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INS-logo-cells-onlyHow comfortable are you with vulnerability? The feeling of unease or discomfort; the feeling that you are somehow unprotected. Sometimes we unconsciously try to hide these feelings behind false bravado, sarcasm, or anger. We might lose ourselves in addictions like shopping, overeating, ETOH, or TV watching to escape those feelings.

Vulnerability ButterfliesOn the flip side, sensing vulnerability in others like babies, children, or refugees, our hearts open and we want to protect and help them or, we become so uncomfortable that we want to shut down and hide in any of the above or other ways. Knowing what vulnerability feels like, recognizing that it is normal and natural, we can accept it as a part of a rich emotional life and we don’t have to be limited by it.

Any time we make life changes or stretch beyond our comfort zones we are likely to experience vulnerability. With this understanding and practice we are free to explore the ways and areas in which we need and want to grow with a sense of anticipation and trust.

I have found working with Frank Osteseski’s 5 Precepts very helpful Metta Institute , especially the first: Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing. With this practice I remember that what is coming towards me is an opportunity to experience change- which often means discomfort, growth and deeper understanding. What I experience inside, mentally, emotionally and physically is personal and useful- contextualizing my experience, and discovering greater understanding and compassion.

Feeling safe and comfortable with vulnerability
is a skill that can be developed.

INS-logo-cells-only3 years ago I moved to a place where I knew no one. Surprised at not finding a nursing position I wanted, not wanting to leave the profession, I decided to redesign my nursing practice. That began the journey of becoming a nurse entrepreneur. Initially, the worry of how I was perceived by colleagues and the fear of not supporting myself as a nurse were constant companions. The discomfort, shame and false bravado in answering the questions “what are you doing?” and “how are things going?” initially was huge.

However, as I move in the uncharted waters of this form of nursing, I am discovering that not knowing, one of the 6 ways of knowing, ( Barbara Dossey, Theory of Integral Nursing http://www.dosseydossey.com/barbara/pdf/Dossey-Integral_Nursing_HN_6th_ed.pdf p29) leads to a new sense of patience, trust and faith in the process of change and benevolence of the universe. I am becoming more comfortable with the state of not knowing, which has a feeling of vulnerability.

When I was a new nurse working in med surge and years later working as a case manager in a rural hospice, I often felt a sense of wonder and a little dread. The physical feelings of a generalized tension, a tightness in my belly and shallow breathing were often present just before meeting a new patient/client. What would be the nature of my part in the client’s journey? What would our relationship look like? Will I serve well? That was and is how I experience vulnerability. By the end of the visit, that sense of vulnerability generally disappeared.

Vulnerability DandelionWhen I experience vulnerability without self-criticism, I am able to serve, rather than be stuck in the contractions of fear, worry or shame. I have been able to move forward in designing workshops and speaking up on committees to support my colleagues and clients. I have increased compassion for others who are stuck and unable to move forward because of aspects of avoiding vulnerability- fear, shame and worry.


Take a moment and breathe
Internally scan yourself from your head to your toes so you feel yourself physically present.

When you have landed in your body:
Remember and reflect upon instances where you felt vulnerable~

How and where do you experience vulnerability in your body?
How do you relate to yourself when you are feeling vulnerable?

Take another breath
refocus your attention to being in the company of someone who is vulnerable.

What are you feeling in your body and what are you thinking?
How do you relate with others when they are vulnerable?

As you observe your experience, what did you learn about yourself, your understanding of and the tolerance of vulnerability?

Please join our conversation about this topic, even if responding makes you feel vulnerable. Remember, you may be developing the skill of becoming comfortable with feeling the sensations and feelings of vulnerability. Congratulations on not avoiding!

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