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To Be Vulnerable: The Invitation

By Mary Rives, MS

According to Brene Brown, the world’s leading expert on the subject, vulnerability involves risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure.

When we call women together for Circle or invite a woman to spend time with us, we take risks. We risk being seen as we truly are, whether we’re being authentic or upholding the image of how we wish to be seen. We risk being rejected. We risk what it takes to experience true connection with ourselves and others. We risk being loved and accepted—and receiving that love and acceptance.

As challenging as all of the above can be, not taking risks, not leaping into the void of uncertainty, and being unwilling to share our feelings often comes at quite the cost. In exchange for staying in our comfort zone, we’re far less likely to actualize our dreams, passions, and visions which translates into not leading a very fulfilling life.

For me, even though my long-held dream was to become a transformational workshop facilitator, I let self-doubt, fear of being seen and judged, and a family tragedy stop me for far too long.

At the age of 40 as a graduate school student, I remember feeling so excited to take an elective course in workshop facilitation. This was exactly what I’d been deeply desirous of for years. Just when I was about to present my first workshop, our best family friend (and my former lover), Woody was brutally murdered by police (and committed no crime).

My heart and family were utterly and completely devastated, but with encouragement and support, I miraculously managed to graduate with a Master of Science degree! In the process though, I dropped the workshop facilitation course. I had a valid reason not to take the risk of becoming the powerful group leader I had previously envisioned myself to be. What a cop-out that was, a sad self-betrayal to have stuffed down my heart’s longing to lead groups.

On a more self-compassionate note, I was too shattered inside to even think of making myself vulnerable in front of a group of colleagues. That said, I did co-lead in the struggle for justice in Woody’s honor, often bearing my heart and splaying my guts in emotional speeches I gave to the public, yet when it came to skillful group facilitation for the transformation of others, I simply wasn’t ready, grounded, or focused enough—yet.

Fast forward 20 years. With the same dream dormant inside and trusting in divine timing, I found the way to finally activate it—or the way found me. My path crossed with Sistership Circle in 2018 and in the summer of 2020, even in the midst of the pandemic, I completed my third circle facilitation training program (Mastery of Circle). It’s through Sistership’s abundant leadership opportunities that I get to flex my muscles of courage to take risks, to practice being vulnerable and emotionally exposed, create safe space, and model this for others in my training programs and circles.

Even as a certified Master Facilitator, I still have occasional insecurities and other issues. I sometimes question if women will want what I have to offer, if they will ever come to “know, like, and trust” me. But not knowing if I’ll be accepted, rejected, judged, and even get triggered no longer stops me from taking the risks because this is where my growing edges are, where the magic is, in taking the leap into the void of the unknown with courage, faith, and trust.

By tuning in and going deep with our shares in Circle, we give our sisters (and brothers) permission to be vulnerable and we empower them to share courageously. The caveat here is that when we’re in a leadership role, we don’t use the group to heal us. Instead, we rely upon the therapeutic use of self-disclosure as the invitation.

Our vulnerability is an open invitation for women to see and trust that they are welcome to share deeply while being held, loved, respected, and accepted. This is the medicine and the magic–when we open our hearts and share what we really feel and think in such ways that enable the listener to receive our message, our deeper truths that help us be seen and heard, and thus encourage others to share their deeper truths.

Being vulnerable doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Over the course of our lifetimes, we’ve had to defend and protect ourselves, sometimes for our very survival. For example, as a kid growing up with strict authoritarian parents, I discovered that if I lied my way out of sticky situations (of which there were plenty) I could actually spare being gravely punished. For my safety, I could not afford to make myself vulnerable with the truth so I became good at getting out of sticky situations by not being truthful with my parents. By adulthood, I’m grateful to have shifted to value and practice being honest, and in many moments practicing “radical honesty with compassion”.

Our pesky defense mechanisms have learned to become incredibly clever and sophisticated. But if we practice making the conscious decision to choose courage over comfort and fear, being vulnerable and cultivating courage becomes easier and more natural to us. The rewards are worth the effort, worth feeling the fear and being vulnerable anyway.

As you accept invitations to take risks, to be vulnerable, may you trust that the rewards far outshine the familiarity of your comfort zones. Being vulnerable is a powerful way to step into your true power and shine your light even brighter, what the world needs now.