What’s the Difference Between Vulnerability and Insecurity?

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It’s been a bad couple of days. I haven’t been able to be the kind of person I’d like to be. And I know it. It stings.

No one’s holding a grudge about it but me. But I’m good enough at holding grudges against myself for multiple people (unfortunately, this doesn’t count as a polyamorous skill, not a valuable one at least).

So I apologize for it, as he’s driving us home in the car. I explain. Again. I outline my janky thought process, my janky feeling process. I bemoan the fact that I’m so close to making the edges of what I’m working on fit together… but they just won’t. There’s a gap there that just won’t close. And I’m getting impatient. People take forever to heal, and I’m no different. And no amount of berating myself, bullying myself into stoicism will work.

“So I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a mess. I don’t want to be.”

He says, “It’s okay. This is how you work past. it. How any of us work past anything. By being vulnerable.”

“I guess,” I say. “The problem is that there’s nothing less attractive than insecurity. It feeds on itself. And it’s a bad look.” I know the fear is unattractive but it just spills out, I explain, and when it does, it seems like it’s in danger of tearing everything up. A bit like a feral animal that’s let loose to tear up the grounds.

“I didn’t say you were acting insecure,” he says. “I said you were being vulnerable.”

“Well, what’s the difference?” I ask.

“That’s a good question,” he says.

“Does vulnerability just have better PR? Is vulnerability just insecurity cleaned up a bit? Spoken well of?”

“I don’t know,” he says.

We talk about the operational definition problem. I once knew a woman who called anything that could even potentially cause her any level of (even barely perceptible) stress a vulnerability. “And it wasn’t. It was just stuff that irked her. Maybe made her feel bad for two seconds.”

He nods, commiserates. Agrees that she had a way of sanctifying the experience of her own pain. Ennobling it. While the pain of those around her stayed common, excusable. Good PR again, really.

But she was a special case, we agree. Low distress tolerance. Personal fable. Spotlight effect. A lot of vestiges of adolescence still clinging to her like stubborn residue.

“I think the difference is owning it maybe,” he says suddenly.

“What do you mean by that?”

“When people are vulnerable, they admit to whatever it is. They claim it to another person. Say ‘this is mine, this is something I’m working through.’ And they mean it. It’s not just for show.”

“And with an internal locus of control¬†about the whole thing — acknowledging that the discomfort stems from within, it’s not something someone else is causing,” I add.

He seems to agree. “Where insecurity is different. It stays unspoken,” he says. “In the silence, in the shadows. Where it can control a person. They’re so afraid of it that they can’t even really acknowledge it. Not to themselves and certainly not to other people.”

“I think you’re on to something,” I say.

And as he drives us home through the darkness, I lean my head against the car window and wonder about it all. It occurs to maybe the most important victory isn’t never having any vulnerabilities. Maybe that’s not the real goal here.

Maybe the real magic happens the moment you turn insecurities into vulnerabilities. When you claim the thing you’re afraid of within yourself instead of sprinting at top speed in the other direction.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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