How Being Vulnerable Makes You Stronger
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” That’s how German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche phrased it, anyway.
Ask a long-term cancer survivor and they may phrase it a little differently. It might go something like, “Sometimes life kicks the living sh*t out of you. And it keeps kicking and kicking and kicking until you wish you were dead.”
I remember when I was first diagnosed with cancer and given 6 months to live. It was obviously an incredibly surreal moment in my life. I was in my early 20s, I had just barely started living and was suddenly being told I was about to die. I didn’t know how to become a long-term cancer survivor
At first, I felt paralyzed with fear. Doctors were coming in and out of the room with information that I was unable to comprehend or process. It was as if time sped up and slowed down simultaneously.
There was a voice somewhere deep inside of me that was telling me I had to somehow pull myself together. They may think I don’t have a chance, but what if they’re wrong? Do I want to live? Yes! Then live. Get to work, figure it out, and LIVE.
While other people my age were going out to clubs and spending the weekends at the beach, I was flying around the world, literally, looking for alternative treatments that would cure my cancer. I met with Buddhist monks, shamans, medicine men, you name it, all in an effort to find what would make me well.
My journey toward recovery and becoming a long-term cancer survivor was often painful and frightening and frustrating and debilitating and embarrassing and awkward and hopeful and hopeless and holy and totally mine. I learned many things along the way – one of the biggest lessons was that, while horrible in its own way, allowing myself to be weak and vulnerable and face my deepest fears (it doesn’t get any deeper or darker than death) made me incredibly strong.
The Unbearable Oxymoron of Strength Through Vulnerability
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”
You can’t pretend to be strong, just like you can’t pretend to be holding a diamond when it’s really still a lump of coal.
When the word “cancer” is first uttered by a doctor, everyone wants to “be strong” for each other. You the patient want to be strong for your loved ones and your loved ones want to “be strong” for you. We don’t think of the fact that being vulnerable makes us stronger.
But you can’t fake it. Strength is a result of a process you go through. Coal must go through an entire process before it becomes a diamond. Your muscles must go through their own process before your body can become strong. If you’ve ever lifted weights you know you have to lift until your muscle becomes weak. At that point, the muscle builds itself back up and is even stronger than it was before.
Pretending to be strong means denying reality and your feelings about it. That’s like denying the piece of coal enough pressure to transform or denying your muscles enough resistance to get bigger.
Avoidance doesn’t work. I tried that at first. Of course, we all do. Show me someone who happily accepts their own mortality and I’ll show you an anomaly.
When I decided I wanted to live and that I had to “be strong” to do it, I made the mistake of not feeling my feelings. But pushing down negative emotions was part of how and why I got sick in the first place.
Nope, the only way to strength is through vulnerability. And to be vulnerable you’ve got to feel ALL of your feelings.
You don’t have to make a public display of your emotions if that’s not your cup of tea, but you do have to feel them – face them.
When you let yourself cry and yell and feel that cold, dark fear, you ultimately experience freedom, release, and inner peace. It takes real courage to face our darkest fears and most powerful emotions.
And once the weeping and yelling have stopped, and we realize we’re still alive, that we weren’t taken out by the darkness, we feel our real power. Each time we go through this process of facing our emotions and our darkest despair and coming out the other end fairly unscathed, we become more and more empowered.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable also empowers your loved ones and builds relationships. By relying on others during your time of need, you help those who love you find their inner strength.
What doesn’t kill us does make us stronger, if we first let ourselves be weak we can become a long-term cancer survivor.
My hope for you is that through vulnerability, you find strength; through the struggle, you find peace; and through the darkness, you find light.