The Meaning of Life?

February 26, 2014


For the last article in our 2014 Psychology Month series, Laura Foss talks about the benefits of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. 


How many of you shiver, cringe, shrink, or eye roll at the mention of vulnerability? The thought of being scared, nervous, or of taking personal risk doesn’t exactly bring about warm fuzzies or feelings of endless joy. Or does it?

Being vulnerable, exposed, and at the mercy of the situation, isn’t fun. But it is necessary for us to develop our true selves, and fulfill our potential. Vulnerability brings with it not just monsters in the pit of our bellies, but creativity, love, and joy.

Consider this: Did you feel happy the last time you refused an invitation out? When you didn’t tell someone you loved them? When you tucked your camera away and left it home? When you shoved the poetry or music you’ve been pouring over for weeks into a drawer and told yourself to forget it? Or when you decided against applying for the job you’d been holding out for? No? Exactly.

Putting ourselves out there has been shown to increase levels of overall happiness, connectedness, creativity, belonging, and joy.

Now think about your neighbours, friends, and collegues. The creativity in Western Newfoundland, and the vulnerability necessary to conceive and sustain it, is astounding.  Every weekend, someone is standing on a stage to pour their hearts out. Someone else is transforming a canvas into a work of art. Building a thriving new business. And still more people are breathing life into various events and festivals. Every day, the people in our region are bearing it all. And, likely, better off for it.  It’s also perhaps one of the reasons our community is so connected and engaged.

No one says it’s easy to be vulnerable. In fact, the general consensus is that risking it all is bloody terrifying. But there are a few ways we can get through:

  1. First and foremost, remember that being vulnerable has nothing to do with being talented or extraordinary.  It has everything to do with being human. We are vulnerable when we ask for help (even with the simplest of things, like asking someone to walk the dogs when we have overscheduled….ah-hem…), when we speak our mind, or when we shed a tear. It’s the ordinary moments in life that count in the end, not the extraordinary ones.
  2. The next time you feel an attack of the Shame Gremlins (see Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly), talk to someone you love and trust, someone who loves you. What triggered those feelings? Where did they come from? Shame Gremlins, those creatures in your mind who tell you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, etc., can’t live in the light of a conversation with a loved one.
  3. Take note next time you post to Facebook and fret about the number of likes or comments you get on your status. Your worth is not defined by multimedia attention. Being ‘vulnerable’ from behind a screen, means that it’s that much harder for you to show anyone the real you, in real life. iVulnerability (being All In via social media) is an avoidance tactic – it gives the illusion that you can’t be hurt. Without boundaries, oversharing is just another way we protect ourselves from real vulnerability.  Alternately, maybe iVulnerability is a scrambling attempt to be extraordinary – more likes, more comments, more tweets, more self-worth….No! Re-read #1.
  4. Beware of avoidance, what Brene Brown calls numbing. We numb in the following ways: too much alcohol, too much food, keeping ourselves too busy, hiding behind anger, turning to social media, etc. Just like you can’t spot reduce your weight, you can’t spot reduce your emotions. You either numb it all, or you feel it all. There is no reference point to define and measure happiness and joy, without feeling sadness and hurt. As Dr. McLennon wrote in last week’s article (The Sandwich Generation), activities that lead to feeling uncertainty or discomfort are also those that end up being associated with the most memorable and enjoyable events.  Tit for tat, people.

As terrifying as it is, I’d like to suggest that emotional skinny-dipping is the meaning of life. If we have an innate drive to belong and be connected with others, and vulnerability, that openness to let oneself be truly seen is how we become connected, then isn’t this the whole point of life?

Laura Foss is a registered psychologist who works with children and families in Western Newfoundland.