Based on a few conversations with some great counselor friends, we at theStory have started a group which we call Men’s Vulnerability Group. The idea for the group started because of the realization that community and relationships cannot grow unless there is mutual vulnerability. Ideas like from Brene Brown in The Power of Vulnerability and Parker Palmer in Circles of Trust in Life have inspired this line of thinking. Donald Miller tweeted one day “I don’t know of anything that will help us find emotional health faster than being vulnerable with safe people.” Maybe he was right?
At first I just gave our group that name to be funny. The looks on people’s faces when we announced it meant that I hit my mark. Then we found ourselves trying to explain it and why it’s important and the group has been going now since May 2015. As we started talking in the group, we realized that the name was actually a barrier to joining – some people almost didn’t come (and other’s still don’t come) because “that’s just weird.” Vulnerability is not really the kind of character trait that guys strive for it seems. However, the name stuck and we’ve been meeting a few times a month ever since.
We started by telling our stories; some stories taking up to three hours to go through. We’d ask questions, inquire and dig into our lives. Why did you do this? How did that make you feel? Is this connected to that? Do you have regret? What were you afraid of? Did you ever think about it this way? Each person would get a night and slowly we have begun to know one another and what makes us tick. As the stories pile on top of each other we have better questions and we know each other more deeply.
Some women at theStory have started their own group. They don’t like our name, but they have started to follow suit in sharing their stories with one another. I think something different is happening in their group though. After speaking to the women about their group, vulnerability seems to be much more obvious with them. I’ve heard the term ‘vulnerability hangover’ multiple times and I’ve seen the anxiety that each of the women have had in sharing their story. I started thinking that maybe us guys have no clue what it means to be vulnerable and that we should be changing the name of our group to Story Time.
There are a few of us (maybe even all of us besides our counselor friends that are part of the men’s group) who still have no idea what vulnerability has to do with it. To be frank, I don’t really think I’m being vulnerable. I don’t have much to hide. I’m an open book. I wasn’t nervous before sharing my story and I didn’t have a vulnerability hangover after. I don’t mean to split this up as a gender thing either. There are absolutely guys in our group who don’t speak up as much, are hesitant to tell their story and feel anxious before and after. There are women who have no problem sharing their story and feel great after. But the differences of people in these groups really got me thinking about vulnerability.
I’m wondering if the distinction we are seeing here is just different kinds of vulnerability in play. My vulnerability is not in sharing my story. I’m a fairly eccentric and extroverted person, so a lot of pieces of my story are on display already. Sharing my story doesn’t feel vulnerable. I’ve got ten years of my story on this blog already let alone being in front of people quite often and speaking to them, occasionally tying in parts of my life. So I can understand why that kind of vulnerability might be more difficult for some others where it isn’t as natural. So I think this kind of vulnerability is more for private people who are sharing pieces about themselves that aren’t already known.
There is another kind of vulnerability though I am seeing. I pride myself in my ability to cognitively understand everything. I feel sort of like Ray Dalio who says that he’s “unoffendable.” It’s not that I think that I’m always right, far from it actually. I’m just very comfortable in my own skin and I love the pursuit of truth, it’s a challenge and one that I think I’m good at. You can’t hurt my feelings by popping my illusions, it just makes me more hungry for what’s underneath it all. In being like this, I think I have hidden behind an illusion of the first kind of vulnerability. Everyone can know my story in whatever way they see fit. I’m comfortable with where I’m at, I’m open to being challenged and I am confident in my ability to asses truth. I’m fine if I’m right, I’m fine if I’m wrong (cause I’ll just change what I think to make sure I’m right), but I just want to continue to engage and uncover truth wherever I can find it.
This kind of personality has created blind spots in me. Because I love truth more than I love my own illusion of truth, it comes across as if I have it all together. But my togetherness is very dependent on specific factors, that if they disappear I will melt.
Put me in a room full of people who are screaming and yelling at me and saying all sorts of things about who I am, and I could walk away sustaining next to no damage (this has actually happened). However, have my closest friends tell me that they don’t respect me or that I’m responsible for the hurt and pain someone else has suffered and I will fall apart. And here is where my vulnerability lies. It’s not in being exposed so people know who I actually am. It’s hurting those that I love or not being loved by the people that I love.
See, at first I thought being vulnerable was just stating my secrets. But I realize now, that being vulnerable isn’t a choice that I can just make one day to share with a group of dudes. Being vulnerable for me is to stop pretending that I haven’t hurt people and learning to live in the reality that I am hurting people as much as the next guy. Being vulnerable is accepting that I am weak and I don’t have my shit together and that I am selfish and that despite my ability to not be offended – I am always offending and hurting others. Being vulnerable is accepting that I haven’t earned the love of my friends, but they love me anyway and admitting that I need that love – that I am dependent on their love for my own stability and there is nothing I can do to make sure it stays. I need things and I can’t control the circumstances to ensure that I get those things. That to me is vulnerability. It’s taking a risk with people uncertain if they will still be there when it’s all over.