The Immense Power of Vulnerability

As someone who finds herself more accustomed to vulnerably- something that many of us struggle with, I have learned to embrace it and the lessons it seeks to teach me. As we all journey towards being more true to our authentic selves, I have found the following 5 tips helpful.

It is a curious thing when you see someone who seems to have it really ‘together’, break down and share their heartache or pain.

But why? We all know emotional pain happens and that negative feelings are normal. Pain makes us human.

But sharing this is so hard. It doesn’t feel safe. We may worry about judgement, losing friends, feeling awkward or being seen as weak or sensitive. Or, we may simply not be used to sharing pain or struggles in the same way we share good news. After all, it’s certainly not common- so if others don’t do it, it’s weird if I do. Isn’t it?

Which is why this post caught my eye. I challenge you. Read the post of Sheikh Javad Shomali here. It’s only short, do it now.

Think about what feelings come up for you? Did you find it sad but actually quite refreshing that someone was saying on Instagram how he cried on the floor? I certainly did. It was authentic and devoid of ego, which is Masha’Allah his signature and undoubtedly contributes to his appeal. I found myself feeling empathy for him, awe at his bravery and a feeling of validation of my own pain. I don’t know him or know the struggles he faces, but I felt we were somehow connected as vulnerable humans in suffering.

It’s a stark contrast to the meticulously edited images and thoughtful words most choose to share. Not that there is anything wrong with posting photos of wondrous landscapes and wanting others to share in your joy and happiness.

The problem is when we feel Instagram life is reflective of real life. When we feel that pain doesn’t feature in the lives of others, but somehow features quite frequently in mine. THAT can be the conditioning of social media. Yes, tragedies are posted and images of war, hunger and suffering which touch us and move us to act against oppression and injustice. But my friends, neighbours and community member seem to be doing much better than I do. Or are they?

I have written previously about the impact of social media on young, impressionable minds. But the rest of us are not immune, especially since a recent study found that 1 in 20 people believe EVERYTHING they see and read on the internet.

But posts like Sheikh Javad’s are so powerful because they open the door to displays of vulnerability. They give permission for others to do the same. They grant others the opportunity to validate, soothe and empathise with him. And this can be hugely empowering.

A few weeks ago, I found myself suddenly slumped into actual physical pain beyond anything I had experienced before.  The first week passed in a haze of X-rays, MRIs and a total change to routine, all with mind numbing shooting pains down one leg. I couldn’t sit, stand or sleep. I remained supine for almost a week on the strongest painkillers that only took the edge off so I could make it to the loo or get up to change. I prayed supine towards the qibla, had my meals propped up slightly and would spend hours during the night trying to distract myself enough to be able to fall asleep, through calming music, audio books or movies.

In this state, I had no choice but to show vulnerability. I was vulnerable. My state triggered the emergence of a tremendous degree of compassion, care and empathy in my family and those around me. My vulnerability made it easy for me to ask for help- even demand it.

Beautiful souls visited with food and flowers and good wishes. Friends and family called and messaged to check on me daily and helped with the kids. But after a week of being in mind numbing pain and bed-bound, not knowing when things will improve, I decided to concede defeat and ride the wave of vulnerability. For other empaths and control freaks who like to plan and value independence, you will know just how hard this is.

But during this time it occurred to me, why do we need to suffer such a drastic knock back to display a little vulnerability? We are all vulnerable at times, albeit with vulnerabilities less visible than mine. Do we not all periodically feel sad, overwhelmed or frustrated? We put on a brave face at work and struggle through a task. We put on a brave face to the world as we struggle with marital stress, toddler tantrums or teen drama. We put on a brave face as we struggle with our health.

And yet we know this is a facade that perpetuates the same in others. A distortion of the true picture. But in doing this we deny ourselves the compassion and understanding of others. And in turn we deny them the opportunity to understand, to help and to shine. We deny ourselves and those around us all a chance to really connect. How can we stay true to ourselves when we present an ideal and romanticised version of ourselves to the world which may even shield us from how we really feel?

More importantly, in acknowledging how we feel, we are able to strengthen our connection with our creator, the only source of perfection. As we reflect on the nights of Qadr that have recently passed, this can strengthen the sincerity and humility we feel during Du’a. Know that Allah sees your struggles and your pain and feel His love the warmth. Complain to Him and ask for his help. Du’a gives us hope and helps us feel supported in times of distress and despair.

As someone who finds herself more accustomed to vulnerably, I have learned to embrace it and the lessons it seeks to teach me. As we all journey towards being more true to our authentic selves, I have found the following helpful:

Consider getting a listening partner

This is advocated by parenting experts Hand in Hand parenting which I’m a big fan of and quote in subsequent pieces. A listening partner is someone you trust and can open up to about your deepest fears and frustrations on a regular basis, ideally weekly or more. This should be someone not too close that you worry about burdening them or impacting the relationship. This will certainly help you practise being vulnerable while allowing you to process your thoughts and feelings. Find out more here.

Be present

Or the buzz word for this is mindfulness. Being in the present moment, experiencing it fully with all the sense rather than distracting from it with tech, food or busyness. It is easier to be aware of our needs when we are mindful of them. Learn to take time out of the crazy pace to become more aware of how you truly feel and what you truly need. It may not be what you think you need at the outset. As mums especially, we become so programmed to put the needs of others first, which can be to the detriment of our own physical, mental and social health, long term. Becoming aware of our needs means we can take steps to redress any imbalance to ensure we are at our best for ourselves and our families, who ultimately stand to gain from a healthier, happier, more connected parent.

Be validating

Once you’re aware of your own feelings and needs, acknowledge them as the experience of being human, do not dismiss or belittle your inherent experience.

Be kind to yourself

The buzz word that is self-compassion deserves a piece in itself. We need training to afford the same kindness and understanding to ourselves that we show to others. But this doesn’t come naturally to many of us and needs training. Practise saying no when you feel you can’t take on more, practise being honest with your manager and calling in sick when you don’t feel well rather than braving it and working in that condition. And practise asking for help from your spouse, children or wider family. This will reduce the resentment and increase the closeness and connection.

Be vulnerable EVERYWHERE

Practise this at work by asking for help when you need it, with children when you tell them you don’t know the answer but will find out or that you’re feeling down or angry or frustrated and that it’s all normal and human. Vulnerably is infectious and you’ll find other colleagues, friends and your children letting their guards down, lessening the pretence and being more authentic and real.

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