Vulnerability – a thirteen-letter word powerful enough to connect all of humanity. At first glance, you might be thinking that I’m wrong. Vulnerability has nothing to do with human connection. Rather it has to do with one’s susceptibility to harm or attack; it is pertained only to oneself. We are quick to equate negativity with vulnerability. However, decades of research prove otherwise; “vulnerability can [actually] make our lives better.”
Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, is one who has helped prove that vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame dictate human connection. Having won numerous teaching awards, Brown has had her work featured on PBS, NPR, CNN, and Oprah. Her research is invaluable, as she has had the opportunity to reach out to millions. She has most recently shared her work through giving a TED talk in Houston.
Neurobiologically, we are wired in such a way in which we need to form bonds with others in order to co-exist. We simply rely on human connection. However, I don’t think we realize that in order to understand humanity and truly connect with other beings, one must not only be open to the concept of vulnerability but one must be receptive to being vulnerable themselves. Brown states that human connection can be “seen as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
However people can only connect once they have embraced their vulnerability. By doing so, they have the “courage to be imperfect and the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.” Happy people are those who were willing to let go for who/what they think they should be living their life for; they just live. Brown’s research involved her interviewing hundreds of people. She would ask them about love, connection, happiness but the ones that hadn’t embraced their vulnerability told her about heartbreak, disconnection and shame. For the fear of disconnection was too strong for some people – they thought that if others knew their weaknesses, then they would not be worthy of connection. To counter this fear, they try to numb their vulnerability. However, Brown’s research shows that you cannot selectively numb a single emotion because when you do, you numb the joy, gratitude and happiness that you also feel.
The truth is that everyone experiences the ups and downs of life. Those that are grounded and have a strong sense of love and belonging know that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
My personal advice is to take risks – love with your whole heart even when there’s no guarantee of reciprocation, go for that job, don’t be scared to face your fears – because when we numb our emotions, we get lost in trying to find the purpose and meaning of life, instead of just living it. We make everything that’s certain and present, uncertain and distant.
Are you ready to reach out and get in touch with your vulnerable side?

Safiya Nanji is currently a SWSG mentor at Tufts University from Toronto, Canada. She aspires to be a broadcast journalist and loves to swim in her spare time. She has loved being a part of Strong Women, Strong Girls and is looking forward to mentoring again next year.