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The fear of vulnerability

and letting society be the judge

By Aathavi ThangesPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 10 min read

We all know what vulnerability is, right? Hopefully everyone has been able to experience vulnerability at some point in their lives. At the very least, I hope everyone has a vague sense of what vulnerability looks like. But how does one explain what true vulnerability looks like in today's society? Better yet, why is being vulnerable becoming so damn difficult?

I mean, here we are: standing, living, breathing, experiencing and feeling a whole bunch of things. The least we could do is honestly express some of that, especially if it stands to harm us in any way. Especially if we need some help managing all of it.

Yet, we’ve somehow developed this ability to hide from the softest and truest parts of our being. What’s up with that?

Let’s be honest: nobody actually likes being vulnerable. It’s something that’s forced out of you against your own will. Withstand enough emotional torture and you might be able to hold it all in.

But even titanium will crack under enough pressure.

We can only ever hold it in for so long before we snap, and that’s when things get messy. Arguably, that’s when we’re the most vulnerable. Defences down, falling apart, no control. We’re called crazy for showing the truly vulnerable parts of ourselves, and maybe that’s where we have it all wrong.

Through the looking glass

Every piece of art ever made comes from a vulnerable place, and maybe that’s what makes art so beautiful. It’s honest, expressive, painful and ambiguous. As much as we try to understand it, there’s only so much that we can decipher.

The best we can do is resonate somewhere within the lines and strokes of paint, and somehow fit ourselves into that frame, cause it’s so much better than being afraid.

It’s not all our fault that we’re afraid of being vulnerable. Society doesn’t respond to vulnerability very well. We love conflict way too much for that. We love the thrill of debating between what’s right or wrong, deciding what’s worthy and what’s not.

For some odd reason, allowing yourself to be vulnerable about a complicated situation means giving society the permission to use you as an example in the never-ending discussion about ethics and morale. (Though I’m guessing that’s not what you’re hoping for when you finally decide to be vulnerable!) We define the overarching standard of morale by remembering and living above the worst displays of humanity.

Yet, perfection has always been an ideal, not a standard so I wonder when we began to blur the lines between the two.

Put your heart on trial and let society be the judge, not the counsel. We rearrange our ideas and values like we’re changing clothes, and throughout all that change, we will still always believe that we’re correct. Best of all, when things get boring, we’re always ready to hop, skip, and jump onto the next pressing matter.

We’re naturally inclined to judge a situation based on our personally-held ideas and beliefs. But I argue that we should empathize and accept a situation for what it is, understanding that nobody will ever know the true, whole story of what happened.

We just don’t have the ability to know the whole situation, so when somebody gains the courage to be vulnerable about their perspective or role in something complicated, the most we can do is understand and accept. Once again, we will never know the whole story, so we really have to emphasize a clear distinction between our opinions and the actual facts.

For every action, there is a reaction, and probably a Twitter thread about it.

I can’t help but bring up the thing I hate most: Twitter. Now I’ve stayed as far away from Twitter as I possibly can, simply due to the fear that I might click my way into some controversial, opinionated thread about God-knows-what.

But as hard as I may try, Twitter drama makes its way out of the web and straight into my brain because at some point, somebody makes the sorry mistake of telling me about it. And the more I learn about it, the more I realize that nobody’s out here really being vulnerable, but they're trying pretty hard to make it appear as so. And nobody is out here truly understanding the situation, or else the entire thread would cease to exist!

Understanding kills a pointless conversation, so thank you to the few loud people on Twitter for doing their best to keep it alive.

We’re watching the victims villainize, because once there’s a victim, there’s gotta be a villain.

I want to make it clear that none of us are actual villains in this world. I mean, sure, stories are allowed to be that black and white, but life? You’ve got to be joking. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that everything is more complicated than it appears to be, and you do yourself a disservice by taking things at face value.

We have to stop ourselves from applying our standards and beliefs about what’s right or wrong onto any given situation. In other words, let’s just be a little open-minded?

Some of you might be thinking: b-but what about freedom of speech?!

Feel free to use your freedom to speak and express whatever you want. I'm just asking that we all collectively understand the consequences of our words. I don't need to remind anyone that words do cause harm. Let's just maximize our understanding of what particular harm they might cause, why don't we? I have to assume that none of us want to be contributing towards a harmful cycle.

When we admit to ourselves that we will never know the whole story, everything becomes a little bit uncertain. The picture becomes blurred, and all its colour turns to grey. If the whole story isn’t clear, how can any of us have a say in it?

Like I said, the most we can really do to help is understand and accept. Maybe empathize a little. Learn a lesson or two about life and move on.

But our response to vulnerability is not the only thing that garners concern. It is our use of vulnerability that grabs my attention as well.

Vulnerability vs manipulation

Where does your head go when somebody you meet is immediately extremely vulnerable with you? Or maybe that person is selectively emotionally vulnerable, whenever it serves them best. Off-putting? Slightly manipulative?

I can’t help but notice that being vulnerable has become a little weapon in disguise.

It's like if it doesn’t somehow serve us directly in the end, then there’s really no point to it. The first example that comes to mind is guilt-tripping. Choosing to be vulnerable only when you need things to go your way? Or change their mind, perhaps? Or maybe, you just need someone to get off your back, so pouring out a bit of vulnerability will do the trick.

But after a while, it becomes a “boy-who-cried-wolf” situation, and your ability to be truly “vulnerable” disappears into thin air. Using vulnerability to manipulate others is much more common than expressing true vulnerability. As a result, people simply become less receptive to natural expressions of vulnerability.

So then, it begs the question.

What is true vulnerability?

Well, in order to be truly vulnerable, we need to first understand what's there to even feel vulnerable about. And some of us don’t pause enough to ponder on what that is. Not everyone has the time to understand what it truly means to be emotionally naked and stripped of everything they deem respectable.

Revealing the parts of you that’d have you eternally and publicly chastised.

I mean, that’s how we respond to vulnerability nowadays, isn’t it? We’re quick to comment, critique and shame unless that vulnerability is packaged up in something sweet, satisfying and littered with pathos.

Like my all-time favourite social media platform: Twitter. Thank you for introducing the idea of being “cancelled”. I’ll never be afraid to express my vulnerabilities ever again! Thank you for putting that spotlight on all of us.

It’s gotta look a certain way. It’s gotta sound a certain way. If it doesn’t pull on somebody’s heartstrings, you’re just better off not saying anything at all! You gotta look a certain way. Too many tears and you might be deemed dramatic. Too few tears and they’ll see you as heartless or untruthful.

Provide adequate reasoning or be prepared to be viewed as rotten to the core!

We’re hard-wired to label things as vulnerable, but only if they fit the criteria: a clear confession of guilt, or the profession of care, maybe a declaration of appreciation, and you might just be worthy of acceptance and forgiveness.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Two millenniums into existence and we’ve created an ideal for vulnerability that most people will never live up to! Like seriously, if we really have to package up our vulnerability into something remotely socially acceptable, are any of us really allowing ourselves to be vulnerable?

Society: the bane of my existence! 😃

So, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in the face of society might honestly be impossible right now.

I can’t tell you when it’ll be possible, because I’m honestly losing hope every day. My guess is, the only thing that can fix us now is a real, good apocalypse. Maybe the next dominant species will be more understanding of each other.

Joking, sort of. No, I think there's only one thing that can fix this, and we’re already (somewhat) on our way.

All we really have to do is understand ourselves in our entirety.

Now trust me, that is way harder than it sounds because even with science, psychology and awareness, we’re still nowhere close to understanding the human experience inside of us. We’re still riddled by the human condition and why we are the way we are. Oh, the question “why” haunts us day-in and day-out but at the very least, we can try to look inside and answer that question for ourselves.

It begins by being truly vulnerable with yourself, and yes, you might just end up being as judgemental as society. But I don’t blame you.

We spend so much time fine-tuning our ideas, beliefs, morals and ethics and at some point, we become the judge of our own life.

As we age, the mind closes a little, and then a little more, and maybe some more until we know exactly what our beliefs are.

So when we finally decide to take a look at ourselves, we inevitably project those beliefs onto ourselves; and sometimes, we’re not happy with what we see.

Sometimes, what we see doesn’t align with the beliefs or values that we proudly hold. Or maybe, we just can’t understand and accept ourselves for who we are in the world. It takes a level of vulnerability to be that honest with yourself.

You’re gonna be disgusted, disappointed, discontent. You’ll probably unravel and question everything you once believed. It might truly be the most heart breaking moment of your life, accepting the truth inside of you. The stuff we’d rather push away or distract ourselves from.

Now, that kind of vulnerability might just be the scariest of them all.

If we allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves, we are forced to see the ugliest parts of us. We’re forced to contend with everything that goes against our values and beliefs. We’ve got to admit that, clearly, we are all a bit more complicated than we make it out to be.

And like a painting, I might just resonate with you. I can’t promise anything more than that. I’ll try to fit myself into the frame you line out for me, and I’ll try to find myself within those strokes of paint. You’re honest, expressive, painful and ambiguous. As much as I try, there’s only so much that I can truly decipher about you. So, all I can do is find myself in the mess, and try to understand and accept.

Once we’ve seen all of it inside ourselves, it becomes very easy to see it in other people. Once we’ve seen the truth inside ourselves, understanding everybody else becomes light work.

Accepting people for who they are appears to be the only viable option, because our opinions just aren't good enough to value anything. You’re a lot more complicated than that, they’re a lot more complicated than that, and dear God, everything is just a little more complicated than that!

And that’s okay. That’s how we are, and that’s completely okay.


And because it's just so satisfyingly fitting and theatrical, here's Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson!! (Yea, it's such a good song that it's worth looking corny for.🙂)


About the Creator

Aathavi Thanges

Disposing my thoughts one page at a time

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Comments (8)

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  • Patrick Meowler12 days ago

    Vulnerability is so hard. Writing is helping me a lot with it.

  • John memon22 days ago

    Great Read!

  • Great piece. Vulnerability is indeed scary.

  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    I'm not sure if I agree 🤔 About nobody liking being vulnerable, I mean. I think it's true for a lot of people. But maybe not writers. Unless they're quite masochistic. Writing is a very vulnerable activity.

  • Been there. Long time. Haven't finished yet. I'll let you know when I do, when remembering that every fault I find in someone else is also intrinsically a part of me comes naturally rather than having to get there. I think it will probably be sometime after they print my obituary. So, then again, maybe I won't let you know. Excellent article.

  • Nice❤️💯🎉🎉Congratulations on your Top Story❗❗❗

  • Farhan Mirza about a month ago

    AATHAVI , I have written an interesting article on life of east vs life of west , can u pls take a moment and show ur opinion ?

  • Farhan Mirza about a month ago

    great , I have read social sciences in details , hence I CAN FEEL IT

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