Fragile vs. Vulnerable

A little while ago, shortly after writing The Post That Started It All, someone commented that it, combined with a text message I had sent, made me seem fragile.

At the time, I responded with “I suppose I felt fragile when I wrote it,” but ever since I’ve been thinking about the concept of fragility and trying to figure out what bugged me about this conversation.

The truth is that when I wrote that Facebook post, I wasn’t in a fragile state, although I can see why it may have appeared that way. In fact, I was motivated, inspired and looking forward. I was scared to open myself up with personal details about my life but choosing to do so also made me feel brave and confident.

Likewise, the text I sent to this person wasn’t a symptom of insecurity or weakness. Rather, I was attempting to establish boundaries and let him/her know the ways in which I expect to be treated. I was standing up for myself, demonstrating self-respect and refusing to accept less than I deserve.

I could see where this person was coming from when he/she used the word “fragile” but the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth.*

I think there is a difference between being fragile and choosing to be vulnerable.

“Fragile” means easily broken or damaged. It means something isn’t strong or that it’s delicate.

“Vulnerable” means capable of being damaged. In the case of a person, it means someone can be physically or emotionally wounded, and choosing to be vulnerable means knowingly risking harm.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that vulnerability isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’m not the type to wear my heart on my sleeve and I don’t spill my secrets soon after meeting someone new.

For years, I cultivated a tough persona, not letting on how deeply and easily I could be hurt by others. Perhaps as a result of that, people were sometimes careless with my emotions or took advantage of what seemed to be an easy-going nature. That’s the price I paid for adopting an image that wasn’t entirely true to who I am. I didn’t trust people enough to show them the real me and as a result, they weren’t always gentle when I needed them to be.

Choosing to be vulnerable is hard because it takes strength and it means giving some of your power to others. You’re willfully GIVING people ammunition to hurt you but you’re TRUSTING them not to do so. It’s scary as hell.

So why on earth would someone do it?

We do it because vulnerability – letting people to see the real you and trusting them to love you anyway – results in (get this!) real, authentic relationships that develop mutual respect, foster intimacy and cultivate generosity.

And guess what? It gets easier! The things that hurt you so easily before lose their power to sting. It’s as if by letting people see your cracks, they help fill them with love, friendship and respect.

Choosing to be vulnerable is tough because there’s a risk of harm. But there’s also the chance of real relationships.

I’m going to keep working on the latter.

* Note: The person on the other end of this exchange didn’t do anything to prompt defensiveness on my part, nor was he or she in need of a lesson in respect. What I’m relaying here is simply one tiny aspect of a larger conversation, the context of which isn’t pertinent to this post.

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