The pandemic may be officially over, but we still all wear masks.
We wear masks that hide our true selves from the public and present an “appropriate” face to the world.
Underneath these masks is our true self, but there’s only one way to get there: vulnerability.
1) See your mask for what it is
First of all, it’s important to define what I mean here by mask in a social sense.
Your mask, or persona, isn’t necessarily false.
But your mask is convenient, oversimplified and often tied directly to your perceived or assigned social role.
Your mask includes:
- Your persona at your job or in your professional role
- Your polite public face in society or interactions with strangers
- Your kindness and patience around your kids, parents or partner
- Your political and religious persona in terms of agreeing to certain rules about us vs. them and what defines right or wrong
- Your moral mask in terms of being sure that you understand which actions are right and wrong and that you wouldn’t do something wrong unless it was totally necessary
In short, your mask is about convenience and protecting your conception of yourself in the group.
You do what’s expected, appropriate and “normal,” and your actions and beliefs are right, or certainly “good” and would never intentionally be not good.
Taking off this mask is easier than it seems. Which takes me to step two.
2) Take off your mask
To take off your mask and be vulnerable does not mean that you ditch all your social, familial, religious, cultural or economic roles.
It just means you are willing to take a temporary break and look at yourself and others from a different perspective.
Your various roles, personas and labels will all be waiting for you when you come back.
But taking off your mask and considering who you are when you drop all the outer functions and categories is an excellent way to embrace your authentic self.
This requires vulnerability to yourself and eventually to others, because it requires you to ask the following:
Who am I really when all the outer definitions and roles have been stripped away from me?
Who am I really if I practice radical acceptance and complete honesty about my sense of self and my experiences in this moment?
Let’s find out…
3) Vulnerability takes strength
Vulnerability is often presented in popular media as men being willing to cry, or a confident career woman confiding to her friend that she’s depressed.
This is corn flakes pop culture crap.
The truth is that tears can do just as much to hide our authentic self as laughter, and telling somebody we’re depressed can be just as much of a way to hide in a role as pretending we’re doing great and bragging to our peer group.
Real vulnerability isn’t a cliche, nor is it necessarily about showing our faults. Real vulnerability can also be about exposing our strengths, or the ways we feel our strengths have been unfairly marginalized.
Real vulnerability can be about admitting we do feel superior, or do truly dislike certain people, groups or ideas.
Real vulnerability takes strength because it’s not prescribed nor is it inline with some prefabricated outcome.
Real vulnerability might be admitting that you hold real prejudices that go against what’s normal or acceptable, or that you’ve made harmful mistakes that you don’t feel sorry for.
Real vulnerability could be admitting you feel deep inner anger and you actually enjoy it rather than it necessarily being “negative” or “bad.”
Let me be clear:
Real vulnerability also means that you don’t buy into easy, feel-good solutions like New Age spirituality as well.
It’s all too easy to buy into the idea that “low vibrations” are what’s causing us to feel dissociated, lost, depressed or frustrated.
But what if the emotions you think are “bad” are actually a portal to unlocking your true power?
The dangers of New Age and Law of Attraction philosophy and the powerful alternative are keys to the Free Your Mind masterclass hosted by the shaman Rudá Iandê.
Rudá has seen it all and been down the feel-good spirituality path himself.
He’s seen how we lie to ourselves and others in order to be approved of or try to “purify” ourselves.
He also found out the surprising and powerful truth at the root of vulnerability and how it connects to authenticity and finding your own power.
Click here to watch the free masterclass and see what Rudá has to say.
4) What happens when you open up
When you open up about what you’re really feeling and thinking, you give others permission to do the same.
Real vulnerability is unpredictable, but always transformational.
For example, say somebody opens up about the following during a social chat with a group of friends:
- Person A admits that they harbor a lot of resentment against wealthy people and truly, instinctively dislike those who have money, receive high salaries and don’t have to worry about money.
Person A says he’s always had the instinctive feeling that rich people don’t deserve to be rich and that he shares the French writer Honoré de Balzac’s belief that every great wealth covers up a large and egregious crime at its roots.
- Their friend, Person B, who has a different perspective, admits he has always found something intriguing and attractive about wealth and always harbored an instinctive adoration of material wealth and riches.
Person B says he’s always had an instinctive feeling that many poor people somehow brought it on themselves, even though he’s always been told that’s untrue and a horrible thing to believe. He admires Ayn Rand and despises the welfare state and sympathy for the poor.
- The two debate back and forth, hurling statistics and facts at each other, but being fully vulnerable about how personal this is to them, how experiential and how inherent to their lived experience and ideological foundation.
- In the end Person A and Person B admit that despite all the facts on their side or against their side, they are left with their psychological reality: they have an emotional and visceral reaction shaped by many forces and influences that they cling to regardless of facts and sometimes even directly in opposition to facts.
This is where we now have to take vulnerability to an even deeper level…
5) Letting go of the need to be right and good
If I argue gravity does not exist and jump off a house’s roof, I will likely break my leg. I was wrong and my wrong beliefs led to me breaking my leg.
I also need my legs to walk and go to work and have money to buy food. By this measure my incorrect belief was also objectively bad, that is to say harmful.
But in terms of being vulnerable and meeting our true self, it is crucial to let go of the need to be right and good about our experiences and our self-identity.
Categorizing and filing away ourselves and our experiences devalues them and bleeds them of all color and vivacity.
The previous debate and the opening up of Person A and Person B to admit their biases and subjective experiences may not be two-sided.
One may be much more factually correct than the other.
But at the very least we can say that both have at least one case (even if it’s themselves) in which their point of view is indeed correct and good.
That’s why no matter what we believe is correct and good, we need to drop the idea that we ourselves embody or characterize that role.
Believing strongly in a principal or moral system is fine, but believing we are the arbiter or enforcer of it is something different.
In order to let vulnerability be a vehicle of real efficacy and progress, we need to be vulnerable to other people thinking we are bad, wrong or even stupid.
In other words:
We need to have our own vulnerability be unconditional.
6) What is unconditional vulnerability?
Unconditional vulnerability is the willingness to be true about who we are and how we feel, perceive and think even if this declaration is not met with a positive or supportive reaction.
In other words:
If I say I will be vulnerable about all my most unpopular beliefs, but only on the condition that you not judge me, I am not being truly vulnerable.
I am still putting on another different mask and asking that you respond by also putting on a mask (the mask of social acceptance and validation).
But if I say I will be vulnerable because I embrace my experiences and emotions and want to be honest about it even if I’m wrong, then I am being truly vulnerable.
I am opening myself up to judgment, dislike, insults and misunderstanding. I am showing others that they can do the same and that they do not need to be agreed with, liked or understood in order to be authentic.
True vulnerability is the natural partner of authenticity because it is the act of taking off your mask even if everyone else is still wearing theirs.
True vulnerability leads to authenticity because it is like ceasing to act out your role in a theater production whether or not everyone else still continues in their role.
They may continue the play, but you for one are no longer reciting your lines.
You are breaking Brecht’s fourth wall and tossing your costume to the side onstage, even if everyone else wants to stay within the three walls.
The power of vulnerability
The power of vulnerability is counterintuitive.
Why would it be empowering to let down your guard?
The answer after reading this article should be clear:
When you let your guard down you give others permission to do the same. This begins a process of mutual recognition, discovery and authenticity.
The labels, conditioning and judgments take a short break and you see someone’s soul without all the frills, gimmicks, makeup and war paint.
The result is profound: real connection and real understanding born of being honest about what’s inside us instead of just the parts we feel society or other people will approve of or like.