“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” – Brené Brown
When you think of vulnerability, what images come to mind? Do you picture revealing your deepest and ugliest secret? Are you imagining how it would feel if someone could read your diary- and then look you in the eyes after?
Because, for most of us, the concept of vulnerability is terrifying. At its core, it’s the expression of shame; it’s taking off the mask, unleashing the flaws, and hoping, wishing, and praying that the other person doesn’t disappear from our lives forever. Vulnerability is like diving into a pool when you’re still not sure you can swim. It is ruthless and gut-wrenching, and most of us run away from it entirely.
We fear vulnerability because the vulnerability has hurt us in the past. Rejection is universal- we all know what it’s like to feel shamed or criticized or judged. Most of us experienced it as children, and we buried it in our bodies and souls.
To avoid more anguish, we paste on smiles and pretend we are happy. We learn how to tell people what they want to hear; we become actors performing on stage, and we provide our audience with a carefully scripted and rehearsed play that’s designed to please.
Why Vulnerability Matters
At first glance, vulnerability seems synonymous with weakness. After all, it’s letting the proverbial guard down. It’s the act of sharing the fears and setbacks and embarrassing parts.
Yet, vulnerability matters because it’s the antidote to shame. It’s the healing path from darkness. We were never meant to live in isolation. We were never meant to navigate this life alone. By expressing ourselves- truly, fully, and unconditionally- we allow ourselves the potential for connection. And connection is one of the most crucial pieces of happiness.
How To Become More Vulnerable
To become more vulnerable, you have to cultivate an internal sense of self-worth. Brené Brown expands upon this theme in her vulnerability work. In her research, she found that people who have a strong sense of love and belonging inherently believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.
That’s really it- it doesn’t matter the circumstances or traumas, and it doesn’t matter how many years of therapy you’ve had or haven’t had. Having a developed sense of worthiness opens the space for love and connection. And it is only in this sacred space where we can experience true intimacy.
Love is one of the best feelings we experience, but feeling understood is the cornerstone of all real love. And we can’t feel understood if we don’t expose ourselves.
Identify What Stops You
What stops you from feeling worthy? Is it the internalized messages from someone who hurt you in the past? Is it a response to trauma? If you are struggling with your addiction, is it the pervasive shame and guilt over your actions?
Spend some time identifying the roadblocks hindering your vulnerability. Without this awareness, you risk repeating the same, unhelpful patterns. You risk feeling stuck in your own limitations. Remember that roadblocks are normal; most of us have hangups about revealing our authentic selves.
Lean Into Discomfort
At first, any level of vulnerability feels foreign and uncomfortable. You’ll want to resist, manipulate, and weasel your way out of it. Practice allowing yourself to acknowledge these soul-crushing feelings. Although you may not know how to cope, trust that you don’t need to cope in any particular way. Absorb and surrender to the experience. Accept that it’s part of your growth.
Acknowledge that desirable outcomes are never guaranteed. This overarching fear of rejection or indifference prevents most people from sharing themselves. But you must trust that you contain the emotional capacities for handling all responses.
Embrace Safe People
Although it may seem counterintuitive, vulnerability helps strengthen your intuition for finding people who can support, encourage, and validate you. That said, you must be willing to take the risk to pursue this comfort.
Safe people aren’t afraid of the truth. They’ve likely stared into the dark abyss of vulnerability and walked similar scary paths themselves. They know that compassion is essential, and they know the difference between listening to listen and listening to talk.
Accept The Risk Of Getting Hurt
Safe people exist all around us, but even safe people aren’t perfect, and it’s crucial to be realistic with your expectations. Life can be fragile; our emotions can be unpredictable. Nobody leaves this world unscathed. Living in fear squashes so many chances for opportunity, growth, and love.
You can and will get hurt. But, the more you feel comfortable with vulnerability, the more you can handle being hurt. We all need to fall apart sometimes. Life isn’t about what happens when you fall apart- it’s about what happens when you start to piece it back together.