Strong Yet Vulnerable


A couple of weeks ago I initiated a Compliments Challenge (an English version, especially made for Microbuzz readers, will follow soon!). It was very nice to see a big group of people all focussed on 1 thing (giving and receiving compliments). However, some comments that were made on our Facebook page were very interesting and made me think about the subject this blog post will be about. Let me explain…

I posted a question in our Facebook group, which said: “Imagine someone’s dad becomes very sick. Which compliments could you give a person in this situation?” And then one of the things a Compliments Challengers said was: “I want to compliment you on staying so strong through this ordeal”. At first, I thought that was a nice compliment, but then I thought about the fact that people often feel they have to stay strong, even during the saddest situations. And I wonder whether that is correct (whether staying strong is ‘better’) and what there is to win in being vulnerable in addition to being strong.


Vulnerable and strong

Now, first, what do I mean with the words ‘strong’ and ‘vulnerable’? Being strong in this context is not about physically being strong, but about not showing your emotions. So, if a loved one gets ill, and has to go to the hospital, staying strong means you don’t show your fear, worries and sadness to the outside world. You keep that to yourself. Staying strong also means you can ‘be there for a person’, in a practical way. You take on tasks that the other person cannot do. On the other side, being ‘vulnerable’ means showing your emotions. So, in this example, you would cry, or tell someone else how afraid you are. And being vulnerable also means admitting you don’t know what to do either, and maybe not always helping other people. I don’t know whether you recognize this, but people often feel like being vulnerable is the same as being weak. Some believe you have to put yourself aside as much as possible to help others in situations like these.

However, if I was the one with bad luck (being ill, or losing my job, or losing an important person in my life), what would help me more? People around me saying that ‘everything will be fine’ or that ‘I should not worry’ or that ‘there’s no need to cry’? Or people that show me they are as afraid, sad and worried as I am? For me, the answer is a nice combo of both, please! I would like people around me that can pick me up when I feel down, but that also allow me (and themselves) to feel what is there to be felt. And that means you need people who can be STRONG AND VULNERABLE at the same time!


What about other situations?

Does this also apply to other situations? I think it does! For instance, my boss is both strong and vulnerable, and I really value her for that. She tells you like it is if that’s what helps you to do things (or to change something about yourself), but she also listens and tries to help you on a personal level (by being vulnerable herself) in other situations. As a coach, I also try to have a combination of both. I share stories of my life when I think they help my clients to see that everyone has their weaknesses, but I also kick their butts when they feel like ‘there’s nothing that they can do about this situation’ or that ‘everyone is against them’. If you are very strong or very vulnerable, you kind of push people into the other extreme (so, if someone ‘strong’ visits me in hospital, I get to play the role of the helpless sick person, and if my boss is always ‘vulnerable’, I have to stay strong to get things done). And often, you need both.


So, I wonder, in which situations are you mostly strong, and do you think becoming a little more vulnerable would add something? Or the other way around, when are you are very vulnerable, would becoming a little stronger and tougher make a difference?

Ellen is a passionate and practical happy living expert. She teaches subjects like ‘Consumerism’ and “Social Innovation’ at Tilburg University and has her own coaching company to help people find their sparkle again. As a life-coach, she tickles people into changing. As a teacher, she invites students to think outside the box. As a person, she is always trying to find ways to live more consciously, happy and light. And she gets really happy if she can share this with people! Her articles are about her own life, about the way she sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails in changing small things (that eventually might make a big difference). She will share with you her lessons learned, mistakes made and successes achieved when it comes to happy living. You can find more information about Ellens coaching company on her website and you can find more articles written by Ellen (in Dutch) on her blog.