The following short story is one that I was asked to write for an assignment in one of my Social Work classes. We were asked to schedule and attend an appointment with a therapist in order to “Walk A Mile” in our potential clients shoes. As an aspiring therapist, this assignment at first seemed appealing but in actuality it proved to be more revealing than I initially intended. I hope this introduction into my internal world sheds some light on what it means to be vulnerable, and helps you to help yourself when you need it!
As an awkward adolescent I was asked to read the book Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, a book that has continued to shape my understanding of life to this day. Although my memory can now only vaguely grasp the plot of the story, from this reading assignment I have garnered two specific life lessons by reading the following quotes, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins” and a question that I continue to ask myself daily, “In the course of a lifetime, what will this matter?” As I sat anxiously awaiting my appointment at the University Counseling Center, I reflected on this assignment and found myself reciting these life lessons once again as my mind began to wonder and overwhelm with emotion.
Asking for help isn’t something that I excel in and I typically try to avoid doing so at all costs, especially in regards to asking a stranger for help. I find it uncomfortable to ask for help or vent about my own issues because I don’t want another person to carry the burden of my personal problems and responsibilities, especially when I am well aware that they have their own. I became blatantly aware of this personal insight when I initially scheduled my appointment at the University Counseling Center. I was hesitant and somewhat reluctant at first until I realized that I couldn’t truly be of any assistance to others if I wasn’t able to be of assistance to myself as well. In addition, I couldn’t expect another to ask for my help without being willing to do the same in return.
This revelation fueled my desire to help myself by first asking another for the help that I needed, and in doing so I gained the courage that was necessary to overcome the overwhelming sense of vulnerability that came with admitting and asking for that help. The process of admitting and asking for another person’s help wasn’t an easy task for me because it forced me to risk becoming vulnerable. This helped me to realize that I have a tendency to avoid vulnerability because I am typically the one who always remains strong for my friends and family in every situation and especially when everything seems to be going wrong. In these moments, I am the person that the most important people in my life feel confident turning to and whose advice and unconditional optimism they seek refuge in. I often fear allowing myself to reveal my own vulnerability because for so many years I subconsciously associated it with weakness, and I knew that others often depended on me for my strength during stressful circumstances, so I didn’t want them to know that at times I feel weak too.
However, I have come to realize recently that there is power in vulnerability. Vulnerability gives us the courage to acknowledge, embrace and honor our feelings. It is our vulnerability, and our capacity to feel, that allow us to connect with one another on deeper levels and accept our own humanity. Being vulnerable is not cowardly, it is courageous, and by embracing my own vulnerability I able to remain receptive and leave my heart open as well. Vulnerability offers us the opportunity to be present with all of our feelings, even those that we wish to avoid, and there is power in presence. Not superficial power that hides behind the façade of fear, but genuine power that grants us the capacity to feel both fear and love, pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy. I realized by embracing my vulnerability and reaching out for help that without the ability to be vulnerable I am left feeling numb, and although I can’t feel pain, I also can’t feel true pleasure either.
Before the counselor finally called my name, I continued to anxiously sit in the waiting room and wonder whether or not the other clients who we were waiting with me were wondering why I was there. My initial instinct was to question whether or not the other patient’s thought that by me being there that there was something wrong with me and that I had a problem. I thought it was peculiar that my mind was apt to quickly jump to whether or not others were judging me, instead of judging or acknowledging others who were there as well. I quietly noted that these thoughts must be a byproduct of my fear of being vulnerable. This helped me to perceive why so many people like myself have an initial avoidance for asking for help in the form of therapy, it’s as if a majority of us have difficulty in admitting and accepting the fact that we may have a problem in the first place.
When the therapist entered the waiting room to receive me, I began to question what exactly I was going to begin to talk about first. I became overwhelmed in the idea of which problems were suitable for me to address, and which problems were insignificant. I questioned how I would be able to summarize the scope of my problems and the entirety of my life within just sixty minutes. My stomach began to knot with anxiety as I attempted to filter my feelings and thoughts and select which ones to share. After the therapist introduced herself and we sat down in her office, she asked me a simple question that had a not so simple answer, “So what are you here for today?” I didn’t know where to begin, so I just let the words fall from my mouth despite the overwhelming level of discomfort that I felt as I sat there and laid my soul bare.
Over the course of sixty minutes, I somehow managed to summarize all of my self to the incredibly empathetic therapist who I had only met an hour ago. From my present existential crisis, to my parents divorce, to my fears of vulnerability and my desire for more genuine relationships, I may not have been able to dive into the depths of my internal world within those sixty minutes but somehow touching the surface felt liberating to share. We weren’t able to come up with any conclusions within this initial encounter, however the opportunity for someone, with whom I don’t share any form of emotional attachment to, to sit and listen to me and offer me the opportunity for my thoughts to feel heard gave me a silent sense of relief.
This experience of walking a mile in a potential client’s moccasins helped me to realize and release my preconceived notions of those who have the courage to admit their vulnerability and ask for help. Embracing my own vulnerability has shed a different light on what I initially believed would matter over the course of a lifetime. I now realize that what matters over the course of a lifetime, or at least over the course of my own, is having the capacity and the courage to feel everything because only by feeling everything will we ever be able to feel anything at all. Feeling everything is the only thing that allows us to feel truly alive. There is strength and power in the ability to be vulnerable, and only through allowing myself to do so will I be able to live a more fulfilled life and embrace all of life’s potential.