March 27, 2023

Why it’s a struggle to be vulnerable

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Vulnerability can be scary—even for meditation coaches. So Ofosu and Leah talk about how they've overcome that fear and why being vulnerable is important to grow. They also share their tips to help you embrace vulnerability and confidently ask for what you need.

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▶️ You can watch the latest episode on YouTube here:

🎧 What's in this episode:

  • (00:00) A Well Balanced listener asks, "How can we learn to be vulnerable?"
  • (00:57) Leah's experience breaking through the fear of vulnerability
  • (03:55) The power of vulnerability
  • (05:10) Is being vulnerable counterintuitive?
  • (05:59) Ofosu's experience of being vulnerable in hip-hop culture
  • (08:07) Being vulnerable on social media
  • (08:40) Letting go of perfectionism
  • (09:36) When vulnerability doesn't come easy
  • (11:26) What vulnerability is not and why we armor ourselves
  • (11:56) Expressing yourself freely
  • (13:26) How to notice what you need (and ask for it)

🧘 About Balance: Well Balanced is co-hosted by Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood. Unlock your free year of Balance today by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store:


Leah: Okay, so we have a listener who asked us a great question, and we're gonna focus on that for this episode. Emma Bobby said, can you make an episode on how to learn to be vulnerable? So I thought we could talk about vulnerability, right? Why is it hard? Why is it important, and how can we embrace it?

Ofosu: What's up y'all? I'm Ofosu Jones Quartey. And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. And we are the meditation coaches on the Balance app. 

Leah: And this is our weekly show Well Balanced, where we explore ways to live a healthier and happier life. 

Ofosu: So, Leah, I, I take it that you must have some experience with vulnerability, uh, and, I mean, I don't, I can't see how, you know, you can be a meditation teacher and a mom, and all the different hats you wear without having to bump up against your vulnerability from time to time.

Leah: So I do actually, you know how I, I've shared with you that I used to be pretty, I don't know if shy is the right word, but I was more that person who wouldn't raise my hand in a group or get on the stage or, uh, ask a question because I, I was so self-conscious of people looking at me, and I was terrified to speak in front of people.

Yeah, I think there was a fear of being in that vulnerable place of being judged and the first time that I really broke through that fear and shifted into vulnerability. I remember I had signed up for this, this, uh, weekend long transformational course in Los Angeles, and it was quite an intense experience, uh, where you were there all day long and I was with a group of 250 people and I remember sitting in the very front row because I was going through the really hard time of my life at that point.

I was eager to get as much as I could out of it. So I sat right up front and what surprised me was what happened next the, the coach, uh, he goes, come up here and just share from your own experience. I don't even remember what the subject was about because I literally lept onto the stage without even thinking about it.

I think there was like a split second that said, I want to do this, and there was that voice that was like, oh no, I couldn't possibly. And then I just somehow overwrote it and was like, I'm, my body was already moving before I could stop . And I got up onto the stage and there was just this like dead fear that came over me.

Holy cow. What do they just do? Cause I'm standing in front of 250 people staring back at me. And he looked at me and he was like, well, and I said, um, I don't know why I just got up here. I don't even know what to say. I'm really nervous right now. And he goes, when did you lose your voice? And just this pause, it just stopped.

It was just this question that hit me so hard, like a ton of bricks and it made me stop in my tracks and think, wow, when did I lose my voice? And the first thing that came up was an incident in my childhood where I felt scared to talk back to a bully, and I just started to share that story. And it ended up with me like having to, you know, go through this really cathartic experience on stage that normally would've mortified me and was the most possible vulnerable thing I could have gone through.

Yeah, in front of people to share like the most intimate of pain and to just be in snot, in tears and like beating my palms against a chair and crying and breaking down. And then I just went through it without thinking about what other people were thinking. I just dove fully in. It was the first time in my life I did that, and when I got off the stage and for the rest of the weekend, I couldn't believe the response like I was at first mortified of what I had just done in front of people. But then the overwhelming response was like, you had so much courage. Like this helped me open up, this helped me see something like I related to your story and I saw in that moment the power of me being vulnerable and being the first person to go that deep gave permission to everybody else to witness themselves and to open up. 

Ofosu: Do you feel like that moment stayed with you?

Leah: Yes. Like a life changing moment. Like I was not the same person after that. Well, I was, but something had shifted within me that allowed me to tap into my voice again. I'm not gonna lie and say that it was just easy as pie to get on stage in front of people because I still experienced anxiety.

But even just saying I'm a little nervous, you know, and being vulnerable about that in the moment was enough honesty to open up people's compassion and to root for me and be there on my side versus like, In my head thinking people were gonna be scrutinizing me. You know? 

Ofosu: No, I, I really appreciate that story.

It, it reminds me of a few incidences that I've had as well, but like, I think that being vulnerable is such a counterintuitive thing because if we think about it, like nobody wants to be vulnerable. Nobody wants to be open to attack or harm or death or to show weakness. It's really antithetical to what it means to be an animal in the wild.

But you know, amongst our human um, species. It's really an expression of our, uh, our true situation that we all need one another. And that by just expressing what's going on inside of us, we give everybody else permission to do that too. And when everybody is just being honest about how it is, then we're actually not in more danger.

We're, we're more safe. As a hip hop artist, I think the culture in hip hop is on the surface, not one that encourages a lot of vulnerability. It's usually wanting to project the best self-image, the biggest self-image, the um, whether you're like the best lyricist or the best dressed, or the most money, or you have the most partners or you're just at the top.

Leah: I'm trying to remember. Like Eminem, who was it that winning that rap battle? And he just like did every single putdown that he could on himself. Yeah, exactly. And, and then left the guy with nothing, nothing to say. Like, there was nothing he could say. 

Ofosu: That's actually an amazing example.

It's like, yeah, here's everything. I'm just gonna bear it all out. I bet you, you know, and, and then, and there was nothing more powerful than that then he was completely safe, you know? And. I wish I would've known that, um, earlier in my career that I didn't have to create this persona of invulnerability.

Um, because people can't really relate to that. People can be entertained by that, but they, I don't think people can really relate to a completely invulnerable person, you know? And so it was very scary for me to talk about my mental health issues or, you know, struggles that I had in my personal life, um, in my music.

And I think it's also like kind of culturally taboo as like, um, an African kid. You know, we don't really talk about those type of things. So I don't know what made me take that leap as well, but I was just, I sense you jumping on that stage, some part of you was like at the, at the end of holding back, you know, and then was like, it's just time.

You know? And, and for me that was sort of the same sort of thing. It's like I'm at the end of pretending, you know, it's just time to be, to be honest. And I feel like I've made so much more of an impact with, with my music since I've just been telling the truth about like, what's been going on with me.

Leah: Yeah. And I think, you know, vulnerability shows up more than just the, the ways that we speak. But I also think, you know, like I've just posted this for International Women's Day, like the, I had like this TikTok filter on my face and it was all made up and my, made my lips bigger and there was like absolutely no pores or any blemishes and it was like, had done my eyebrows and my makeup, just like the what was in style and there's no way of telling the difference because it's like AI based and, and the filters are getting so, so good. And it prevents us from being vulnerable in a way of like just showing our imperfections. Because we, it's just another way that we mask our vulnerability and we, we opt in for superficiality and for trying to fit into this idea of perfection, which ultimately hurts us and does not make us relatable to others. And then we all end up looking like a clone. But I think getting out just in front of people even, you know, it doesn't have to be on a stage. What are your actual struggles that you go through? You know, and it, and it, it doesn't have to come out in this way that is so weak.

Like, help me, I, my life's in chaos. It could be, but it, it could also be like starting those conversations that we all need to have. And I think that's why vulnerability is so powerful because we start feeling real. 

Ofosu: It gives other people permission to be real. And I, I, whenever I come into a new situation, I habitually am, um, guarded or armored, you know, even if it's with people that like I know very well for whatever reason, it just takes a while for the ice to melt. But I know that about myself and I know, and I just give myself the time. And I think in the past I, I might have just kept that guard up indefinitely. And it comes from times in the past where, It wasn't safe for me to put my guard down. You know, around people like I've, or you know, I get made fun of or some, or I'd get bullied or you know, or I was physically unsafe or my ideas were like ridiculed.

So I think the benefit of like practices, uh, self-compassion and meditation and just being aware of how your mind works, what your doing is unpacking your history. Then you can give yourself space to settle into a place of vulnerability when you're ready. And I think it's important for folks to know that if you don't feel comfortable being vulnerable, there's definitely reasons in our biological human history for that.

And there's also reasons in personal lives for that, and it can take some healing work, you know, and, and some compassionate attention to even arrive at the possibility of being vulnerable. 

Leah: Yeah, I agree. And I think so much of it is, also a journey of us building our self-esteem and our self-worth to see our self-worth is actually that we inherently have value for being here and for being a unique expression of. This creation of this life. And something you spoke about earlier really hit home to me is like being vulnerable does not mean dropping all discernment and putting yourself in harm's way.

Like truly, if you are surrounded by people who are verbally abusive, physically abusive, or you are, you know, could be in danger like you tap into your intuition with that and use the discernment to not put yourself in a position where you are, you know, with a personality who's going to use your vulnerability against you.

Outside of those experiences that generally people will respond positively to us and I've even had that happen in, when I worked in corporate environments where I had conversations one-on-ones with my boss and she was actually pretty floored. She said to me one day, you're the most self-aware person I've ever met.

And one time I remember, I, I said to her, I, I'm feeling disconnected from the other women in our team and it's making me feel a little insecure that I'm not, I didn't get invited to some of these things. And you know, it makes me kind of wanna go off into my corner. And if it seems like I'm quiet, or that I'm not participating as a team, it's because I'm experiencing this right now and I'd like to work through it with you.

And she was just so appreciative of having that inside information versus having to try to. Redo the lines cause we're not fooling anybody.

Ofosu: No. Well, that's the other thing. We all know that all of us are putting on, uh, we're putting on a brave face to save face, you know, but like, it's not our real face.

There's a somewhat controversial teacher, CHOGM Tru Mphi says that we, we come to life with a wounded heart, and all of us are brokenhearted. You know, we are all wounded, but we don't want anybody to see that we're wounded. So we armor ourselves with any number of ways to appear invulnerable, but the only way to really be in deep relationship with life and with others is to, is to drop that armor. 

Leah: Yeah. I think it's, um, beautiful. Like what um, some of my inspirations, you know, Kathleen and Gay Hendrix, I talk about them a lot, but they, they speak of it like speaking the micro truth. And the micro truth in the moment might just be about, you know, as I'm standing here with you, I'm feeling, just as an example.

Feeling really tight in my chest. And there's this pit in my stomach, and you know, I, I recognize when you said that thing, I just got that familiar feeling and I'm feeling really sad right now. I think, you know, and, and, and recognizing what we need, like Marshall Rosenberg talked about non violent communication.

What do you need? I really need to have a hug. I need some kind words right now. Um, and to make a request for it to make a, a respectful request. To people for what it is that we need. And so being vulnerable sometimes can look like that. Whole cycle of like just it expressing what it's like to be with someone and to, to be receiving the words that they're saying and, and how it impacts and how it lands, and then making a request for what we need.

Ofosu: I think that's a really good blueprint for anybody who, um, might be finding it hard to engage with vulnerability, um, in a moment when they know it would be helpful. You can talk about just what's happening in your body in, in the present moment, you know? And you can just use your own language to express how you're doing physically and see where that takes you.

You know, being able to connect with what's happening in your body and expressing whatever your needs are in any given moment. 

Leah: Because to make a request is a lot more vulnerable than to make a demand for sure. And we demand things from other people. It's like we're again putting that armor on but when we make a request, like could you offer me some words of encouragement or, um, could I have a hug to request that from people is, is such a vulnerable thing too. And it's such a powerful thing cause we really see that we can get what it is that we need. And it's not that hard. 

Ofosu: One thing that I know being vulnerable yourself can open you up to is compassion for others.

Cause when you know that you have a tender heart and that you have needs that you want to be met and you know that everybody is trying to do the same thing, you know, and so it can really increase your capacity to be compassionate to others, even, even others who have their armor all the way on, because you know that underneath that armor is, is a tender heart just like yours.

Leah: Well, maybe if you're listening to this to give it a try, you know, this week when you notice that something comes up for you or there's a little turbulence, then to practice that micro truth of recognize what you're feeling, express what you're feeling physically or emotionally, and then ask yourself, what do I need?

And then express that need in a respectful request. And a powerful request and see what happens for you. See the power in that vulnerability. 

Ofosu: A lot of us have have moments where we have been vulnerable and taken that leap, and we might not acknowledge that we have that capacity. So maybe take some time and just go through moments in your life where you have been vulnerable and still stepped forward or expressed your needs or, you know, really put yourself out there and remember that you survived and that it's, it's okay to do it. And it's okay to bring yourself to that place again. 

Leah: So thanks for this convo Ofosu. It was lovely as always.

And thank you for listening and joining us today. Yeah. Also, if you have an idea for an episode like Emma did for today's, please let us know about it. We love hearing from you, and you can go to our website and leave us a voice message, even you've got a link in the show notes. 

Ofosu: And we'll be back next week for another conversation.

So until then, don't forget to be kind to yourself. And we'll see you soon. 

Leah: Have a great week too. 

Ofosu: Peace. When I think about vulnerability a lot of times my mind shoots back to the first time I jumped off, uh, a high dive at a swimming pool and I was like, I don't know, somewhere between six and eight. You know when you get up to that high level and you look down?

Something in your body is just like, don't do this. You know, you're, you're gonna die. 

Leah: Your heartless leaps in into your throat. I can, I can feel it right now as you're describing it. The heart pounding feeling.

Ofosu: But then, you know, all it takes is just, you know, it's just stepping off that diving board and all of a sudden, you know, you're in the water, you did it, you didn't die.

Everything's okay. You know? And so when I have a hard time connecting with vulnerability, I go back to that place.