Vulnerability is Perfectly Imperfect ~ It's okay to say...

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Does saying the following phrases make you feel nervous or maybe even anxious?

  • "I don't know" 
  • "I made a mistake"
  • "I'm sorry"
  • "I need help"

It used to be such an anxiety inducing experience for me to say these phrases, but since starting therapy my thoughts and feelings with these phrases is changing, in a positive way. Now I find myself wondering: Why the struggle to say these words?

After doing some research, it appears that I'm not alone and two things keep coming up in my thoughts and in my research:

  1. Our need for perfection and the fear of imperfection ~ The above phrases can be seen as flaws, thus proving that we're not perfect, and this is a scary thought for many  
  2. Our fear of vulnerability and our need to hide how vulnerable we really are ~ Saying these phrases displays vulnerability, and this can also be scary 

Perfectly Imperfect

We're human, we're imperfect, and that's real and totally okay! Perfection is a man made illusion created to control and turn us into efficient worker bees. Aiming for perfection keeps us so busy trying to achieve it, that we never have time to question the profoundly sick system that brainwashes us in the first place. If we don't accept imperfection, we can't shift our awareness and begin to heal.

Accepting and even embracing imperfection is liberating, it allows us to be real rather than spend our time creating a facade of perfection. I'm not saying don't do your best; doing our best and trying to be perfect are two very different things. Do your best but accept that you're an imperfect being, and the real self is more valuable than an illusion of yourself.

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
(Brené Brown)


The same way we're conditioned to strive for perfection and to see imperfection as an undesirable feature, we are also conditioned to see vulnerability as a weakness.

But here's the thing, we are all vulnerable. We're our most vulnerable as children, but no matter how much we try to deny it, we stay vulnerable. Some of us are more vulnerable than others, and our degrees of vulnerability can vary throughout our lives, but the fact is we can't avoid vulnerability.

As children, we become acquainted with vulnerability, but it seems that as we age we become scared to display vulnerability. As life goes on, we create a bigger and bigger gap between our real vulnerable selves and the version of our selves that we portray to the world.

"Vulnerability is an act of courage because you merge with your authentic self, instead of hiding behind a facade to appease others."
(Tony Fahkry)

We don't want to be vulnerable, so we build an armor around our hearts, but our survival actually depends on us recognising and accepting that we are vulnerable. In order to have a healthy relationship with ourselves, and with others, we must acknowledge, embrace and work with (rather than against!) our vulnerability.

“What happens when people open their hearts?
They get better”
(Haruki Murakami)

In the words of  Brené Brown, there is power in vulnerability; “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

"I don't know"

We're not born with a fear of saying "I don't know"; children are actually extremely happy to ask questions. But we're conditioned to be afraid of not knowing; of not being perfect, and eventually we begin to assume that we will look stupid or incompetent if we don't know something(s). That assumption can then prevent us from asking questions and from saying "I don't know", meaning we can actually stop ourselves from learning, thus keeping us less informed.

We learn as we live and experience life, so how can we expect to be born knowing it all? Even as we age and experience things, we can't experience every single thing so there is no way we will ever know everything. And trying to pretend that you know everything can be extremely stressful and exhausting. We all know plenty, but we don't know it all, and that's really okay.

Admitting that we don't know something or that we aren't sure, actually makes us more relatable and creates a space where others can be open and honest too. Before you know it, you could be exchanging information, and that exchange strengthens relationships. We can't know everything but we can be open to learning from others and from our life experiences.

However, if you never say "I don't know", then you stop others from sharing their knowledge with you. Plus, nobody likes a know it all. I'm actually wary of people who claim to know it all. I found freedom and peace in admitting that I don't know everything, and from understanding that I will forever be learning and changing. We're fluid after all, and knowledge only helps us grow.

I now try to approach "I don't know" situations as an opportunity to learn and to get curious about a new thing! I've noticed that I am much more comfortable with saying "I don't know", and it can be fun once you experience how rewarding being that honest can be.

"I made a mistake"

I think this is the one that I struggle with the most. Like many, I grew up in an environment where mistakes were frowned upon, and as a result, I always worked really hard to cover up my mistakes or to not make any in the first place; I really tried to be perfect! Perfection is impossible to achieve, and it became unbearable to live with that stress and this played a big part in my breakdown. We are imperfect and mistakes are inevitable. 

Years of therapy and self development have helped me understand that mistakes are ways to learn new things.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
(Albert Einstein)

We actually need to make mistakes! It's part of life. We can take power back by making mistakes and properly admitting it. This is healthy, as doing so can:

  • Help us release the truth and possibly even find a kind soul to help us process, accept and deal with that mistake
  • Help others by creating a space where they can also say "I made a mistake". When we're open and honest, we create a space where others can be open and honest too. Side note: This can sometimes lead to healthy communication! GASP!
  • Help those affected by that mistake, by taking responsibility and apologising for making the mistake, you are also validating the feelings of the recipients of said mistake. 

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”
(Ralph Nader)

"I'm sorry" 

A sincere "I'm sorry" is meaningful; it can mean the world to another living being and it has the power to change lives in positive ways. Genuinely admitting that you've made a misatke, or that you've hurt or let someone down is healthy communication and shows emotional vulnerability, which is an extremely positive quality.

This is only applicable to genuine apologies though - I repeat,"genuine" - as there are many narcissists out there who love to apologise for the sake of apologising, turning their "I'm sorry" into fake and meaningless words. When we can't admit that we have made a mistake or that we have let someone else down, then we can apologise but that apology is not genuine and loses its power to do good.

Apologies don't undo the harm and make everything okay, but genuine apologies can play a big part in the healing process; it can ease the pain and validate those that need it to heal. Genuine apologies can also create space for forgiveness and for rebuilding relationships; it also shows the recipient that you value them.

Taking responsibility for making a mistake or for hurting another requires maturity, strength and humility. Plus, nobody likes a dumbass who refuses to apologise for their mistakes or harmful actions because they see themselves as too important to do so.

"Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and say that it was at least partly our fault? Can we take that responsibility?"
Genuinely saying "I'm sorry" has the power to not only help another, but it also allows you to begin releasing valid guilt and stress. I say "valid" because if you're anything like I used to be, then you end up apologising for things you shouldn't be sorry for, like taking up space which is unreasonable as well as unhealthy. And if you do that too, then it's something I recommend you work on with a good therapist.

“Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
(Brené Brown)

"I need help"

Actually, on second thought, this is the one I struggle with the most.

Many of us believe that needing help is a weakness and that if we ask for help we are imposing on others; we're a burden. As a result, we end up going out of our way to avoid looking "needy". However, we; humans, are extremely needy animals, and hiding behind a "I'm fine" and a "I can do this alone" mask can really wear you down and no good comes from it, because truth is - we can't do this thing called life alone; we need each other. 

Society has conditioned us to strive to be independent individuals, that way we don't "burden" others with our needs and we prove that we are not "weak". First of all, asking for help shows maturity and strength. Secondly, independence is a myth (I'm posting about indepdence being a myth soon) and another man made illusion to keep us running around on our own without honestly speaking to each other and without questioning the system which keeps us alone and lonely. Asking for and accepting help is essential to our survival. As is giving help to others. If we don't help each other, we are truly and utterly fucked as a species. 

We often underestimate the power of asking for help. Saying "I need help" and asking another for their input can actually strengthen our relationships. I believe that Gregg Levoy put it brilliantly:

"The refusal to ask for help is a kind of arrogance, a blind insistence on doing it all by yourself no matter what, because along with it comes the message that no one’s help is worth the price in vulnerability it will cost you, that ultimately no one can console you or ease your pain, and no one is that strong if you yourself aren’t. Such cussedness betrays a tremendous lack of faith in others, in the tensile strength of love and friendship, and in your own ability to survive embarrassment. Resourceful people, however, gather their resources and join forces."

All the toxic nonsense surrounding the need of help; whether it be asking for it or giving it, means that good help is actually hard to find. So, I say we do our best to ask for help, accept help, and help each other. Please note, this should not be confused with abusing others or letting ourselves be abused by others! Taking advantage of others or being taken advantage of is not the same as help. I think the best help comes from people who are their authentic selves and struggle, or have struggled, and overcome their own problems; they're aware of the power of asking for, accepting, and giving help, and of the power of building genuine connections. Such people have "been there, done that"; they have lived experience, which has enabled them to empathise and understand the challenges involved. 

Asking for help is not giving the responsibility to someone else, it's actually taking responsibility for your life and saying "I'm ready for change, can you help me get there?", and you may have to deal with some difficult truths once those words are said. Asking for help means you're willing to accept your vulnerability, and in some cases it means admitting that you're ready for action. If someone gives you the help you need, you then need to be ready to accept that help and to work with others to ensure that help actually makes a difference. My relationship with this phrase is healthier now, partly because I had a mental and physical breakdown and had to ask for help. Asking for help is the best decision I have ever made; I'm alive today because I asked for, looked for, and accept help. And on that note, I'll end this post with the very important words of Michele L. Sullivan:

"I would not be where I am today if it was not for my family, my friends, my colleagues, and the many strangers that help me every single day of my life. It's important we all have a support system; asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.

We all need help throughout our lifetime, but it is just as important that we are part of other people's support system. We must adapt our way of giving back; we all obviously have a role to play in our own successes, but think about the role we have to play in other peoples' successes, just like peope do for me every single day.

It's vitally important that we help each other, because society is increasingly placing people in silos based on biases and ideologies. And we must look past the surface and be confronted with the truth that none of us are what you can see, there's more to us than that and we are all dealing with things that you cannot see. So, living a life free of judgement allows all of us to share those experiences together and have a totally different perspective.

So remember, the only shoes you truly can walk in are your own, I cannot walk in yours. I know you can't walk in mine. But we can do something better than that, with compassion, courage, and understanding, we can walk side by side and support one another. And think about how society can change if we all do that instead of judging on only what you can see."

In other words,

It's okay to say "I don't know"
It's okay to say "I made a mistake"
It's okay to say "I'm sorry"
It's okay to say "I need help"

Thank you for coming to this TED Talk.

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