The Vulnerability We All Face


By Troy Headrick

I want to start this one with a warning.  I’m not for sure what I want to say, where this is going to go, or what my real subject is.  I want to discover all of those things through the process of putting words on paper.

Lately, I’ve been suffering from a weird admixture of feelings and emotions.  I am only able, with any sense of certainty, to name one of these though:  frustration.  Yep, I’ve been feeling terribly frustrated recently.

Without getting into too many details, let me just say I think this frustration is rooted in the fact that I feel like I’ve been treated terribly unjustly in recent months.  On one or two important occasions, doors were closed in my face that shouldn’t have been.  I tried to be a big person when this injustice took place, but I wasn’t able to do so despite my best efforts.  I did not complain or cry or anything like that.  I did feel like a victim, though, even as I tried to tell myself that none of it really mattered.

Let me drill down just a bit because I think I need to go deeper.  Human beings are social animals.  We are born into families and spend the formative years of our lives being shaped by them.  We learn who we are by seeing ourselves in relation to others.  Once I was old enough to begin to figure out how things worked, I learned that I was my parents’ son.  When my adopted brother came into our family, I became a sibling to him.  I was also a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin, and so on.

Then I went to school, made friends, and my network began to expand and become more complex.  After receiving my high school diploma, I went to college, got degrees, and became a professional who was surrounded by colleagues and bosses and underlings.  In many ways, my worth began to be defined by how well I was able to meet my social and professional obligations.  Then I got married, and I found that my happiness was very much affected by how happy my wife was.  In other words, I learned that it was important that I love her if I wanted to be loved in return.  (Because I was and am crazy about the woman I married, this wasn’t very hard to accomplish.)

In other words, there is a very interesting dynamic at play.  We find ourselves through others and others play an important role in making us feel valued and valuable.

Let me get back to the feeling of frustration I started this thing off with.  We spend our entire lives playing roles, building connections, and becoming partners and collaborators.  This means, for all intents and purposes, that we end up in all sorts of power-sharing arrangements of greater or lesser complexity.  So here’s the rub:  As soon as a person shares power, he or she gives up some control.  Power sharing comes with a loss of absolute self-determination.

Ergo, it is absolutely unavoidable that we measure our own value by the yardstick of how well we are able to fulfill our obligations to others.  Conversely, the value others see in us is determined by how adroitly we are able to do all that fulfilling.

The events I alluded to earlier have brought home the ugly reality of how vulnerable I am (and all of us are).  The injustice that was meted out made me feel powerless and worthless.  (“Worthless” is too strong a term, so I should say, instead, “worth less” than I would have liked to have felt.)  Deep down, even though I felt like I was treated unfairly, I knew that I had value, but because I am not the sole arbiter of my worth (for the aforementioned reasons), I was shaken and frustrated and saddened.

There!  I’ve been able to name the full list of feelings and emotions that have churning inside me for months!

What came to your mind while reading this?  I am certainly curious to read what you have to say in response.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art.

40 thoughts on “The Vulnerability We All Face

  1. What thoughts came to mind? A) I could write an encyclopedia set on similar experiences in my life, LOL. B) Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

    Feeling frustrated is natural when you’re knocked down, but you can either sit there focusing on that, OR get up and move forward. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment and advice. This particular situation really had me down and out for quite a long time. If we could live in some mythic place outside of society and not have to need people (in all sorts of ways for all sorts of things, including self-affirmation), then we might not end up with so many bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, such a place doesn’t exist. But, then again, such a place might be boring as hell.

      1. It’s a sad fact of reality that many people would rather tear others down than build themselves up. All you can do is say the heck with them, they’re not everybody and move onward. 🙂

      2. Of course, you are absolutely right. The world is full of all sorts of people. I try not to let them get to me, and mostly I’m successful. It’s just that sometimes my skin isn’t as thick as I wish it were. Thanks again for caring and commenting. I truly appreciate it.

  2. Well, the subject could be work or personal relationships. I’m guessing the former. If there is a chance to talk with the people involved (with I statements), that might help you feel better. If that isn’t possible, then it’s a question of grieving what happened and not blaming yourself. I can relate with the feeling. I formed a group I really liked, made social mistakes during the start of my husband’s illness, and the organization crumbled. That hurt a lot. Still does. Journaling helps me – how about you? Take care, Rebecca

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I guess experiencing pain and trying to find a way to live with it is pretty much the human condition. In my case, my situation was related to my work, which made it so much more difficult because I pretty much had to swallow what was crammed down my throat and keep my mouth shut while the cramming was taking place. I guess talking to myself and just working on trying to see what happened in a less emotional way sort of helps. I try to zoom out some too so that I look at the whole ordeal from a 30,000-foot perspective. I wish you luck in trying to get past your situation too. The unfortunate thing about this sort of pain is that it has to be suffered through alone. I mean, I have a wonderful wife who helps so much, but no matter how many comforting words she speaks, it’s still a very private sort of hurt.

      1. The bird’s-eye view perspective sounds very wise. I hope your cycle of grief about the situation comes around to acceptance soon. I’m working on mine today, I’ll report back how it goes. -R

      2. I’ve come to accept what’s happened and an fine most of the time but than I have these frustration flareups. Let’s keep working. We’re both pretty strong folks and we’ll move past all this. As the old saying goes, “This too shall pass.” Good luck and stay in contact.

  3. I love the post. I have recently felt similar feelings in regard to feeling vulnerable. I let on about my independence and really pride myself on that, but behind so much of my motivation is the need for wants and desires to be known and met by others. I have hated that from the moment I realized it. But in talking with my therapist he shared just how normal that is and that we are all wired with wants and needs. It is part of who we are, and how we receive love is also how we give it back out to the world. Great job articulating through the post!

    1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Because we live in a society that puts so much emphasis on recognition from others, we feel utterly deflated (or defeated) when that recognition doesn’t come or when we are rejected in some way. I take you are an American? I may be wrong about that. American society is unhealthy to the extent that we need confirmation of our worth, and often that confirmation must come from those we work with. (In my case, the situation I discussed occurred at my workplace.) You are blessed having a therapist to talk with. I have worked with therapists in the past and it’s amazing how cathartic it is to simply speak what often goes unspoken. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for leaving such a wonderful comment.

      1. I am American! Great call. That obvious I suppose, huh?

        I do agree that America has a toxic culture. Most of our good churches here, as well as therapists/counselors, and good friends spend our time here trying to convince fellow people that their worth does not actually come from what they do, what others say they are, or what they have. Many of us are led astray by that here. My writing is aimed toward sharing truth with people and much of it points to those areas of need. Thank you for sharing.

      2. Hey, Kyle, I’d to read some of your writing. Why not leave a link here so I can check it out. Plus, I’m sure many others would be interested too.

  4. I loved going on this journey through your feelings with you.
    I think being vulnerable is the most important thing we can learn…the other side of that coin is that we need to pay attention to the lesson. While vulnerability is an important thing to possess, the real lesson is how to manage one’s worth and sense of self while remaining vulnerable.
    Sadly, kindness is discussed more than it’s utilized. I think kindness and vulnerability are inextricably linked, and without one, the other falters.
    Thank you for a wonderful post!

    1. You’ve explained all this more clearly than I did in my piece! You are absolutely right. I’m trying to focus on learning something from all this. What happened is over and done and can never be undone. What I need to focus on now is trying to find a way to take such things less seriously (if that’s even possible). And you are right to describe all this as a balancing act. The need to be valued is one side and the need not to put too much emphasis on such a need is on the other. That is an amazingly difficult balancing act! Thank you so much for your truly insightful comment.

      1. I certainly will. By the way, I totally love TED talks. I watch them all the time, and I’ve been talking with Bogdan, the owner of this blog, about us posting TED talks here to generate reader interest. I will certainly come back and let you know what I think about the Brown talk. Thanks for the suggestion!

    1. Wow! You’ve summed up the whole point of my piece beautifully and in only two sentences. I would add that it’s also maddening. Thank you so much for reading my blog and leaving such a great comment.

  5. It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with my significant other. He gets angry the school districts don’t pay me anything really even though I do some pretty intense work for them. I have to remind him that society as a whole doesn’t value education enough to pay educators well. He doesn’t like the answer but it’s a reality I’ve understood for a looooong time.

    1. Thank you, Kristen, for your service to this nation. We often thank people in the armed forces for what they do for the country, but we forget educators. Educators play heroic roles that keep this nation healthy and secure going forward.

      I want to say more about education before I move on to something else. I, too, have been a life-long educator. I just so happen to be in management now, but I was in the university classroom for more years than I’ll ever admit to here. Because America doesn’t value education and educators, the chickens are coming home to roost. The ugly things that are happening in our country now are at least partly understandable because we have far too few good critical thinkers here. Far too few know history or geography or how to judge between a good argument and one filled with fallacious thinking. A country can only remain strong if it has an intelligent and intellectually curious population that is willing to participate in this thing called democracy. I wish I could feel more optimistic but I find it hard to be that way right now.

      So what are we supposed to do when we are being shown, in big ways and small, how undervalued we are? That’s a serious question. What are we supposed to do?

      1. Thank you Troy for your words, they really do mean a lot.

        I think the only thing I can do is show the kids I teach how valuable education is, and on top of that how valuable *they* are. They are the future, and I am ever hopeful 🙂

        From one educator to another, thank you for all that you do and have done for our young ones 🙂

  6. Troy, I enjoy reading your posts, because you are REAL. Thanks for sharing. I feel that unfortunately, men often measure self-worth in terms of their profession and how they can provide for their families, and women often measure their self-worth in terms of how well they can nurture and take care of others (family, friends, etc). Until we progress as a human species as spiritual beings that realize we all have worth, and just experience different circumstances daily, and are more “non-gendered” (I guess you could say), we will be influenced by the subtle nuances that make up the whole of our lives. I am human and feel these things as well. Only in times of quiet meditation can I sometimes grasp the bigger picture of who I am among others….all just fragments of consciousness. On the microscopic level though, I sometimes can’t shake that funk! Awesome blog. Maybe check out my blog on “The Three Realms”, pretty much sums it up…Continue….

    1. I will certainly check out your blog and thank you so much for leaving such an insightful comment. (I often feel that I learn more from my readers than they probably learn from me and you are just such a reader.) Yes, a philosophical part of me is able to see all this very objectively and coolly. Another part of me–a much more human part–just gets mad as hell when this sort of thing happens to me. I work on myself a lot. I’m so weak but I’m constantly working on trying to be bigger, better, stronger, kinder, softer, more loving, more empathetic and so on. I totally agree with what you’re saying about how we need to be more “non-gendered.” I would add that we need to become more international and multicultural too. As someone who spent nearly two decades living in far-flung places and absorbing all sorts of non-American cultural influences, I know that our attachments to “small” things–like the place we’re from–keep us small. We are all one people, one family. Also, one of those small things is ego…

  7. Thank you for sharing. 🙂 I understand the feeling of how much we defined ourselves based on others’ opinions of us. I then realise though happiness really lies within myself not from other people. Tough times will pass. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the comment. You are absolutely right. I already feel that the wound caused by all this is scabbing over. There’s a very philosophical part of me that is able to see this in a coolly objective way. But there’s also an all-too-human part that just feels pissed off.

  8. Oh, this sounds very familiar. We had a Grad student house mate for a while, and even now, we discuss the pettiness that has crept into a place I always thought of being “above” the games. It’s incredibly distressing to see education commercialized, and basically made into a corporate mentality. “What are your metrics? How do you prove them? How do you really prove them? What’s the cost?” are not always the questions that need to be asked. Some things aren’t trackable. Good Lord, look at Einstein – he’d never have gotten where he did with the system we have now. Nor Leonardo, or Galileo or the Curies…

    The hardest part of having a love of what you do is accepting that bite you in the rear. There will always be someone looking to take advantage of that. Ya know, if that is their sole way of measuring their own value, I kind of feel sorry for them. There’s a lot more to life than work.

    1. Yes! You’ve left another thoughtful comment. Your last sentence especially resonates with me. I’ve been working for so long now that my wife and I are talking about finding a way to do an early retirement. We do have a chance to pull it off; it’s simply going to take a kind of leap of faith. I’m just so tired of the rat race. The old proverbial saying–“Life is a rat race and the rats are winning!”–is quite true. Because America has put so little emphasis on education and has treated its teachers so badly for so long, the chickens are coming home to roost in a big way now. Again, thank you so much for participating.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mister Magnifico. (By the way, I love that moniker!) The older I get the more I realize that we find ourselves by (and through) establishing relationships with others. Take care and thanks again.

      1. Thank you, someone who’s been reading my blogs since I was a teenager started calling me Mister Magnifico so it felt like a good moniker for my return to blogging.

        Yes, I’m glad I’ve learned so much about life itself, because there are some people I know older than me who still don’t quite get it.

        Thank you for the post, and stay blessed.

  9. I’m wondering what happened socially that took place that made you feel as though you needed to describe your social need throughout development and why it’s relative. You’re leaving me on a cliffhanger! What happened to make you feel all these feelings? #psychotherapist #innerthoughts

    1. Let’s just say that I felt slighted in my professional life. It wasn’t a small slight either; it was something that really hurt and left me feeling that I’d been victimized. Thanks for participating in this conversation.

  10. Our social structure grows complex based on interdependence of people, in contrast to old days when people lived solely by independent farming or hunting. So definition of worth changes with ages.

    Frustration happens when someone beyond our control, succeeds to control us, and no motivational speech can cure that. The best way to “cope” is to “ignore”, and look for other ways to fill the gap of our purpose.

    1. Thank you for this wise advice. I’ve tried really hard to ignore what happened to me, to laugh at it, to tell myself it didn’t really matter. I’ve been partially successful in doing that. But only partially. Your diagnosis of how modern life has become more complex due to our greater independence is spot on. Again, thanks so much for helping me put all this in context.

  11. I experience this a lot too. I like people and want to be around them (and we need people anyway). But then, each person is different and possibly have a different mindset, which might sometimes not be right. I can neither give up on people nor cling onto them. So, I will keep experiencing similar emotions as you did.

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