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Dr. Brené Brown, arguably the world’s leading expert on vulnerability, defines being vulnerable as setting ourselves up for “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” In our everyday lives, as well as in romantic relationships, being vulnerable can be highly uncomfortable, if not downright terrifying! Brown, however, emphasizes the fact that vulnerability is at the core of many positive emotions, including love, courage, empathy, belonging, hope, and joy.
If you’re feeling unhappy and disconnected from both yourself and others, there’s a good chance that you’re failing to embrace your own vulnerability. By opening up, taking risks, and becoming more vulnerable, you can find greater contentment in your relationship with yourself and with those around you.
What Is Vulnerability? What Does it Feel Like?
Vulnerability can take many shapes and forms. In general, being vulnerable means taking risks despite the fact that criticism or failure may await us. Fear of judgment and failure prevent many of us from exposing ourselves emotionally. Perfectionism, in particular, can cripple our ability to be vulnerable.
What are some common ways in which you might show vulnerability? Standing up for yourself, setting personal boundaries, asking for help, and being honest about how you’re feeling are simple ways you might show vulnerability in your daily life. In regards to relationships, going out on first dates, confessing your feelings for someone, and falling in love all involve elements of emotional risk and vulnerability. Simply “being yourself” can also leave you feeling emotionally vulnerable; embracing your personality quirks, appearance, and your own unique hobbies all involve elements of social and emotional risk.
Being vulnerable can feel physically and emotionally uncomfortable at times. Putting yourself in situations where you feel emotionally at-risk may make your heart race and your palms sweat. You may feel as though you’re at the edge of a cliff or about to make a courageous step into a dark abyss. Ultimately, however, being vulnerable is about being brave. Though being emotionally open can be uncomfortable in the moment, the emotional rewards reaped from this exposure make it worth it in the end.
It is important to note, however, that vulnerability isn’t the same as oversharing. Before opening up, you should consider the context and people involved in the situation. There should be a certain level of trust and mutual understanding between you and those you are exposing yourself to. Being vulnerable and open is a great way to build trust with others; simply disclosing excessive amounts of personal information to near-strangers, however, may indeed lead to uncomfortable situations.In most cases, however, it is better to be vulnerable than to be emotionally closed-off. Only through vulnerability can you truly let others see you for who you really are.
How To Be Vulnerable
Being vulnerable is an art. We can all practice becoming more vulnerable by facing difficult situations head-on. We must face our fears; failure, criticism, and judgment are ever-present risks for all of us. Trying to wear emotional armour may protect us from these negative forces, but will also prevent us from fully experiencing love, trust, joy, creativity, and a sense of belonging. You can practice being emotionally vulnerable in small ways; start by telling a close friend something you’re struggling with, for instance. If you’re ashamed of working out in public, challenge yourself to go to the gym or a fitness class. By acting in bold and courageous ways, you’ll build up your resilience. You’ll most likely experience the emotional benefits of opening up and taking risks, too!
Being vulnerable also requires becoming more self-aware. Instead of bottling up your emotions, work on getting in touch with your feelings. Talk out your feelings with your friends or family, start a journal, or begin practicing mindfulness meditation. Try to figure out what’s holding you back. Are you a life-long perfectionist? If so, you may be unconsciously seeking praise from others, acting in ways that prevent you from taking productive risks in your life. Perhaps you try to numb your emotions, refusing to feel them at all. Others may find that they’re overly controlling in their lives. Being vulnerable means accepting the unknown, requiring a relinquishing of control. It is important to identify the ways in which you’ve emotionally stifled yourself and the situations in which you feel particularly vulnerable. Through self-reflection, you can better spot the areas of your life which might benefit from greater openness and risk-taking.
Vulnerability in Relationships
As human beings, we seek connections with those around us. In her research, Dr. Brown also studied individuals’ perceptions of connection and belonging. Dr. Brown discovered that those who had a strong sense of love and connection believed that they were worthy of it. Those who believe that they are worthy of connection are also more likely to act in vulnerable, loving ways. Those who feel that they deserve good relationships with others are more likely to express their love and affection for those around them, taking risks such as saying “I love you,” first. Though these individuals are taking risks by being emotionally vulnerable, their belief that they are worthy of human connection means that they are less likely to be emotionally devastated when these emotional connections fail. These individuals realize, correctly, that they are not “unworthy” simply because someone else doesn’t appreciate them. Though it can be difficult to feel this way, this type of emotional resilience can be learned. By realizing that you are worthy of love and deep human connections, you can allow yourself to be more vulnerable and open with others. If someone rejects you, you should know that you’re not to blame; being vulnerable means accepting that not everyone will accept us as we are. By being open and vulnerable, however, you’ll be much more likely to find those special bonds that will lead to lasting friendship and romance.
Being vulnerable is rarely easy! Criticism, rejection, and failure may lead to negative emotions like shame and self-blame. These risks, however, must be faced for the sake of greater connection with others. By admitting that you’ve made a mistake in the workplace, your boss is more likely to view you as a trustworthy, honest employee. By talking about past struggles with a new beau, you and your partner might find that you’ve both faced similar challenges before, leading to a deeper connection. Though being vulnerable is always challenging, the rewards make it worth the risks. Vulnerability just might be the key to greater happiness and connection in your life.
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