Vulnerability is literally your “ability” to be vulnerable. It’s the deep expression of your most sacred thoughts and feelings, and it’s the willingness to share yourself with others authentically and without apology. Vulnerability is also about exposing your flaws, secrets, and darker sides without shame. The capacity to be vulnerable depends on many things, including your upbringing, your level of courage, and a feeling of safety. Growing up you might have been taught both implicitly and explicitly to be emotionally strong. You learned to control your feelings and to avoid burdening others with your pain. When vulnerability is discouraged you develop a sense of shame not only about having feelings but also expressing them. Thus, being vulnerable doesn’t come easily to everyone, particularly when you struggle with emotional expression in general. Brené Brown, one of the leaders in the vulnerability movement, defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” She has stated that to be human is to be in vulnerability. This means that it’s in your nature to be vulnerable, which suggests that your inability to be vulnerable can lead to inauthenticity and a disconnection from your self. If you think of emotional expression as being weak, then you’ll resist being vulnerable. If you learn to value your own feelings and see them as important, you will be more compelled to express yourself. If you’ve been avoiding vulnerability you might be noticing some of these in your relationships:
- Feeling unsupported
It’s definitely exposing to share your feelings or imperfections. It can feel as though you’re standing naked in front of the world just waiting to be judged and demoralized for being your most honest self.
This is why it’s not wise to be vulnerable with everyone.
The practice of vulnerability needs to be reserved for the precious few people in your life who have earned the right to experience you in this way. When expressing your vulnerability goes well, it deepens your intimacy and connection in your relationships. When it isn’t received with tenderness and understanding it can hurt deeply and ultimately make you shut down. Becoming a more vulnerable person happens over time with practice, courage, and personal insight. The more you know and accept yourself, the easier it will be to share and be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is not something you do in your day-to-day interactions; it needs to happen with intention and mindfulness. Ideally you will set up the right context that ensures a positive experience and in which you can feel completely safe and open.
When you feel ready to begin practicing vulnerability, you’ll want to set yourself up for success.
Here are some beginning steps to practicing vulnerability with someone you love:
- Get clear about what you want to share or ask for. This should be one or two feelings that seem important for the person to know. Examples might be “I’m struggling a bit at work and I need your support” or “I’m feeling lonely in our relationship.”
- Schedule a specific time to talk so you know when you will be having the conversation and can have time to prepare.
- Sit in a meditation before having the conversation. Do a heart-centered practice that opens you to giving and receiving so you are in a good place to speak your feelings.
- Before you begin to speak, set some boundaries that ensure your safety. This can be explaining that you do not want any advice or that you don’t want to receive anything negative in response to what you will be sharing.
- When you’re done sharing, express gratitude and appreciation to the listener.
The greatest obstacle you’ll need to overcome when working toward being more vulnerable will be what you’ve learned and been conditioned to believe about opening up in this way. You’ve been bombarded with messaging from the culture and from your smaller world that promotes independence, bucking up, and dealing with your own problems. Asking for help and support is often connected to a deep sense of shame because you believe that you should be able to handle whatever comes your way. The truth is that it takes a lot more courage to admit weakness than it does to show strength. Be brave and know that no one has ever died from sharing their feelings, but many people have become happier as a result of doing it.