Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability. As I read this book, I began to see the adverse effects of fighting against vulnerability. It’s tempting to write vulnerability off as weakness, something to be guarded against rather than invited in. But the more I learn and experience life, the more I see how important it is to be vulnerable, especially in the right place and time. Vulnerability is scary, but the genuine relationships, authenticity, and self-acceptance more than make up for it.
You know how we all have those friends who are great at all the things we’re not? For me, that friend is Kristi. She’s an amazing singer, partakes in small talk with ease, makes everyone around her feel safe + comfortable + important. And she’s really good at getting vulnerable. When I decided to get intentional about being more vulnerable, I knew she was the best person to learn from. Her vulnerability with me is the main reason that we’ve been able to have such a great friendship. When she lets me see who she truly is and what she actually thinks, it opens the door for me to do the same. The neat thing is that I also see her interact with other people in this way, so I know that being authentic and vulnerable is a skill she uses frequently.
I sent her a few questions about her journey, and thankfully, she’s graciously allowing me to share her answers here for the benefit of all of you as well. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Kristi about being vulnerable.
First of all, so we’re all on the same page, how would you define vulnerability?
I think vulnerability is the deep longing in all of us to be known for who we truly are and so, to be vulnerable is to be who we know ourselves to be when no one else is looking. True vulnerability occurs in a relationship when you not only metaphorically unlock the doors to every room in your “house,” but you turn on all the lights as well. Truly being seen.
I think Merriam-Webster gets it right in saying vulnerability is when you are “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” To unlock the doors and turn on all the lights of your soul to someone else puts you very much at risk for two things: love or rejection. I think, for me, the latter is the reason I stayed hidden from the people in my life for so long. The fear of rejection was so great that I never took the risk for love. People all along the way were loving me, but I was so sure that they only loved the version of myself I allowed them to know. I was convinced that if they knew the real me, they would flat out reject me. Putting on a show was my way of making sure I didn’t lose the people I loved, all the while never really letting them love me.I was convinced that if they knew the real me, they would flat out reject me. Putting on a show was my way of making sure I didn’t lose the people I loved, all the while never really letting them love me.Click To Tweet
Have you always been a vulnerable person? Is it something that comes naturally or is it something that you’ve had to work at?
I have not always been a vulnerable person. In fact, I would say I have mostly been the opposite. I have been a very hidden person most of my life. Hiding does something to you. I think something in all of us knows we are meant to be free, meant to be loved even in our brokenness, but we’ve been told and shown that we need to hide.
I reached a point a few years ago when I knew I had to either bring my whole self and whole past into the light or, honestly, be done with life. Like an animal pacing in its cage at the zoo, I was on the brink of losing it because I knew I was made to roam freely. Like these caged creatures, we all reach a point when we can’t do it anymore. We were never meant to hide, but to be free.
Can you tell us a little about how you came to be more vulnerable?
I’m learning that all the stages and dramas of my story in the past twenty-seven years have brought me so kindly to this place of no longer settling to be who I think people want me to be, but risking to be who I was made to be. Our stories are such kind and beautiful gifts when we agree that with God every bad thing can work for our good. My story involves its graces and its traumas, its victories and abuses, its joys and its sorrows; and I have seen how each one has put in me the will not to hide anymore.
I was sexually abused as a little girl, and I waited breathlessly throughout my childhood for someone in one of my friendships, mentorships, family, or church to tell their own story of abuse. My fear was that I was the only one. “What is wrong with me?” became the ever-ringing anthem in my ears. I was asked to keep quiet and so, quiet I was, terrified that if I spoke up it would all be confirmed as true: “something is terribly wrong with you.”
The deepest heartache of secrets and wearing costumes is that it keeps the fear alive even when people truly love you. The voice cries out, “no one really loves you,” and as far as you know, no one really does because you know deep down that no one really knows you. I carried my secret for sixteen years. Sixteen years is a long time to keep quiet. Sixteen years is a long time to keep all your relationships at a distance. Sixteen years is a long time to believe the lie that no one really loves you.
These years of quiet, though the darkest and most painful, were in fact the very means that brought me to the land of the vulnerable I now inhabit. One time I let our once satisfied indoor cat into the outdoor world, and she spent the rest of her days crying at the backdoor. Similarly, I believe those who were once “caged,” upon tasting freedom can never return to satisfaction with the way they once lived and existed.
I think you have to know what it feels like to hide to truly appreciate freedom. Though I don’t bless what I experienced as a little girl, I do bless the God who has worked it for my good. I am who I am today, the free and wild soul with hopes of walking with others into their own freedom, because of the hiding I lived in for all those years. All things for good, I truly believe.
Have you ever regretted being vulnerable?
Because I remember how dangerous hiding was for me, vulnerability almost feels safer. Yet, I have felt the sting of being vulnerable with people too soon. I’ve brought very dark parts of my soul to the light expecting to be met with love and understanding, only to feel misunderstanding from the soul across from me. These moments have taken their swing at me and I have my share of bruises, but I’ve realized two things.
First, I’ve learned that even if you are secure in who you are, you don’t need to share everything with everyone you sit across the table from. This seems like practical advice, but if you are an “all or nothing” person like myself, this is a necessary lesson to learn. I used to write off the people as “untrustworthy” who didn’t respond to my vulnerability the way I thought they should. Now I’m learning that some people take time, and our expectations of how someone should respond don’t get to be determinate of what kind of a person they are.
The second thing I’ve learned is that almost all the time, a person’s response to what we share is more about them than it is about us. The degree to which we’ve come to terms with our own stories is the degree to which we are able to receive others’. I recently shared my story with a newer friend and her response, far from compassionate, was emotionally charged. I could see all her walls go up. I understood that my vulnerability triggered something in her own story that she was not ready to face yet. Understanding that people’s responses to my vulnerability are less about me and more about their own baggage has been extremely helpful in how I navigate through my relationships.
How has your life gotten better from being more vulnerable?
Being vulnerable has changed everything for me. I used to wonder if people would love me if they really knew me. Now, because I bravely took a step toward vulnerability, I know that people actually love me for me. They love me when I’m killing it and when I fail them. It’s been the experience of being loved in my failures and broken promises that’s finally broken down the walls of hiding that used to promise me safety. I know I am safest when I am known, and there’s no going back for me.
How does vulnerability tie into your art as a songwriter?
I wrote the song “Even This Sadness” at the very beginning of my journey into vulnerability. I thought I had written it for a friend, but later realized it was really the song I was singing to my own terrified soul. As I walked out of my years of hiding into being known, I isolated myself because of my fear that I would be abandoned and rejected. This isolation caused deep depression that left me with two choices: continue to hope and walk forward through the pain, or end it all because hiding is no longer an option for me.
This song became my anthem during this season, continually calling me to the hope that even my sadness is not strong enough to separate me from the love God has for me. To all that hear this song, I pray that you keep hoping, keep lifting up your head, and keep placing your feet on the ground morning by morning with hope that comes only from Jesus–that you are loved no matter what you’ve done or has been done to you in your story. There is more and He works all things, even our hiding and sadness, for good.
Going from the forest of hiding into the clearing of being known can be a terrifying thing. This song was in response to that.
A Final Note
A huge thanks to Kristi for being willing to share her heart with us. I hope that you guys were able to learn as much from her as I have. If you guys would like to follow along with Kristi, you can find her website at kristiheppmusic.com and her YouTube channel here.
Leave a comment and let us know how vulnerability has influenced your life.