Can Vulnerability Be Strength?

No one likes to appear weak. Oftentimes, we perceive vulnerability as weakness. But can it actually be strength?

Appearing vulnerable means, necessarily, displaying a shortcoming of some sort. That, in turn, means showing some sort of weakness. That would seem to be a bad thing.

But might there be a hidden benefit to appearing vulnerable, and therefore weak? What might those benefits be?

Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the question ‘What belief do you have that might be wrong?’ Stay tuned for a bonus question, ‘What makes a place feel like home?’

Alternately, it might be best never to show your vulnerabilities. Is that even possible? Or desirable?

Can you think of situations or instances where revealing a weakness might be a good thing? Can vulnerability be strength? When might that be? What risks might there be?

Related questions: When is a lie justified? When is it useful to fail? What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? What is uncomfortable but rewarding?

2 thoughts on “Can Vulnerability Be Strength?”

  1. Rather than using the word “weakness” for “vulnerability,” I would go with “unprotected.” In being personally unprotected, you may draw out allies. You may build or discover new or previously unused strengths to assist yourself with vulnerabilities or during vulnerable times. Or, you may expose a vulnerability, drawing out those who would use the opportunity to take you down, only for you to have prepared yourself with a solid response, earning the respect of those around you.

    For example, I struggle with Anxiety and Depression. Back when I was diagnosed with the mood disorders, I almost immediately figured out that I wanted to be open about them — making myself vulnerable — for the following reasons:

    • One of the worst feelings when you are experiencing Anxiety and/or Depression is that you feel so alone, so isolated. You even convince yourself that no one understands or even wants to know what you are going through. I share my experience because I’ve been told that my sharing has helped others not feel alone and isolated.
    • I want to fight the stigma attached to mental illnesses. Some people still have backward thoughts about people who suffer from mood disorders. Some think of us as weak, but it takes incredible strength to live with a mental illness. Some think of us as people who can’t contribute as much to the rest of society. There may be times when it’s hard to contribute, but it doesn’t mean we don’t try and often succeed despite the odds against us.
    • I want people who don’t suffer from Anxiety and Depression to know at least one perspective about what it’s like. Also, I’ve been told that my writing has helped others who have friends, family, and/or colleagues who suffer from Anxiety and/or Depression understand what is still an issue closeted in some segments of society.
    • I want people to know that there are times when I am not acting “normal.” I want them to know it’s not about them; it’s about me and the struggle I may be going through that day.

    Many people who know me know that for several years I maintained a blog called “Prone to Hope,” tracing a plunge I took into the depths of a serious struggle Anxiety and Depression and how (with the help of new medications — which had to be tinkered with for a very long time — a doctor, and a therapist) I brought myself basically to the point where I am right now. The Depression is gone for now; the Anxiety is dramatically lessened, but still an issue I must deal with on an almost daily basis.

    In keeping the blog, I know I made myself vulnerable. But I’d hardly called that vulnerability a weakness. The blog traced the personal strength I had to rely on as I made it through the Depression and the regular strengths I need to rely on to contend with the Anxiety I still deal with.

    Vulnerability can definitely be a strength.

  2. I can think of a few ways that vulnerability can be a strength:

    * It can allow people to find things they might have in common.

    When one person shares a vulnerability, the person or people that they are sharing with may also have that vulnerability. In turn, that commonality can foster a bond that might not otherwise exist.

    * It can improve feelings of trust.

    Even if the person you are sharing your vulnerability does not share it, they might feel closer to you just for the act of sharing. It you trust someone enough to appear vulnerable, it can signal that the relationship you have with them is deep and strong.

    * It can stir feelings of protectiveness.

    Similarly, a friend might be more protective of someone they know who they understand is vulnerable in a certain way. In a larger group, that can take the form of a community looking out for each other’s weaknesses or deficiencies, making the whole stronger than the sum of the parts.

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