Talking about your vulnerability is good and helpful. If you’re upset with your housemate because they’re not cleaning up after themselves, and they say “hey, this issue actually touches on some personal sensitivities, so can we take it a bit slow?” or “can we take a break while I calm down?”
Great, very useful info, prevents the conversation escalating into heated territory.
If you’re upset with your housemate because they’re not cleaning up after themselves, and they say, “hey, this issue actually touches on some personal sensitivities, so can you not bring up stuff like this?”
Responding with “I know, I’m the worst housemate ever, you should just kick me out, I don’t know why you put up with me when I’m so completely useless”, also not okay!
They’re both ways of using vulnerability, frailty, sensitivity, etc. to shut down or derail the conversation, or to make the person who’s upset with them stop being upset and start apologising and taking care of them instead.
I would probably call this ‘weaponised vulnerability’. May Peterson calls it ‘vulnerability hoarding’.
Her term works best for situations when one person is allowed to have all of the vulnerability, frailty, sensitivity, etc. and they position it so the other person is not allowed to have any. Like, maybe this conversation is hard for them because of their anxiety. But there are ways of discussing it that make it so that noone else can have anxiety or mental health struggles, or if they do, they’re not as bad or as importance.
Another way: if someone is always emphasising how sick they feel, how bad their day at work was, their frailty and so on, in such a way that you feel like you can never bring up any problems, because it would be adding one too many burdens. (It’s hard to explain in words the difference between this, and someone just… being sick and having a shit job, but in a way that doesn’t shut down you bringing up any problems - in a way that makes space for your vulnerability as well. But there is a real difference.)
A warning here that some people, mostly men, will claim any show of emotion whatsoever is vulnerability hoarding. That they can’t bring up a problem because you’ll be upset, and they find seeing you upset too uncomfortable. But that’s actually them vulnerability hoarding. You can talk to a woman who’s crying! Or you can give her a minute! Crying isn’t inherently an attempt to shut down a conversation, it’s just a physical thing your ducts do that you can’t really control. Dudes who do this are effectively saying that you are not allowed to be upset, only they are. Which, yeah: vulnerability hoarding.
May’s twitter thread, which I really recommend, also brings up the fact that this happens at the societal level as well as the individual level. Whose vulnerability is seen as ‘real’ and whose isn’t? Who is believed to need protection, and who isn’t? Who is allowed to show emotion at work, and who isn’t?
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #100 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
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