The other day in a leadership training workshop, we did a role-play where one of the participants took on the role of a boss who has to give some bad news to a co-worker. The situation cried out for this person to start off by apologizing, but he didn’t. I have to admit that I’ve always been puzzled by people who act like this -and let it be said in passing that it’s very common- because the best leaders I’ve known have no problems in apologizing to their teams and owning up to their mistakes. Whenever I’ve looked into why people behave like the participant in the role-play, I always come up with the same answer, which could be applied to most of us: We don’t want to admit to weakness and we avoid any action that prevents us from appearing stronger than we really are (an apology, a kind gesture or even empathy). This is a big mistake, because if we don’t face up to a particular side of our character, we are incapable of completely accepting ourselves.

We all have a character that could be likened to the Rubik’s cube that was popular years ago. We have different sides and different possibilities. Sometimes we feel one way and at others we feel completely the opposite. If we deny one side of our character and insist on concentrating solely on the other, the system is out of balance. Facing up to one side of ourselves is not the same as giving into it. It just means being aware of and accepting it. This principle is directly applicable to when we make mistakes. If we don’t connect with the part of ourselves which is suffering, we will find it hard to be at peace. However, this kind of openness doesn’t come easily, because sometimes we insist on projecting an image to the outside world that isn’t the real us.

As Brené Brown discovered when she did research into vulnerability: When we immunize ourselves from feeling negative emotions, we also immunize ourselves from positive ones. Although it’s not easy, the path to accepting ourselves lies in connecting with our fears or the sense of insecurity brought on by others seeing a side of ourselves that we would prefer to reject.

Sometimes we confuse fragility with weakness, but they’re not the same thing. While fragility can co-exist with strength, weakness cannot. Weakness means not being able to get back on your feet when you’re down and to expect others to rescue you; it also means covering up your emotions. People who don’t admit to pain and deny it may over time deaden their heart and have personal relationships that are buried in layers of cement. In contrast, vulnerability means accepting that things can hurt you, that you can fall and even break, but at the same time you are capable of getting up again. People who feel weak tend to be arrogant or authoritarian when they have power. When someone embraces their own vulnerability, on the other hand, they are open and sincere with others. What’s more, it’s only through recognizing our fragility that we are able to build on our strengths.

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifetime romance. Oscar Wilde

In the end, the real challenge lies in learning to love ourselves as we are- sometimes, confident and successful, at others, unsure of ourselves and fragile. And to learn to see ourselves as real people who are not perfect, with our defects and insecurities; but, at the same time, unique. We don’t need to put on an outward show of total self-confidence to be loved by those who really matter… Deep down we know that this is true, but we forget it over and over again. Circumstances may sometimes force us to put on a mask, but we must never confuse this with who we really are. Possibly, we find it difficult to accept who we are because of our own self-image, which is bound up with stereotypes or scenes from films which we take as a model to emulate. However, this is not reality. It may well be that the times when we feel fragile have the virtue of helping us to get back in contact with who we really are. And to be honest, it’s nice to look at ourselves through that lens.


Accepting our fragility empowers us and helps us relate to others in a more genuine and open way.


  1. Call to mind some times in your life when you’ve felt fragile: an illness, an accident, a period of frustration… What did it feel like?
  2. What type of situations make you feel vulnerable, if not weak? Which people?
  3. What learning experiences gained from the times when you’ve felt fragile would you apply to the rest of your life?

Based on the novel: Jericó, Pilar (2013): Poderosamente frágiles (Powerfully fragile), Alienta

Brené Brown video on personal vulnerability:


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