Vulnerability in Writing is a Coveted, and Rare, Skillset

Gillian Sisley

If you have this skill, this is something special to harness.
Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

We live in a society that values strength and put-togetherness over tenderness and emotional transparency.

If anything, expressing one’s feelings turns many people off. It makes people uncomfortable when an individual strips down their walls and shows their deepest, unpolished selves to the world.

That is why so many our in society are so turned off by discussions of racism and gender inequality. It all comes down to discomfort.

It’s why they lash out at survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence who step forward to out their attackers.

Why so many writers, like you and I, who share their intimate and personal stories through essays online get attacked and abused in the comment sections — when all we’ve shared is the reality that we’re human.

But I’m here to tell you, fellow reader, that anyone who thinks vulnerability is a weakness is dead wrong.

Speaking from personal experience, there are fewer things that a person can do braver than being their most vulnerable, honest, and transparent selves.

Even online, to bear our hearts and souls to hundreds, thousands, even millions of readers takes an exceptional amount of courage that few people in this world have.

So, if you are one of those people, I am here to tell you that you are indeed a superhero. And here’s why:

Vulnerability brings people together.

In the depths of my trauma, and the years following my sexual assault, I had never met another survivor who admitted they too had survived what I had.

It was only when I came to the online writing community that I met other survivors, and realized I truly wasn’t alone in my pain, struggles and trauma.

Two of the first survivors I met were

Jessica Lovejoy and Maggie Lupin. We connected immediately, and got on so well that we started a publication for other survivors just like us to tell their stories and be received without judgement.

That was when Fearless She Wrote was born.

I can undoubtedly say that without having made the connections I have through writing about my sexual assault, I would not be the person I am today.

Because these connections we make, and the people we meet along the way despite the geographical distance between us, they shape who we are and they broaden our worldview.

We are better people for having more diverse relationships in our lives. We are better off for making these connections with those who likely do not share the exact same views or values that we do.

Being able to show your cards and your heart to people and create a powerful bond with them through your vulnerability is truly an amazing characteristic to have.

There are many who do not have it.

We resonate with one another’s real, human pain.

There are fewer things more beautiful in this world than the ability to connect with one another on human, fundamental levels.

On social media, everyone sees our most primed and polished selves. They see what we want them to see — the easy, laid-back and often “picture-perfect” life we want people to think we’ve.

But we all have our demons, our pasts, our scars. A tactful filter on Instagram isn’t going to wipe away that reality.

While we as human beings are inherently nosy people, we’re also looking for a very instinctual need to relate to one another and connect with each other. We are beings who are biologically created to live in community.

There’s a reason that social isolation affects us not only on a mental health level, but also on a physical level as well. Our entire physiology can be harmed if we are not meeting our biological social needs.

Speaking from the experience of a survivor, and many of us who have stated the same thing, there is nothing more lonely than struggling in one’s trauma and feeling like your entirely alone in that battle.

The loneliest time in my life was when I was happily engaged to my now-husband, with a beautiful three-bedroom house that I purchased only one year before, and a thriving business with many healthy relationships in my life.

The reason I was so lonely was because my trauma had piled on to me and suffocated me so much. And not only that, but I really felt like I was the only one going through this. Getting from just one day to another was a real effort.

Once I read articles and stories online by other survivors who were working through the same complex and gritty feelings I was, I felt so much less alone.

Resonating with the stories of other trauma survivors literally saved my life.

And I know there are many of you out there who feel the exact same way.

We can change lives and advocate for the change we want in the world.

Ever heard the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world"? Of course, you have. Well, if you’ve ever wondered how you can put that quote into life practice, this is the exact place to do it!

When I first came to the online writing space, I heavily focused on personal essays. I took my own life experiences and wrote about them, commiserated with other people, and enlightened others about the realities that a woman, and, in particular a sexual assault survivor, struggles with in her day-to-day life.

But the further I’ve gotten in my writing journey, the more I’ve realized that I can take a bigger step in implementing my passion for activism into my writing.

Many of us who write about our struggles, whether it’s sexual assault or domestic violence experiences or any struggles that we’ve been through, are often unintentional advocates of sorts. A big part of being an activist is starting conversations about difficult topics that require change for inequalities in the world. Through sharing our stories, we’re giving another side to the conversation and potentially softening someone’s heart to our cause.

We may even be giving them a passion to fight for those who are not receiving the social justice they deserve.

But there’s another step that we can take, a more intentional step, where we actively move forward with our writing with activism at the forefront of our minds.

My journey with writing online has taught me a lot of different things in the last few years. The more obvious ones are that I’ve grown as a writer in general and honed my storytelling voice far more.

But more than anything, I recognize that as a writer my writing style, the topics I write about and my motivations for writing are going to naturally change and grow with me.

Since the pandemic hit, and the Black Lives Matter movement really took off to incredible lengths, I’ve been spending a lot of time critically asking myself what I can do to be a more proactive ally and someone who’s helping further the causes I believe in rather than harming them.

Since then, I’ve been making a real concerted effort to include social justice activism in my writing moving forward, and creating opportunities for more conversations to take place in the comment sections of my pieces.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always get it right. That’s entirely expected from a privileged white woman. But the point is, I don’t let that stop me from speaking up and speaking out. I keep my eyes and ears open, I’m constantly learning, and I take all feedback or critiques of the mistakes I’ve made to heart and do my best to implement change for the better with them.

As a writer, you have the right to grow and change.

The content I write online does not look the same as it once did, and there are some readers of mine who don’t necessarily like that. But that’s a natural progression for any creative out there. Our styles change, our motivations change, and our creative processes change. That often means that the end result will probably look different than what it did a few years ago.

With a few years of growth, we all look like different people. So why wouldn’t our creative work reflect that growth and change?

Final word.

A question I’m often asked is where I found the courage to publish such vulnerable and gut-wrenching stories online about my trauma, struggles, and most of all my sexual assault.

I don’t have the answer that people expect from me. This isn’t a fairytale by any means.

In the beginning, when I first started writing these stories, I didn’t publish out of courage. I published out of desperation. I started writing online about the darkness in me and how crushed I felt because it felt like it was my last shot at being able to figure out what the hell was going on with me.

That said, I don’t think that writing my stories out of desperation exclusively means that I wasn’t implementing a powerful tool in my kit.

I have always been a very open and forthcoming person. Being able to connect with others in empathetic ways has been a strength of mine since I was a child.

So while I may have been desperate when I started writing my stories, I also think that desperation brought me to a fundamental part of myself that highlighted a key strength —

I am very talented when it comes to being unapologetically, brutally and transparently vulnerable with other people.

Utilizing this tool has changed my life in a lot of ways, but especially in the last few years, it’s skyrocketed my career.

Through writing personal essays online, I’ve been able to transfer entirely over to full-time writing as my job. I’m able to pay my mortgage, pay off debt and live a comfortable life because I had the audacity to be vulnerable and dare to press publish.

And while there are those who will say that being vulnerable is easy, I would hedge a bet that anyone who thinks vulnerability isn’t a superpower likely struggles with being vulnerable themselves.

Because we’ve been told that vulnerability makes us weak, and it’s not strength.

But if it was a weakness, and it was easy to do, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? Wouldn’t it just be a human default, rather than something many openly admit they struggle with facilitating?

I think the rarity of people being able to fully express their own vulnerability speaks to how much of a strength it is to be vulnerable.

So here’s to you, fellow readers and writers, who have the audacity as well to be vulnerable. Here’s to those of you who are brave enough to share your pain with others in order to make them feel more understood and less alone.

You are superheroes. And no one will ever be able to convince me differently.

Thank you.

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Professional writer. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about trending news, viral Reddit content, and anything else that tickles my fancy.


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