By Greg Baer M.D.

August 29, 2016

On many occasions I have spoken about the process of how telling the truth about ourselves creates opportunities for us to feel genuinely seen, accepted, and loved by others. This can be summarized by the linear diagram Truth ➝ Seen ➝ Accepted ➝ Loved. Telling the truth about ourselves is effective only if we do it in a way that is unguarded, open, and freely honest—in other words, if we are vulnerable.

Behaviors that Mimic Vulnerability

There are, however, other qualities or behaviors that can mimic vulnerability, and the dangers in that mimicry are significant. Some examples:

Fear. Some people simulate vulnerability simply by being afraid. As they cower and tremble before the simplest situations of life they can appear to be vulnerable, but they are not. They simply are not visibly protecting themselves from pain, which is one characteristic of true vulnerability.

Manipulation. We can go through some of the motions of being vulnerable to create the appearance of being open and truthful. That appearance can be used to manipulate the opinions and behaviors of the people around us.

Praise. Especially in settings designed to promote personal growth, creating the appearance of vulnerability generates in others a sense of admiration and a belief that you are being brave and truthful even while you are withholding significant truths.

Weakness. To people who have become practiced at putting on a show of emotional strength, vulnerability is unthinkable and often is interpreted as a kind of weakness. Understandably, then, emotionally weak people are sometimes mistakenly thought to be vulnerable.

Victimhood. People who feel traumatized by almost everything can appear to be vulnerable, when in truth they merely choose to be objects that are subject to the will of whatever events occur around them.

Why does it matter that we know these masquerades of vulnerability? Because the more we are aware of these them, the better we can distinguish between them and true vulnerability, which is highly desirable. We do not want to settle for anything that merely simulates a quality that can make a great improvement in our lives.

True Vulnerability and It's Imitations

Allow me to describe some examples of true vulnerability, compared with the imitations of them:

You are chronically afraid of life. You over-react to every perceived threat. That is fear. When you are truly vulnerable, you might still experience fear, but you describe it openly and honestly. You allow others to see your fear as you feel their acceptance, which diminishes your fear.

In a given situation, you act afraid to a degree that others sympathize with you, take care of you, and assume responsibilities that normally would be yours. This is manipulation. Vulnerable people express concern over situations that might appear to be overwhelming, but they do not use this to manipulate others for sympathy or rescue.

Let’s suppose that in your therapy group, you tell the truths about your mistakes and flaws with such apparent openness that the group praises you for your “vulnerability.” This positive feedback can become quite addictive, to the point that you tell the truth for the PURPOSE of getting praise. In true vulnerability there is no desired reward.

If you have failed to be loved and taught all your life, you become unable to respond with emotional strength to difficult circumstances. You lose your ability to make conscious choices and instead become little more than a collection of reactions to pain and fear. This is weakness. If you learn to become vulnerable, you simply acknowledge the disabilities that resulted from your upbringing, and you do it in such a way that you find the acceptance and love of others.

Victims use their pain as an excuse to blame, avoid, and criticize—anything but assume personal responsibility. If you are vulnerable, you still describe your pain, but only to be open and honest, which will connect you to those who accept your vulnerability.

True Vulnerability is Power

Ironically, the more vulnerable we are, the more powerful we become. When we are truly vulnerable, we need not fall prey to the deleterious effects of lying, hiding, pretending, and withdrawing. When we are vulnerable, we naturally draw people to us and form powerful connections. We disarm potential conflicts. We become charming. In vulnerability is great power and happiness.

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    About the author 

    Greg Baer, M.D.

    I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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