How To Develop Self-Esteem Through Vulnerability
“I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.'” ~Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Have you ever considered how much time and energy you spend building walls and disguises?
Do your family, friends, or even your spouse really know who you are — stripped down to your fears, your shame, your limitations?
Can you even admit these things to yourself?
Think about the things you don't want anyone to know. Think about the ways you don't want people to see you. Think about the “you” that you hide from others.
In our efforts to suppress our vulnerabilities, we create a character version of ourselves — a much shinier, more sparkly self we put on display. Or we build up emotional walls high enough that no one can peer over and see the squalor of our shameful realness.
Like nearly all of you reading this, I had circumstances in my childhood that fostered pain and shame. When I was old enough to realize I could attempt to cover it up, I started shoveling sand over the unpleasantness as fast as I could. I very consciously decided I was going to remake myself and my life in the image of what I thought a perfect life would look like.
The thing I didn't count on was the ever-present siren song of the real me under the makeover. What I underestimated was the power of authenticity buried alive under pretense. As much as I wanted to jettison my old self out of existence and remake myself into wonder woman, I didn't understand that wonder woman was just me, as I am, with flaws, failures, shame, limitations, and pain.
What I underestimated was the power of authenticity buried alive under pretense.
I didn't realize that embracing my vulnerability was the key to my self-esteem, and ultimately the key to create a life of passion and purpose.
Being vulnerable, being real, and loving your weaknesses and flaws as you would love your most darling child is powerful stuff. It's empowering stuff. It's in that moment of awareness when you become a whole and self-actualized person, capable of transcending your ego-driven, fearful self.
When you have the courage to have self-compassion, you can look at all of your choices, all of your actions, all of your experiences — both good and bad — and recognize them as the interlocking golden threads that weave the fabric of your unique and wonderful self. But of course it's a work in progress.
When your self-esteem is low, when you need the approval or praise from others to feel valuable, then you expend so much energy dancing around like a court jester to keep up appearances. When your self-esteem is low, and you can't bear the idea of rejection, you hold others at a distance, never allowing them into your inner world — a world that truly is the most exquisite panoply of love, pain, heartbreak, fear, beauty, shame, and longing.
We are all the same — every single one of us. We want love, connection, self-respect, safety, and meaning. We want to be fully accepted for who we are, just the way we are. We want to be embraced and have someone say to us, “It's OK. You are perfect.”
Those of us who understand the beauty in the entire package, the shared humanity, the elegance of our dark and light sides, long to find others who feel the same — others who have found the way to love themselves not just in spite of but because of their vulnerabilities.
Finding these people in your life is key to building your self-esteem through your vulnerabilities. Having people in your life who hold your pain with tender dignity, love, and safety is indispensable.
But the most important person who can foster this self-esteem is you.
- YOU must be able to hold your own pain with tender dignity, love, and safety.
- You must learn to see perfection in imperfection.
- You must be able to see failure, rejection, and limitations as steps on the journey — not life sentences.
I can now look back on my dysfunctional family from childhood and see the humor and pathos in our situation. I see that my experiences have made me wiser, more resilient, more empathic. I understand and love my efforts at recreating myself into “wonder woman” — even though they were misguided and desperate. Every mistake, every failure, every flaw is part of who I am and therefore part of who I love.
But here is a word of caution about embracing your vulnerabilities. Although vulnerability will promote self-esteem if managed carefully, it also exposes you to the possibility of further pain. As you navigate becoming vulnerable with yourself and others, here are a few thoughts to consider.
Accepting your vulnerabilities doesn't mean stagnating
Embracing and loving who you are, as you are, doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for positive change and growth. In fact, loving and accepting yourself will afford you the power to define your next steps confidently. I love and accept that my body isn't perfect, that getting older has impacted my appearance. But that doesn't mean I've decided to be sedentary or stop taking care of myself. It is a delicate balance of both self-acceptance and constant growth that can really boost your self-esteem.
Use discernment about who you allow in
When you become more accepting and loving of your own vulnerabilities and begin to let down walls and become more authentic, you may find that some people in your life drop away. They aren't comfortable with the “real” you or can't handle the raw power of seeing your pain or weaknesses. This can be shocking and painful if you aren't prepared for it. Use discernment about who you invite in to your authentic world. Not because you need to cover up or be ashamed — but because you want to treat yourself with dignity and love. Seek out people who are equally real and vulnerable.
Vulnerability takes practice
When you've spent a lifetime trying to cover up, obfuscate, use passive-aggressive behavior, or build walls, then acknowledging and exposing your vulnerabilities feels wildly uncomfortable and dangerous at first. Start by taking small steps in situations or with people who are safe. Share a life-long dream with someone. Talk with your spouse about an insecurity. Acknowledge a mistake with a co-worker. The more you work with vulnerability and share it in appropriate and safe ways, the more inner peace you will experience. The joy of being yourself and loving yourself as you are is intoxicating.
Use vulnerability to become a better person
As you begin to love and accept your own flaws and limitations, you will become more compassionate toward others. Your compassion will allow you to be more accepting, less judgmental, a more loving friend/partner/parent. You can become a role model of building self-esteem through vulnerability by helping others navigate safely through their own fears and pain. By being this person for others, you are further elevating your self-esteem.
How have you embraced your own vulnerabilities and shared them with others? How has this impacted your self-esteem? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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