, those were the times in my life that I thought I had everything under control.
20th century psychologist Carl Jung coined the term ‘inner child’ to describe the vulnerable, sensitive part of ourselves that remains at the core of our being. That inner child is the part of ourselves that feels our emotions, our curiosity, our trauma, our playfulness. As an actor, connecting to your inner child is similar to opening a toolbox. It allows you to play and be open to new ideas and experiences, all while grounding yourself to your core: your true self. The best work you will do as a performer starts once you connect and truly engage with your inner child.
“Vulnerability can be healing when there is an opportunity to express one’s physical and relational needs and to be valued just as one is while remaining interpersonally secure. Vulnerability includes being open to any interpersonal encounter with an absence of defenses.” (Erskine, 2013, p. 2)
Now, not to put my mum’s story on blast but she was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in Year 13. It was scary! The type of scary that flows in your bloodstream and permeates out of you throughout fakeness and exhaustion. Looking back I could have saved my energy and just had ‘I’M FINE’ printed on a shirt. Like most, I viewed vulnerability as weakness and something you don’t have time for. An indulgence. It is understandable to me why I thought and operated that way. It was survival mode. Had I taken the armour off and admitted that I was scared and overwhelmed a lot more progress and authenticity could have been mined from that situation. Thank God my beautiful mum has been in remission for 5 years now and I’m claiming that’s going to remain that way for decades to come.
Here’s what I’ve identified since I made vulnerability a priority
Vulnerability is a daily practice. It takes conscious effort especially at the beginning to be vulnerable. It was not a muscle I was actively utilising and like any skill it takes practice.
The more authentic you are in life, the less room you have for inauthenticity. Or at the very least you spot it more.
You start to live more boldly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now I’m channeling my inner strength, I make bolder choices.
I am less apologetic for my existence.
So those have been my deductions about my vulnerability. It has opened the door to my greatness. It’s allowed me to stop lugging around the dead-weight armour that was ‘protecting’ me from everything; including my humanity. Chasity Chandler, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author eloquently said on the Therapy for Black Girls podcast that, “To be vulnerable is a strength. To be vulnerable is to be alive. Every decision, every turn we take day in and day out, is a sign of vulnerability.” I encourage you all to look at your own lives and challenge yourself to just one area where you can allow for more conscious vulnerability. Stand up, and stand out with your heart open and I truly believe the greatness will follow.
Erskine, R. G. (2013). Vulnerability, Authenticity, and Inter-subjective Contact: Philosophical Principles of Integrative Psychotherapy. International Journal of Integrative Psychotherapy, 2.
Chandler, C. & Harden Bradford, J. (Host). (2019, February 27). Exploring Vulnerability [Audio Podcast Episode]. In Therapy for Black Girls. Pressable. https://open.spotify.com/episode/21em92lFDUGu41R74HVFxe?si=KOIx8uU0SyiDqGxBNIfFkA&dl_branch=1