Being Vulnerable Doesn’t Mean You’re Weak

I’m an extreme thinker, which comes mostly from my personality disorder. Or so I’ve been told by a mental health professional a few years back. No, I’m kidding.

I really do have a personality disorder. Sounds a lot harsher than it really is. Kinda. Anyway, when an individual thinks in “extreme” terms, it usually means that they see the world in black and white. It’s either this or that. There is no middle ground, no in-between or gray areas. Of course, that’s a skewed way of thinking, right? There is always an exception to the rule. Especially when we are dealing with the complexities of a human mind.

Vulnerability. The word scared the fuck out of me growing up. I’d witnessed acts of vulnerability in women and seen people get chewed up, mistreated, and tossed out like waste. Vulnerability equated weakness to me. And that learned behavior was a fact in my world. So, I stuck with it. And I vowed to never be vulnerable. To never show more emotion than I should. To listen more than I spoke. To always have a one-up on anyone who wanted to fraternize with me.

Vulnerability. The word scared the fuck out of me growing up.

Emotions. Ugh. I’d cry in secret, burying my face deep down in the pillow to ensure that no one would discover my “soft” core. Hugs used to make me feel weird. I’d stand there like a log until they stopped. A few of my family members nicknamed me “robot.” I thought it was pretty funny until I got into therapy and she started to peel the layers.

Publicly, I’d mask sadness and grief with anger and aggression…always ending up in a verbal, and on a few occasions, physical outbursts. One time, one of my verbal altercations turned into a physical one and I ended up in jail for the night. After I was released, I went to my therapist.

“Why are you so angry?” she asked with a straight face.

I hunched my shoulders. Still very much so mad that I’d embarrassed myself and gone to jail in the first place.

She asked again, this time more stern. And, I had a hunch that she’d keep asking until I gave her something.

“Because, I’m a villain — and villains are always angry,” I said with a smile.

She chuckled. “How are you a villain?”

I sat up straight. “Villains don’t have emotions. Just like me.”

Her eyes shifted. “You must not be human because I’ve never met a human without emotion.”

“Well, my family does call me a robot.”

“You do have emotions,” she concluded. “And you’re certainly not a villain.”

I rolled my eyes. “If I do have them, they are completely under control.”

“Under control?”

I nodded.

“So much so that you just got arrested for domestic violence?”

My lips pressed together and she continued, “You’re always angry because you’re masking your emotions with aggression. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay feel grief or fear. These are healthy emotions to experience.”

“Stuff like that is for soft people. People who don’t have a backbone. People who get trampled on. I won’t let anyone step all over me. Not happening.” I crossed my arms over my chest like a 2-year-old.

“Who ever said that being less angry, vulnerable, and more open made you soft or weak?” She explained, “There is a middle ground here. We’ve just got to find one for you.”

During this time, I was very hard-headed. I listened to her to an extent, which led me to keep bumping my head against the wall. Each time, I’d go back to her and explain my outbursts and she’d reiterate the same facts with patience, over and over again. It was okay to be vulnerable. It was okay to show emotions. Emotions didn’t mean that you were weak. She told me that I wasn’t weak — that I was the strongest person she’d ever met. I cried in front of her. She asked me how I felt about that. I told her that I hated crying in front of people and that it made me feel vulnerable. She said, good.

It took me some time to get over it. Well, not really get over it. But to sway my way of thinking about vulnerability as a fat, Black, Muslim woman in the United States — how the act works with me or against me as an artist and as a budding business-lady.

She told me that I wasn’t weak — that I was the strongest person she’d ever met. I cried in front of her.

In addition to the therapy, blogging and modeling has really helped me break out of the box I’d placed myself in. I find myself the most vulnerable when I’m adding content to my captions or writing an essay about how an event in my childhood unfolded or how experiencing an emotion made me feel. I feel much freer, lighter. More real. Much more like myself. A human being. And that’s pretty cool. I’m less aggressive, less angry. Don’t get me wrong; being vulnerable with our emotions isn’t all lollipops and gravy, and you’ll get those jerks that will take advantage, but that doesn’t even add up to the benefits you’ll gain by being your true self.