Vulnerability: The Key to a Healthy and Happy Life?


I recently watched a video of a TED talk by researcher and social worker Brené Brown.  In it, she talks about what she has learned from her research on vulnerability.  There is a reason that hers is one of the most popular TED talks.  She discusses what she has learned about people who live their lives “wholeheartedly”.  The key is being able to live life with vulnerability.  She has a powerful message, and it really resonated with me, both personally and professionally.  I think she’s right that vulnerability is the key to a healthy and happy life.

Most of us are afraid to be vulnerable.  We work hard at projecting confidence and competence in all areas of our lives.  But we all have fear and shame and doubts about our abilities.  We all want to avoid rejection and embarrassment.  We don’t want to expose our insecurities or failures because we all crave connection and acceptance.

So what does vulnerability have to do with pain, illness, weight gain, and food cravings (the most common issues that my clients deal with)?

We are complex beings, and our emotional and physical health is absolutely connected.  Emotional stress or pain often shows up physically, and vice versa (even though we may not make the connection in the moment).  If you think back to times of significant stress in your life, you may realize that it coincided with more physical aches and pains or a higher frequency of colds or other illnesses.  And during times of decreased physical health (pain, illness, and/or injury), you likely experienced changes in your emotional health.

I have experienced this myself.  Several years ago, I suffered a significant personal loss.  For some reason, my body chose my lungs as the place to express the emotional stress that I was experiencing.  In addition to intense sadness, I experienced difficulty breathing, even without physical exertion.  Months later, I developed a severe case of bronchitis that lasted for several weeks. I know that it was the result of a compromised immune system from chronic stress related to grief.

When we try to avoid or numb the “bad” feelings that come with being vulnerable (i.e. grief, sadness, anger, fear, and self-doubt), it prevents us from feeling more of what we strive for:  happiness, connection, confidence, and passion.

We may numb ourselves by eating or drinking too much, by smoking or working too much, or by spending more money than we have.  And it may work as a short-term strategy during times of acute stress, but over the long-term, our physical and mental health suffers from these unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Asking for help to change our unhealthy behaviors requires us to be vulnerable.  We have to open ourselves up as we ask our families and friends to support us as we change our unhealthy habits.  We have to admit that we need help to our health care providers as we ask for and receive medical treatment and guidance.  Asking for help pretty much defines what it means to be vulnerable.  And it feels uncomfortable, but it's the only way to move forward.

As an occupational therapist, I am trained in treating both physical and emotional health through meaningful, therapeutic activities.  As a health coach, I am trained to take that knowledge and support my clients as they work to make important lifestyle changes.  In my own life, I am working on not being afraid to be vulnerable.  I strive to provide my clients with a safe place to do the same so that they can live happy and healthy lives.  If you're ready to make the lifestyle changes that will improve your health, I'm here to help.  Contact me to schedule a one-on-one appointment.  

If you haven’t already seen Brené Brown's TED talk on vulnerability, I highly recommend taking 20 minutes to hear her message.  It may change the way you think about vulnerability and how to live an authentic life.  And please share this post with others who may benefit.  

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