Morgan Jones | Let’s get naked
Nuggets of Wisdom | Vulnerability isn’t usually considered a superpower, but it’s certainly one form of strength
September 18, 2013, 11:41 pm · Updated September 20, 2013, 12:43 am·
Nuggets of Wisdom
Senior year of high school, I was voted “Most likely to have superpowers.” I wrote my Common Application essay on it, and somehow I got into Penn.
What I didn’t realize at the time was, there’s a problem with superheroes: They’re never vulnerable. Sure, they all have their one kryptonite — but only one, mind you. Vulnerability just isn’t a viable option.
When I came to Penn, I brought that superhero mindset with me. If anyone asked me how I was doing, I’d answer, “Good!” It’s easy to give that automatic response and move on — I mean, is Superman ever not good?
Based on how often I hear people tell me they’re also “good” or “fine,” I get the feeling that, in a way, we all subscribe to the superhero mindset. Maybe we’re all a little afraid to feel vulnerable.
Why is this the case? To begin, being vulnerable can really suck sometimes. Really, really freaking suck.
As John Archer wrote in a 1996 article in American Psychologist, “To show feelings of vulnerability is to open oneself to exploitation.” Though we can pretend to be superheroes, we’re human. Opening up can seem like you’re sticking another part of your feelings — your valuable, sensitive feelings — out to the world and practically asking someone to run them over.
Even worse, what if you put the real you out there, and no one likes you? You then have nothing to hide behind. You’re standing there, naked and exposed, and no one likes you. Ouch, right?
But that’s not going to happen. By being vulnerable, you’ll have your own support system. People can’t be there for you if you don’t tell them what’s going on.
It’s easy to think that being vulnerable — feeling upset or jealous, or crying — is a bad thing, a sign that you don’t have control over your emotions. But for people be able to relate to and empathize with you, you need to open up.
What’s more reassuring is that I can guarantee you’re not the only one who could benefit from a support system — not everyone has it together. In fact, I would argue none of us has it together. We’re all running down Locust, balancing the reading from last night and the awkward encounter with that kid from Blarney’s, and we’ve got no clue what’s going on.
Even that kid in the suit subjecting himself to OCR? Clueless, I promise. But what fun would it be if we were all completely self-sufficient, and we didn’t need anyone?
Moreover, refusing to be vulnerable has worse consequences than opening up ever could. It’s easy to feel lonely when no one gets you. But most of the time, if they don’t get you, that’s not their fault. We’re at Penn, but we’re not mind readers.
That’s something I learned all too well recently. Last week, I had a conversation with a friend in one of my student groups in which he mentioned that few other people in the group feel like they really “know me.” There are a myriad of reasons for this — most of the people I did form relationships with have graduated or left the group — but the underlying one is simple. I haven’t yet made the effort to open up to many people who are now in the group, and feeling like I’m “not known” is something they and I both agree upon.
Therein lies the rub. In the process of building those walls and not letting people in, the person who really suffers most is you. This is a lesson I’m still learning. I may have been “most likely to have superpowers” coming into Penn, but leaving, I don’t want them.
The long-term benefits of being vulnerable are much greater than any short-term feeling-squashing you may be fearing right now. I’m not saying that’s not going to happen, but if and when it does, you’ll be strong enough to handle it. You’ll have those vulnerable, real relationships and your vulnerable, real self to rely upon. It’s kind of what makes life meaningful, even though it’s scary.
So let’s stick out our feelings and get naked together. We won’t be lonely, just beautifully clueless and human.
Morgan Jones is a College senior from Colorado Springs, Co. Email her at email@example.com or send her a tweet @morganjo_. “Nuggets of Wisdom” appears other Fridayy.