What if we lined up all of the experiences we've had in our lives that created vulnerable feelings for us? Would that be a short line or a long line?
Perhaps you had a fairly easy and uncomplicated life -- grew up in a wonderful place, with an in-tact family, stayed in that place after completing school, created your career, started your own family and life is good. That's awesome. I admire you.
However, for many others, it didn't go like that. They experienced many times of being vulnerable. More than likely, eventually, something will occur that will raise your vulnerability level too.
Let's start with a quick definition of "vulnerability." To paraphrase an actual dictionary definition, it means being susceptible to being wounded or hurt physically or morally. It also means being "vulnerable" -- to criticism from others or to temptation.
People experience all sorts of things -- loss, grief, illness, bullying, disappointment, violence, lots of criticism or "put downs." Some people of course handle all this better than others. Some fall apart because it may just be one thing on top of another. Their life trickles down into deep holes, bad choices, ostracism, etc. When I was a therapist, I saw people with deep wounds from their life experiences. They lived in that space called vulnerability.
But here's the important part, I also saw people who went through horrible trauma, yet recovered strongly, bounced back and resumed very meaningful and worthwhile lives. They GREW from what they went through. It changed them. We can think of so many.
I dare say these people are resilient. They bounce back, they have the ability to come back even stronger then they were before.
Someone who comes to mind is the young, Malala Yousafzai. She was shot in the face because she wanted education for young girls in her native country. They thought she wouldn't live. Well, she not only lived, but healed, became a strong advocate, was the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize and now at 18 is a leading advocate for her issue.
How do people come back stronger? What gets them out of bed in the morning and do what it takes? We see veterans facing huge issues. We see people with cancer going through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, relapses. We see others facing severe bullying and violence.
What I see are a few common themes in those that are resilient.
• The belief that what is happening isn't necessarily personal to them. Perhaps they believe things are "random" or they don't take on the victim mentality about it. Sure, it's easy, at first, to feel like a victim. How could you not? However, with time, they shift from that mentality because they see it keeps them down there and doesn't forward their growth and renewal.
• They learn from the experience and as a result are able to grow emotionally and professionally. It's tough to find the silver lining. I know when I went through chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, I was doing it on my own. I was an older woman, divorced, self-employed, living alone in NYC. The good news was that I had many friends. My biggest growth from this experience was the ability to reach out and ask for help. The more I asked, the more I got. Amazing. I wasn't alone.
• They often find new purpose in their life. It's not unusual to go in different directions, take on making a difference, help others. The emphasis of my career has changed. I still consult and coach, but I advocate and work with people in crisis and needing new directions.
• They ask others to help them. In other words, they reach out for support as needed. As I said, I needed help and I learned that people love to be helpful. By denying them the opportunity to serve you, you disappoint them.
• They are able to maintain a sense of humor along the way.
I know that last one is tricky. No, it's not funny if you're in a hospital bed, or in treatment for illness, or when you're lying in mud because someone kicked you down. However, as you begin to heal, finding pleasure and things to laugh about and celebrate is really important. Case in point: Michael J. Foxx continues to act and perform (and make us laugh) even as his Parkinson's disease progresses. He's amazing.
So, I invite you to ponder where you've been vulnerable in your life, how you've dealt with it and how it has created you into a resilient person in the world. Please feel free to share this with others who are reaching out for help.
Ann Fry is the Workplace Cancer and Crisis Management Coach. You can read her bio online. She also is known for helping individuals and companies reinvent.
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