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August 5, 2014

Vulnerability is a word that we are all familiar with and yet these 13 letters describe a state of being that we don’t give much thought to. Perhaps we should. Every person, without exception, is vulnerable in some way. It is part of the human experience that we all share, and that we each deal with in our own way.

For many people vulnerability is considered to be a form of weakness. It is something that can never be shown. It can never be acknowledged, and it simply cannot be allowed to be a part of who they are. But that is not realistic. We each have aspects of our lives that we wish to keep from being exposed for fear that we will face ridicule or disrespect. That is why we typically equate vulnerability with emotional pain and discomfort.

Try to think of the one person you know who seems to be the happiest and most well-adjusted individual in your life. I promise that if it was possible to peel back the layers you would find that they are actually vulnerable in several different ways.

But there are those who cannot hide their vulnerability. They do not have the capacity or the ability to pretend. They cannot put on an act, and they have no way of hiding their particular issue. The vulnerability of countless human beings is on display for the entire world to see. For individuals who stutter or who are nonverbal or have other speech challenges their vulnerability is excruciatingly difficult to hide. For people with intellectual challenges, who struggle to find acceptance, their vulnerability is sometimes obvious and at other times subtle. For people with emotional trauma that has left them unable to interact with life in a socially approved way their vulnerability can be raw and painful. For those with physical issues ranging from serious health problems to difficulty with motor functions or mobility their vulnerability is witnessed by others every day.

Being vulnerable is often a life long struggle. Obviously at the beginning and at the end of life every one of us is physically, intellectually and emotionally vulnerable. Society expends significant resources making the transition into and out of this world as compassionate as possible. But during the intervening years too many people with serious vulnerabilities struggle without the support they need. When left untreated these can be crippling to their happiness and well-being. Problems are sometimes ignored or simply not dealt with in an appropriate way. In many cases a person does not seek help of any kind - they simply choose to endure.

That is both unfortunate and unnecessary. There are always professionals available for whatever issue a person might be facing. No matter how serious the problem might be, they are trained to assist others in distress. A person only has to be willing to seek help. For those who do step forward to receive treatment, they are demonstrating tremendous courage and character. It is often incredibly difficult to admit that you are vulnerable.

That is why it’s only when we stop wasting exhausting amounts of time and energy in the never ending attempt to hide our vulnerability, that we are able to release ourselves from its power. Embracing our particular challenge as a fundamental part of who we are allows us to stop fighting it and to relax. The tension that accompanies our refusal to admit that we are human, and therefore we struggle, gradually dissipates and is replaced with the comforting feeling of self-respect.

By accepting our vulnerability we can turn it from a perceived liability into an actual asset because accepting it requires us to be brave, and that in itself makes us stronger. To be ourselves, without pretense, is emotionally healthy. We become content with who we really are. Our self-confidence and self-esteem increases as we choose to live our lives honestly.

Please stop for a moment and consider your own vulnerabilities. We all have them. They are an integral part of what makes us human. Some of us are able to hide our particular issues, but for others their vulnerability is readily apparent. When we encounter those people we would be wise to remember our own challenges and resist the temptation to pass judgment or to offer worthless unsolicited advice.

No human being should ever feel like they are being forced to go through life pretending. We must try to find it in our hearts to accept each person as they are. That simple effort will go a long way in making everyone feel more appreciated and comfortable no matter what their vulnerability might be.

Being vulnerable is being honest. When we accept it for what it is we no longer have to let it define us. It is a part of who we are - but it is not all that we are.