This week’s journal writing prompts are about vulnerability. For most of us, to be vulnerable means to be open to the possibility of physical or emotional injury, or to be easily manipulated, and is a state we have learned — or been taught — to avoid. In reaction, we build carefully contrived external personas, avoid letting down our guard for fear of being hurt emotionally, and hide those things about which we feel ashamed. We are afraid of being vulnerable because of the possibility for pain.
On the other hand, vulnerability also embodies hope — we are not yet hurt, and there is still the possibility of kindness.
I used to work for a non-profit organization (Challenge Day) that facilitates experiential workshops for teens. During those workshops the teens and their adult counterparts experience increased human connection and trust by allowing themselves to be vulnerable with one another. They learn that, though our situations are different, we all experience the same kinds of hopes, fears, dreams, and disappointments. They learn that thinking you are the only person to feel a certain way (ashamed, hurt, fearful) is something that everyone thinks. In the process, they no longer feel so alone.
This week’s writing prompts are designed to help us uncover our own sense of vulnerability and understand its edges (its disadvantages and benefits):
- Do a word association exercise with “vulnerable.” (At the top of a new page, write the word “vulnerable.” Then below it write the next word that pops into your head. Continue writing words one after another, without stopping and without censoring, until your mind is quiet and no more words come to you.) When you are done, review the list. What kinds of interesting associations occur? Are there any patterns that emerge? What can you learn about yourself from this exercise?
- Freewrite for ten minutes about what it means for you to feel vulnerable.
- When have you felt most vulnerable in your life? What happened? Was it a negative or positive experience, and how did it affect your responses to vulnerability afterwards?
- Under what circumstances do you feel least vulnerable (the most fortified, strong, invulnerable)? Do you feel more or less connected to others when you are least vulnerable? Freewrite for ten minutes about your answer.
- Make a list of as many kinds of vulnerability as you can (interpret “kinds” any way you wish). Which of these kinds of vulnerability has the most emotional charge for you (seems most important, urgent, critical, or increases emotional sensations in your body), and in what ways?
- Generally speaking, how do you react to vulnerability in others? Do you want to protect them? Do you shy away from them (fear by association)? Do you find yourself hurting them? Explore, in writing, the sources of your reactions.
- Respond to the following quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable. Why might it be advantageous to be open and willing to remain vulnerable?
What can you learn about yourself by exploring your feelings and thoughts about vulnerability?