One of the most challenging ways to be kind to yourself is to be vulnerable in front of other people. This sounds counterintuitive but hear me out: being vulnerable can feel uncomfortable and may not seem as if it is a kindness toward yourself, but when you admit your weaknesses and share your essential self with others, you allow them to step in and meet you with kindness. Vulnerability then is not only the bedrock of intimacy and meaningful relationships, it is also a way of inviting goodwill into our own lives.
When you are vulnerable, you are unguarded, open, and trusting of others. You let your true self out for the world to see. Being vulnerable is difficult because it means that you have surrendered control. Your heart is on your sleeve. Your mind is spoken. Your soul is bared.
The Gift of Vulnerability
If you are still thinking that maybe asking for help is selfish, think again. Even asking for simple physical help is a gift to others, as well as to yourself. As someone with a background in child psychology and who has worked in children’s television for almost 30 years, I’ve done the research, especially in developmental theory, that shows how motivating and empowering it is to ask for help. Human beings want to be useful. When we help, we feel empowered, our self-worth skyrockets, and our bonds with other people become stronger.
I utilized this on the very first episode of Blue’s Clues, a popular live-action/animated educational children’s television series on Nickedoldeon starring a puppy named Blue. We wanted to reach out of the television and give the kids at home an opportunity to “help” and be an active part of our world. To do that, we showed an adult, “Steve,” who needed the help of preschoolers to figure out what Blue wanted for snack. Steve leans in close to the camera, makes eye contact with the children watching, and asks them, “Can you help me?” It was as if he had said “Abracadabra!” Those four words were magic. Kids jumped up, pointed to clues, and talked back to Steve. We used those four magic words in every episode thereafter.
Your own “Can you help me” can take many forms from the dramatic to the mundane, but the better you get at asking for help when you genuinely need it—and not when you’re just feeling lazy—the more often you will receive the gift of human kindness and support for your own needs that will strengthen you. The more often you will be giving others the opportunity to practice kindness on you.
When you get comfortable with “Can you help me,” you can progress to a more advanced level of vulnerability—of purposefully allowing yourself to be heart-seen. Your relationships depend upon it. Dr. Brene Brown often says in her talks that “vulnerability is to be your true self.” In other words, vulnerability is heart-seeing ourselves and to allow our true self to be seen by others. Give that inner you some fresh air and sunshine. Let your freak flag fly. Be that person on the outside, not just on the inside.
To be vulnerable is a great act of courage. It takes strength to share ourselves with others. There are fewer things harder, and there are fewer things more beautiful. When you can access your humility to soften your exterior and open the window to your soul to let someone else come in, yes, you will feel vulnerable and exposed, but you will be seeable, and that is the only way a relationship can ever be deeply meaningful and reciprocal. Having profound emotional bonds with other people is one of the most rewarding aspects of life, and vulnerability is the key to creating those bonds.
From the book RADICAL KINDNESS. Copyright © 2019 by Angela C. Santomero. Published on March 5, 2019 by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
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