(4 min read)
When I first got to South America, I decided to learn the Spanish language so that I could connect better with the locals and assimilate into their ways of life. I mean, it was just a new language where I had zero background in. How difficult could that be?
I was absolutely wrong.
I never expected learning a new language to be such a daunting and challenging process. Something as simple as this needed so much emotional vulnerability.
The difference between physical vulnerability and emotional vulnerability
The word “vulnerable” never had a good reputation. In fact, the Oxford dictionary defines it as being “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”. As such, being vulnerable is always regarded as something risky and negative.
I agree that subjecting ourselves to physical vulnerability ie. being exposed to the possibilities of being physically hurt is silly. We are responsible for our own physical well-beings.
However, I disagree that emotional vulnerability is always dangerous. In fact, I’ve realised that it can actually be surprising good for us.
Should I embrace emotional vulnerability?
Take me learning Spanish for example. Because I knew I ran the risk of baring my imperfections to another stranger with the possibility of being mocked and laughed at, I had always subconsciously reverted back to English as my preferred choice of speech right after classes, stubbornly clinging unto my safety rope for that false sense of security.
However, I knew that I had to stop worrying how others might perceive me if I really wanted to improve fast.
With that in mind, I decided to go for my first language exchange session at a popular local bar in Rosario, Argentina, 6 weeks into learning the language from scratch.
I remembered sprouting whatever Spanish I could then. It was hard. And scary. And I felt extremely self-conscious.
Just when I thought I was ready to die from embarrassment and wanted to run out of the bar in shame, a young and friendly lad approached me and we started the next conversation. After chatting for a bit, this kind chap gave me an unforgettable moral boost which I would remember in a long time to come - he commented that he was impressed with the amount of vocabulary I had learnt and understood everything I said! I wasn’t expecting to receive such positive feedback. Needless to say, I was beaming from ear to ear for the rest of the evening.
Just when I thought that being vulnerable and exposing my flaws to others were the silliest things to do and would never get me to what I wanted (in this case, be more confident of my linguistic abilities), it had, on the contrary, given me insights to why it was the best thing I had done for myself in a while.
5 reasons why embracing emotional vulnerability is good for us
1) Since there’s no way we can pretend to look strong, we might as well be vulnerable.
I was initially terrified of looking stupid. Thus, I chose to only speak a minimal amount of Spanish so that no one would ever discover my flaws. Needless to say, it didn’t work. The more we hide our imperfections, the louder they scream.
For example, if someone were acting aloof, you would have probably suspected that they might be shutting themselves out because they are hiding something they don’t want you to know. How do we know that? Simple, because that is exactly how YOU might react, given the same situation. So all that effort pretending to be strong, is actually not working.
Since pretending to be strong isn’t the solution, why not embrace vulnerability instead? It sure makes others open up to us too.
2) When we think being vulnerable is weak, others see it as strong.
I thought that I looked really stupid trying to speak bad Spanish. However, that kind chap I met at the bar commented that I was actually doing wayyyy better than I thought. To him, I was brave to have casted aside what others might think and went with what I wanted to achieve instead. Vulnerability is strength and people admire us for our courage to be real.
3) Being vulnerable gets us to what we want faster
I had spent weeks desk-bound memorising words from my study notes in hope of improving my Spanish. Obviously, that method was hardly effective, but I chose to do that because it was the safest route to take. But the moment I decided to risk looking silly and attempted to speak more even though I knew I was making tons of mistakes, my learning curve increased dramatically. Being vulnerable allows us to embrace the fact that we are not perfect. It gives us permission to make mistakes and subsequently allows us to learn from our mistakes faster.
4) Being vulnerable eliminate old fears
I was initially worried about feeling rejected but I ended up having new-found confidence instead. Also, the more we do something that we are uncomfortable about, the less intimidating it seems. The more we embrace vulnerability, the less intimidating vulnerability feels.
5) Vulnerability makes us real
We often think that being vulnerable is equivalent to being weak. It is illogical for us to expose ourselves to the possibility of getting hurt. However, we forget that vulnerability also makes us real and authentic. And we tend to connect better with another when he/she is authentic.
Had I chosen to shut myself in and not allowed myself to be vulnerable, I would probably never receive that feedback from the nice chap about how well I was progressing, since I was too busy trying to protect my “cool” image instead. Vulnerability allows us to embrace us for who we are, and as a result allows others to experience the authentic us.
An ending note
For the many times we feel inadequate, we should instead, be proud that we are exploring out of our comfort zones in our quests to grow stronger as a person. So keep being vulnerable – great things happen when we remain brave and open!
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