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  • Writer's picturesara spaggiari

What is vulnerability?

Vulnerability. Often when we hear this word, we think of weakness or fragility; something we want to avoid or hide at all costs.

For a long time, I thought the same way. I tried to hide my emotions and hypersensitivity (my greatest vulnerability) from others, behind arrogance and aggression. Clenched fists and a high head. Don't cry. Don't show yourself weak, they'll attack you even more. If you cry, no one will want you by their side. Be strong, you must be strong and brave. Yeah. If only I had known that making ourselves vulnerable to others is actually the greatest form of courage there is... maybe I would have experienced this emotion differently. I would have been less ashamed of it, or not at all. I would have listened to this vulnerability of mine. If only I had had the information and tools to transform my vulnerability into success that I have today, maybe things would have gone a bit differently. But as our dear saying goes, 'better late than never.' And today, I'm here writing this article for you, so that you can, whatever your age and your journey, begin to see and use your vulnerability to your advantage.


In order to fully understand the role of this word in our lives, it is necessary to start from its etymology. Only then can we understand why it has been, for a long time, negatively connoted and conceived as something to be ashamed of or avoided at all costs and how it differs from the term weakness.

Where weakness is described as the inability to resist, to react; as the lack of energy, moral strength, and character, vulnerability has to do with the possibility of being hurt. Specifically, the origin of the word "vulnerability" dates back to the Latin language, deriving from the word "vulnerabĭlis", which in turn derives from "vulnerare", which literally means "to hurt" or "something or someone that can be hurt". More commonly, in a general and figurative sense, "vulnerability" refers to something that can be attacked, hurt, or damaged.

But whenever we embark on something new, every time we expose ourselves, put ourselves out there - whether it's starting a new romantic relationship or a new business - we become more susceptible, and therefore more vulnerable.

We are vulnerable when we open ourselves up to others for who we really are, when we love, when we compete in a sport. We are vulnerable when we learn a new language or move to a new country. We are vulnerable when we live fully and courageously, as noted by Brené Brown, who, through her research, has introduced a new meaning of "vulnerability", demonstrating how it is inexorably and without exception at the center of every significant human experience. In fact, after devoting ten years of her life to studying constructs such as vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame, Brown has shown that vulnerability is the strongest indicator of courage, that is, the more capable we are of being vulnerable, the more courageous we are. Thanks to her TED-Talk event in 2010 at TED-Houston, a new conception of vulnerability began to spread internationally (to date, the video of her TED-talk 'The Power of Vulnerability' has reached over 40 million views).

In presenting the results, the author explains that the ability to be vulnerable is the most accurate construct for measuring courage because being vulnerable means being seen for who we really are, and letting this happen is extremely difficult and courageous. And this can only be done where there is the belief of 'being enough', that is, believing in oneself - another construct positively correlated with vulnerability, and which we will delve into more deeply in other articles.  So, although for many this word is still misunderstood, there is no doubt that this redefinition of the concept of vulnerability has marked a 'cathartic' moment today. Brown's research helps us to look at vulnerability, once conceived as a dark emotion, with different eyes.  The author herself defines vulnerability as the emotion we experience during moments of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure - suggesting the tendency of human beings to associate this construct with negative emotions such as fear, shame, loss, disappointment, experiences we prefer not to talk about. However, it seems that it is only by facing these uncomfortable emotions that we allow ourselves to experience the positive emotions and feelings (love, belonging, joy, empathy, gratitude) that we need and that make our lives worth living. And to experience these emotions and feelings, we must expose ourselves, put ourselves out there, and allow others to see us for who we really are, and doing this requires the courage to dare 'big', and therefore to be vulnerable and to 'try' despite the fear.

According to Brown, and other authors - although alas very few - vulnerability has been described as a resource to be empowered rather than an experience to be avoided such as the act of "placing trust in others"or the willingness and ability to take risks, exposing oneself emotionally, or again as the ability to recognize one's own failures. Exposing oneself to vulnerability can be an opportunity to embrace life's changes and challenges while still feeling secure enough to recognize and admit one's own failures. Talking about our feelings towards someone else, acknowledging our mistakes, and showing ourselves authentically can make us feel vulnerable. However, it seems that the advantage we can gain by enacting the above behaviors is far greater than the potential negative consequences - such as embarrassment, negative judgment from others, or disappointment - as sharing who we are leads us to deepen our relationships and gain the respect of others.

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