When you think of radical vulnerability, what are some words that come to mind?
Often times we associate vulnerability with weakness, and we’re raised to believe we should always be strong. However, folks on the internet have been raising a discussion about radical vulnerability and the idea that being vulnerable is a revolutionary act in a world that tells us we must be strong. This is radical vulnerability.
There is so much stigma towards being emotional and vulnerable. And — similarly — there is so much stigma around being mentally ill, especially being visibly mentally ill. Countless people in this world have gone through some varying form(s) of trauma — whether it be sexual trauma, mental, emotional, physical, etc. Most of us have experienced trauma or some form of traumatic event. Just like stigmas around mental illnesses, there is stigma around the victimhood of trauma survivors. We watch as abusers and those who have inflicted trauma dodge accountability on a daily basis — whether it’s in our families or on an inter/national level. All of this continues to add to the stigma and shame.
Having internalized all of this, our friends, family, community members and folks around the world continue to perpetuate an extremely toxic cycle of telling us we are too sensitive, too dramatic, over-exaggerating, and so on. In reality, what that translates to is: you’re being too honest, your reality makes me uncomfortable, I don’t want to believe your reality. To put it frankly — it’s bullshit! All this accomplishes is to instill in us that it’s wrong to be sensitive, to speak up, to share our reality — to wear our voices. It only succeeds in adding more trauma to the existing trauma and shame that we already harbor.
However, from this rubble comes something very beautiful.
Trauma survivors have taken to social media to tell their stories and amplify their truths. See, when we are radically vulnerable about our pain, struggles, trauma and frustrations, we bring visibility for other survivors. For example, when I talk about being a child abuse and incest survivor, other survivors can see that their friends share similar experiences. And if that person is sharing their story, maybe they can share their own as well.
When we do this, we create a cycle of empowerment; we empower those around us to be vulnerable. At the same time, we break down stigmas that tell us that we must remain stoic, silent and strong. That visibility is especially important for those of us who are mentally ill, and even more so for those of us who have trauma-induced illnesses such as PTSD, C-PTSD, DID, etc., as well as for those of us who hold myriad intersecting marginalized identities and backgrounds.
Some other incredible benefits to being radically vulnerable and visible are: being able to jump-start discussions on how trauma survivors can better support each other and heal, both personally and collectively. It also helps us find other ways to actively break down the shame and stigma around being vulnerable and mental illnesses — and reveals the support that exists around us that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
We also need to talk about about those of us who aren’t ready to be publicly vulnerable. Folks whose living and financial situations, employment, mental or emotional well-being and lives might be in jeopardy if they were to come forward, while acknowledging what privileges we may have in being able to amplify our truths and pain. Very often these narratives are overshadowed by those of us who are able to be open. But others’ narratives shouldn’t be forgotten or unnoticed. This only leaves folks feeling more isolated, alone and ashamed. We need to recognize that there is radical vulnerability in simply surviving. We mustn’t forget that we are all navigating our healing processes in our own time. This shouldn’t be rushed. Simply displaying visibility can do so much more than we may realize.
We live in a world that has hardened us and conveyed the message that being soft, and raw and talking about our pain means to be weak. Through social media we’ve been displaying radical vulnerability by sharing our stories, experiences and pain. By doing so we break down stigmas and bring visibility to folks whose trauma and histories are similar to ours. We empower other survivors to speak out.
This work and visibility is extremely crucial and, in many cases, life-saving. When we are radically vulnerable, we not only work to heal ourselves, we are healing those around us. There is strength and beauty in being soft, and in using that softness as a weapon against a machine that tells us we are too sensitive or emotional. Through this, we learn to give ourselves the space to be mentally ill, sick, sad, depleted, etc. and to learn empathy for ourselves and others.
Friends, it’s okay to be soft, delicate, sensitive and fragile. It’s okay to break down, be sick, relapse, to be weak and cry. There’s no such thing as being too sensitive, weak or fragile. It’s time to break these chains that stigmas hold us down. If you’re able to, be vulnerable, amplify your pain and truth. To those who aren’t able to tell their stories: please remember that you are just as radically vulnerable just for surviving. You deserve the same respect and acknowledgement as any of us.
We aren’t robots. We aren’t made of stone. We have valid emotions, experiences, trauma, pain and frustrations. Coming together through radical vulnerability is a beautiful thing. And who knows? Sharing your story can even help save someone’s life!