About six years ago, I was giving a seminar on the power of the mind, and at the end, someone asked if I was able to change my own behaviour with the knowledge I had just imparted upon my students. I paused and gave a weak reply. The truth was I hadn’t changed much. However, all that changed when I watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk the Power of Vulnerability and when I read her book The Gifts of Imperfections.
Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is the core, the heart, the centre, of meaningful human experiences.” She says that vulnerability isn’t good or bad: it’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience.
At age eleven, my innocence was shattered due to a Coup d’état in Ghana. I had to leave my comfortable, sheltered life, my friends, my school, and my environment. I found myself in a new country, England, with few people like me, and few who liked me. I quickly learned that, to fit into my new environment meant not to share any dark emotions like fear, shame, grief or disappointment. I had to show that I was tough, cool and almost perfect.
Simply put, I could not be vulnerable and I had to close my heart to protect myself. In doing so, I not only closed myself to the dark emotions but also to the lighter ones and I carried this way of being subconsciously well into my forties.
Until we break down those hardened walls that have been built inside our hearts for so long then we are not capable of being vulnerable enough to be able to change. Vulnerability is not weakness but rather a path to opening our hearts. When we start to trust our hearts, all fears dissipate and we start accepting that we are imperfect beings living in a not so perfect world.
To live with our hearts open, carrying our wounds and scars with us is very scary but the alternative of not doing so is much scarier.
5 Ways Vulnerability Changed My Life
1. I can now feel my Emotions.
A thought without emotion is like a bird without its wings. It’s not going to get very far.
As I began to understand the power of vulnerability, I started delving deep into my core using journaling as a tool to dig deeper and deeper into my heart. I learned to access the full range of my emotions so that I could process both pain and joy.
I faced my deepest fears revisiting my past, questioning my beliefs. I got so emotionally fired up that I would regularly cry during my early morning runs. I didn’t know then that I was slowly breaking the impenetrable walls that I had built since my school days teardrop by teardrop.
I recognized that the power of the mind and willpower were sometimes not enough to effect lasting change. The emotions are the “why” of an action; they charge a thought, magnifying its impact substantially. Guilt and disgust at knowing what I needed to and yet not doing so triggered me into action.
2. I am now capable of Love
The more I faced my fears and shed the layers of emotions that were weighing heavily on my heart, the more I loved myself. We can only love others as much as we love ourselves, and so only in loving myself was I capable of receiving and giving love.
My relationships improved and I started trusting people much more. It was like a new world had opened up to me, one that was shut off for a long time. I understood that love is something that we nurture like everything else in life and it doesn’t just magically appear and disappear with a flick of the fingers.
3. I now recognize Compassion
I started to understand what compassion meant and to put myself in the shoes of others for the first time in my life. I was always so self-involved that it was difficult for me to fathom people’s actions and accept them for who they are. But with vulnerability, I accepted myself more and I now see people in a different light as if they were my brothers and sisters.
Three years ago, I started a foundation, Born to be free, where we look after fifty impoverished kids. We take care of their schooling, train them in soccer and teach them basic life lessons. We are giving them options that poverty has taken away from them. Their stories are heartbreaking and relating to them keeps me grounded and keeps me human.
4. I am now much more Connected
In his book Social Intelligence: Daniel Goleman explores how the latest findings in biology and neuroscience confirm that we are hardwired for connection and that our relationships shape our biology as well as our experiences.
How can we connect to each other when we have erected barriers inside our hearts?
I now share and give much more of myself and my thoughts, through my talks, writings and most of all my actions. Also I now accept from others, something, which proved difficult at first, as I wanted to do everything alone, and to feel superior about it. I wanted to feel like I didn’t need anyone. However, energy has to travel both ways before we can call it true connection.
5. I now understand Shame
The feeling of shame is universal and if not identified can lurk within us and control our actions and non-actions. Shame makes us feel unworthy and convinces us that we are incapable of doing anything. It grows in silence, secrecy and judgment often leading us to deception, lies and other destructive behaviours.
There is a difference between shame and guilt. Shame is about who we are (I am bad) while guilt is about our behaviour (my behaviour is bad).
Though guilt is a dark emotion, it could be used as a catalyst to initiate change in our behaviour. Shame is much more dangerous as it says we can do little but accept how bad we are and it pushes us into withdrawing, hiding, or instead trying to appease someone when we shouldn’t or worst of all by attacking others to hide our shame.
My art teacher scolded and embarrassed me in front of my classmates when I was thirteen years old and as a result of that I shut the door to my creativity for almost thirty years, ashamed of ever bring up the subject or even daring to enter into the realm of creativity, while convincing myself I was more of a science person. However, I’ve now found my creativity through writing and it’s exactly the goodness that has been missing from my life for so long.
Mo is an entrepreneur, born again writer. He finally gets that he’s a spiritual being having an earthly human experience. He writes every day when the clock strikes 6 in the morning and he also blogs regularly at mo-issa.com.