Vulnerability is the state of being exposed to possible harm or attacks, either through physical or emotional means. Almost nobody wants to feel this, yet arguably everyone needs to.
With few exceptions, people are born with the need to emotionally connect. This commonality largely leads to our desire for comfort and well-being. In short, we want to be happy. It’s that simple. A way to ensure such happiness is to minimize emotions that go against it. To do this, many of us attempt to minimize our vulnerability, our state when discomfort can affect our well-being. Our intentions are clear cut, but the consequences of these actions are damaging.
To reiterate, vulnerability is defined as a state of possibly being attacked emotionally and physically. Both mental and physical components of our well-being are affected by our vulnerability to certain situations. Yet there is a reason why we, the public conscious, mostly associate vulnerability with mental attacks.
Humanity has created a society that allows physical safety for us. Yet this is a fairly recent achievement. Of humanity’s two-hundred thousand years of existence, only five percent of that has been spent building civilizations. Before that we spent our days running around, looking for our next meal. In those years of do or die, we learned many skills and ways to think, one of which was to contain our vulnerability from the outside world.
Nowadays, the typical person is much safer physically than his or her ancestors. Because of this, our physical defenses have gone down over the centuries and been replaced by mental ones. The shift in how we defend ourselves has allowed people the ability to close themselves off from others. The issue with this is that people cannot suppress one emotion and leave the rest untouched. In my personal experience and research, attempting to suppress one emotion will result in all of them being suppressed.
The worst part is that our technological innovations have made this work easier. How many times have you looked down at your phone rather than exchanging a slightly awkward ‘hello’ with someone? At that moment we feel insecure because we don’t know our relationship with that person. Instead of addressing it, many of us take the easy way out and ‘happen’ to be looking the other way. We still walk past that person, but it feels a whole lot easier because mentally we are miles away.
This phenomenon is also partly why people get mentally addicted to objects and activities. Whether that be a phone, drug, alcohol, food, or sex, we begin to rely on these things because they make us feel less vulnerable. When under the influence, people enter a different head-space that distracts them from their psychological pain (not to mention most drugs flood the brain with dopamine, a chemical that causes happiness). Addicts need an emotion, or lack of one, and find that relief in something external to them, no matter the consequences.
I think we can all agree that we would rather feel happy than sad. The harder question is how do we achieve this? How do we, ourselves, minimize sadness, rather than having something suppress it? I think the answer to this question is by allowing our vulnerability to coexist with us, by accepting that it is an emotion that is as valid as any other. Our emotions make us who we are, and we should be proud of them, all of them.