Hardwired for Vulnerability
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
I was thinking about vulnerability the other day and how from a brain based perspective, it is our greatest strength. Then I had an ah-ha moment. Why is being vulnerable our greatest strength as humans? It seems that most of us are not very vulnerable most of the time. And, if it’s our greatest strength then how come being vulnerable is seen as weakness and associated with being spineless? This construct around fear of being vulnerable seems to have come from some less than primitive or “unnatural” aspect of our true nature. Which in my opinion has hurt us tremendously. It has caused a lot of pain and unneeded suffering for all humanity. I know that may sound too dramatic for vulnerability, but I see this as a profound concept. Having learned about neolithic and paleolithic societies and how the equity of these societies benefited us for thousands of years, it rings true in my bones, that we have always done our very best in a communal, empathetic living situation. I believe the switch to seeing vulnerability as a weakness became part of our culture when the dominator culture took over. This was the beginning of competition, power over, and the separation from our true nature and cooperation.
Sheesh! I’m getting off on a tangent. And, I see it as a massively important tangent, but it’s a lot for this little blog post. So, back to vulnerability and its benefits for us humans. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, show our emotions and let others see our feelings, there are systems within us that come on-line that allow for some interesting outcomes. For example; when we show emotion, the mirror neurons in another person fire, and they start “feeling” that emotion too. Thus, we cry at movies and at weddings. But, an even more profound human reaction happens too. When we allow ourselves to feel emotion with other humans, serotonin and dopamine come into the system, creating a homeostasis or regulation. This in turn allows for diminished threat responses in our survival brain, thus allowing us access to our prefrontal cortex. Which means instead of being “triggered” and a threat response going off causing the shut down of the prefrontal cortex, we will have access to empathy, compassion, creativity, and problem solving. All the elements for a cooperative, functional relationship, and care for others' type of thinking and behavior. When this happens we are more likely to feel connected to this person, care for this person and protect them.
When we are vulnerable, we allow ourselves to be cared for, we ask for what we need and want, we are even better able to set boundaries, because these behaviors need to be in place to continue to be vulnerable, and to our survival as a species. I know you may be saying. “What’s this you say?” “Vulnerability is how we survive?” Yes, that’s what I’m saying. We don’t have sharp claws or teeth with crushing jaws. We are a very vulnerable species. Back in the day we couldn’t burrow underground very fast, we barely had good tools for defending ourselves, we needed each other, and we still need each other to survive. (I think it’s important to note that being vulnerable does not mean being a victim.
So, what exactly am I saying? I’m saying that we are hardwired to be vulnerable out of necessity for survival. Human beings were never intended to be alone, separate or competitive. We’ve had to cooperate, care, and be vulnerable together as a species to survive for thousands of years. At one time we were much better at it, during the more matrilineal eras, but we have never lost this hardwired aspect about us. We have very specific systems within us to empathize, nurture and commune with one another and other living things, including the planet (mycelium.)
Vulnerability and cooperation are the keys to living better as human beings, in communion with all of the other living beings, and the natural world. We are far better off in a cooperative and compassionate society, culture and way of being and doing than when we are fighting, and have a hierarchy of thoughts and doing. Things and money can not protect us. Our friends, family and community can protect us from hardship and tragedy. We are hardwired for vulnerability. We are hardwired for community, and cooperation. We are more resilient, have better gut health, have more serotonin and dopamine in our systems, and are more regulated humans when we are connecting with one another. The sooner we get this fact about us, the better off we will be.
(p.s. Don’t think of together from the current model of society, we are talking about a community from a very different model. One we did know long ago, and that we’ll know again, if we’re to survive.)