What is different in these two situations? Both men are nervous at the start and are Vulnerable. But the source of their vulnerability is different. Josh is vulnerable because of the external events ( new city) but is Secure about himself – about why he is making this move, about his self confidence to make a success of this and on how to live life to its fullest. On the other hand, Stan’s vulnerability is only manifested by the external event. Deep down within himself he is not secure; he has doubts about himself, about his chosen path and about the outcome. No wonder then, that they had very different experiences.
Everybody goes through periods of Vulnerability. When these are because of external factors, the Secure individual works to overcome these and convert them into a strength. At this time the vulnerability is actually helpful because it spurs the individual to take action to address it. The Vulnerable individual, on the other hand, uses these as excuses and shies away from addressing the real issue that lies deep down.
Self-Trust as the bedrock of being Secure
Having confidence in oneself – trusting one’s own judgement and instincts, is at the heart of being a Secure person. Self confidence is often confused with bravado but the two are very different. Bravado is just big words; rarely is it backed up by action or even a plan of action. Bravado is often situation specific e.g. a bully who exhibits bravado is always with his gang. Alone, he is incapable of even talking big. Bravado and its attendant trait of bragging are usually signs of vulnerability. Vulnerable individuals seek attention through acts of bravado to make up for their internal deficiencies. Unfortunately, these often fail because they are not sustainable and that only makes the individual feel more Vulnerable.
On the other hand, Self-trust or Self Confidence is based in ability, faith and willingness to do what is required .A person who backs himself or herself may not know all the answers; he or she might also often feel scared; but they have embarked on a journey after due consideration, after examining the fitment of their aspirations with their values; after considering the resources that the task requires; after having made a realistic assessment of themselves. They are therefore self aware- of both their potential and their shortcomings. All actions they take stem from this place of being Secure.
Secure people can call for help; Vulnerable people can’t
Imagine having to push a heavy boulder uphill. And, while it is your responsibility to get the boulder to the top, if you had the choice of doing it all by yourself or having a couple of friends around who could provide assistance if needed, which would you choose? Almost a no brainer, right ? Especially if you wanted to improve your chances of success. And yet, when we are Vulnerable, we forsake this assistance and therefore lower our probability of success. And the reason is that Vulnerable people view any request for help or even accepting an offer of help as a critique of themselves. Their fragile self image is further dented. They wonder how they will be perceived by others (although the reality usually is very different). On the other hand, when we are Secure, we have correctly assessed our capabilities (Self aware) and feel no shame in asking for help when needed. Interestingly, when we receive help and are successful, it strengthens our self trust and we are able to attempt more things. This is the basis of the saying “Success breeds Success”. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true and a string of failures (maybe caused by declining / not seeking timely help), weakens self trust , makes the individual more withdrawn, and leads to a poorer self image.
Breaking the habit – From Vulnerable to Secure
Being Vulnerable is a habit – the same as smoking or binging on fast food. So how does one move from being Vulnerable to being Secure.
The start point is in accepting oneself. To appreciate that comparison with others can only be odious. Each of us is unique and has a set of gifts. We need to explore these to then start fully using them. Reflect on the past and find instances of success. Or, maybe, Vulnerability is a more recent state; in that case go back to the time before and recall successes. Start believing that if it could be done before it can be done again. Set up some simple goals and work towards achieving them. These successes will spark a rekindling of self belief. Learn to appreciate these successes and oneself. Repeat the sequence over a few weeks and the change in self trust will be evident.
Those who are Vulnerable often withdraw into themselves. Alternately, they seek out the company of similarly minded persons. Expanding the circle of friends and acquaintances helps greatly. New people bring in new ideas and the exposure has the potential to be invigorating. Seeing how others handle criticism in a positive manner without viewing it as a personal attack is a great eye opener. Learning that when others are frank and sharing deep secrets, they are not belittling themselves nor being ridiculed by others can show the way forward.
This is where the difference between Secure & Vulnerable individuals is so great. When one is Secure, one is confident of being worthy. One is sure that there is acceptance for the real person. On the other hand, Vulnerable individuals need constant validation. Low self trust almost always translates into low trust of others. As a result, Vulnerable people develop a number of annoying traits e.g. suspicion, dependency, close mindedness, inability to take any form of criticism, defensiveness, etc. This puts a severe strain on the relationship. If the partner is understanding he or she would take steps to improve the person’s self confidence , remove the notion of constant comparisons, and be non judgmental. Getting the person involved in some form of community service or charity work often helps put things in perspective – one realizes one has much to be grateful about and that there is a greater cause than just “I”.
At the same time, all relationships have an element of vulnerability. Trust, for example, is built when one is Vulnerable. But it is important to understand that the difference lies in the vulnerability being specific to the relationship and not because the individual is not Secure. This is analogous to the vulnerability inherent in the external event not in the individual.
View from the other side
There is a body of writing that argues that Vulnerability has many positives to it. Dr. Brene Brown, who has researched the topic extensively says “I don’t want to shut myself off from vulnerability because I do not want to miss out on what it brings to my life: love, creativity, joy, authenticity courage, hope…..”
In a different context, all teams (whether in sport or at work), embrace a level of vulnerability because every team member works at his task with full belief that others will do their bit to perfection.
Leaders often get some of their best ideas from their followers. People want their leaders to demonstrate that bit of vulnerability and humility to be open to new ideas.
Is all this very different from working towards a more Secure self? The answer is “No”. It all ties in.
When are we trusting? When we are Secure in our self trust to allow us to explore the vulnerability of trusting others.
When are we most open and receptive to new ideas? When we are Secure in our self confidence such that we are prepared to improve our solution.
In a team sport, when are the attackers at their best? When they are Secure that their team mates will defend well giving the attackers the freedom to do what they do best.
It is when we are Secure that we have a sense of self trust, self confidence, personal esteem, hope, faith and the openness to seek a better solution.
As Coaches, we would like our Clients to be more Secure and less Vulnerable. This allows them to be in greater control of their lives, helps build relationships and gives them a healthy perspective. This may take some time to address as the more Vulnerable a Client is, the more he /she will resist accepting it.
Here are some possible approaches (and the list is not comprehensive but more to spark thought):
- Building a rapport is critical. The Client has to believe that the Coach is not sitting in judgement.
- Help the Client reframe their perspectives. Help the Client see what a disempowering perspective Vulnerability is
- Explore whether the Vulnerability comes from weak ownership of goals. This is the classic case of living someone else’s life.
- Use past successes to help build self confidence and trust in one’s own abilities
- If the Client is agreeable, visualizing a different behavioral pattern might help
- Appreciative Inquiry might well be an effective approach to take
Questions to think about
- What are the characteristics of Secure individuals? Can you relate this to anyone you know whom you would call Secure? And similarly for Vulnerable individuals.
- What are three questions you can ask your Client to try and shift their perspective to be less Vulnerable?
- In what circumstances might Secure individuals shift towards vulnerability? How can it be prevented?
- What is the role of Values and being authentic in the life of a Secure person?
- Reflect on the role of trust in relationships. Think of an instance that you know where trust developed over time. How did it make the individuals more Secure?
World of Psychology – 3 myths about Vulnerability by Margarita Tartakovsky
Secure attachment by Kendra Cherry
The Thin book of Trust by Charles Feltman
Ted talks – The Power of Vulnerability by Dr. Brene Brown