“Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
~ Brené Brown
Learning to be vulnerable again (or perhaps for the first time) is a delicate place to navigate because we’ve subconsciously armored up in attempt to protect our heart from possible pain.
The first thing to understand is that being vulnerable does not mean giving away our heart or our love to just anyone.
Vulnerability is about speaking our truth unabashedly.
It’s about sharing who we are through open, honest and authentic communication. We don’t have to give anything (our heart) to anyone until we are good and ready. However, we must be at least willing to try something new or we will perpetuate the same disconnected relationships of past.
When we are willing to share our inner selves, we can then see how others respond to us.
In this we can determine whether it is “safe” to proceed further with this person thus, opening our hearts a little at a time.
If an armored person rushes in to quickly and for some reason doesn’t receive a response that feels safe, the armored person may subconsciously armor up even further. Take your time.
Additionally, it’s important to recognize and understand that vulnerability begets vulnerability.
Magic and miracles happen when one person let’s their guard down and shares authentically. With this, the other person will also feel safe to do the same. This is how true connection is born within our relationships. Most everyone is scared to death to navigate a new relationship.
At some point in life, we’ve all been hurt.
When we are willing to state our fear, most likely we will discover our person is equally afraid. By uncovering this vital fact, you may find you both helping one another along!
As with anything in life, it is of utmost importance to trust your intuition while learning to navigate vulnerability.
At all times, we are being guided by a Universal Intelligence that will indeed send you warning signs if someone’s motives are not of the highest nature. However, we must learn to discern between our own fear and the warning voice of Spirit.
If it’s a red light you are receiving, be willing to say your farewell and move on.
If it’s a green light you are receiving (a peaceful knowing that all is well), you must find the courage within to step boldly into your authentic self and allow for the graceful unfolding.
Kristen Brown, Certified Empowerment Coach/Mentor – www.sweetempowerment.com
Being vulnerable means being open and connected to your heart and feelings and authentically expressing your genuine self to your partner.
The result of showing your vulnerable side deepens connection and intimacy in your relationship.
We are often scared to be vulnerable because we can feel exposed and shamed.
If we are misunderstood or viewed as needy or get rejected, we think we have no protection or defense. We are worried people will find out who we really are, which actually means all the qualities we don’t like about ourselves! This is why we armor ourselves against expressing our true feelings.
We don’t need to be insecure or fearful of being judged or rejected.
We can develop confidence, self-love and feelings of safety to show all of who we are to the person we love. Everything worthwhile involves some risk. Step out of your known identity and comfort zone.
Let go of being in control and realize your partner wants to listen and support you.
Most of us sometimes get worried, anxious and shaky, make mistakes or still suffer from past bad relationships. It’s part of being human. It gives our partner an opportunity to appreciate our sensitivity and show empathy towards us. It also shows them that they don’t have to keep up an image of being a ‘certain way’ all the time.
So, firstly discover why you find it difficult to be vulnerable.
Is it connected with messages from your family and upbringing or because you got hurt before and decided to ‘toughen up’ and not let anyone get really close to you again?
Start slowly to express a feeling to your partner that you would normally not reveal.
Also let your partner know that you are open to listen to their deeper feelings. Open up, little by little and become kinder and more honest with yourself and others around you.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean that we are emotional and in pain all the time.
It means that we feel good about ourselves and that we have the courage not to protect ourselves and build up barriers against the person we love. We become more congruent and our feelings match our words. It means we show that we care.
Step by step, validate yourself and recognize that real connection comes from allowing ourselves to be truly open and honest, rather than presenting a persona of who we think others want us to be.
Sherry Marshall, BSc, MAA – www.naturaltherapypages.com.au/connect/sydneyprocesscounselling
What does it mean to you to be vulnerable?
In order to answer this question, you need to explore every area of your life.
- Physical vulnerability could include such things as pulling off on the side of the road, alone, to fix a flat in the middle of the night, or the feet-in-stirrups position you assume while you get your annual exam.
- Financial vulnerability could mean relying exclusively on your partner’s income, or quitting your job to become an entrepreneur.
- Emotional vulnerability could mean giving birth to a child and accepting the role of motherhood, or opening up and sharing a deep secret with someone.
Vulnerability opens the door to connection.
If you think of yourself as a house, some people will never get past the front door. Others you will allow to come all the way into the kitchen, and one or two may have access to the entire structure.
It is risky to be vulnerable.
There are no guarantees that things will work out for the best. Being vulnerable means we lower our guard, drop our protection, expose our belly, so to speak. And that can have devastating results.
Yet not opening up can create our own personal prison, which can lead to an unfulfilled life of loneliness, fear, and bitterness.
Here are two helpful tools you can use to protect yourself while being vulnerable.
First, be wise.
Prudent. Discerning. It is not necessary, for example, to share your soul with someone who has not earned that privilege, someone who has demonstrated that he or she is not trustworthy or respectful.
Wisdom also includes taking sage precautions against potential disasters in every area of life, such as self-defense and financial management courses. Wisdom means knowing who to allow into your house, and setting limits on how far they can explore.
Second, be strong and resilient.
To change analogies, think of a suit of armor. Many times, life circumstances have resulted in our donning a suit of armor that is all but impenetrable. That keeps out the arrows, but also keeps out the love. So think about slowly moving that protective shell from the outside, where it protects the soft core, to the inside, where it becomes an indestructible core of steel.
At the same time, start slowly moving your soft core to the outside, where it will elicit human connection.
If you have a core of steel, then you can risk receiving a painful flesh wound because you know it will not destroy you.
So go ahead and allow yourself to be wisely vulnerable. To take judicious risks. To know when to hold up a shield or keep someone on the front porch, and when to open up.
Dr. Loral Lee Portenier – www.linkedin.com/in/loral-lee-portenier-phd-62897b17
How many times have you told your partner that some of your personal triumphs include suspicious thoughts, fears that most relationships are doomed, anticipation of rejection based on beliefs you made up about yourself, and that your strongest personality trait is that you are an incurable defeatist, proudly insecure and hopelessly miserable?
I applaud you if you have, but chances are, you’ve been quietly held hostage by those plaguing thoughts, afraid to be open, afraid to be vulnerable, and it hasn‘t served you well.
Naturally you want to keep your most intimate thoughts protected and your pride intact, but at what cost?
Do you really want to carry your hidden fears into this relationship and remain disconnected, or is it possible you’re tired of the façade, eager to embrace the idea of casting off the heavy armor, and enjoy being understood and loved for who you truly are.
1. Practice being honest:
After all, what is there to lose? You’ve resigned yourself to experiencing dysfunctional behavior in your relationships through avoidance, and now it’s time to create a relationship that fosters trust, expresses real emotions, and endures a well functioning emotional commitment.
Sit down, close your eyes, and imagine feeling secure in your partner’s company, as you share how you feel.
Then choose a quiet moment with your partner, to express what you need from the relationship, confess your painful nagging fears, and gently meet him in a place of sincerity and authenticity.
2. Do your homework:
No one comes to the table with nothing to work on! Sharing intimate parts of your self can be challenging but the rewards are many.
Your open, honest communication is likely to increase his trust in you.
Embrace the opportunity to search his deepest fears and share a trusting collaborate relationship that gives permission to support one another.
Once you have provided a safe space to liberate each other from your own fears, you have created a shared emotional connection, reduced the level of anxiety, and encouraged psychological closeness.
3. Set the stage:
You may be ready to share now, but have you asked your partner if he is ready to receive? When we are sharing authentically with another, it is vital that we have the other party’s commitment to hear us fully, without defending or interrupting.
Choose a time for this and ask your partner if he is willing to sit with you, and to look into your eyes as you share.
Ask him not to interject, and to only say, “I hear you” and to ask you if there is more you wish to share. When you feel complete and fully heard, invite your partner to allow you to hear him in the same way.
4. My partner didn’t respond:
You’ve let your guard down, but your partner didn’t reciprocate. It is very possible that your partner wants to keep his most intimate self protected too.
The irony is that your partner is just as anxious as you about what how you will respond to his authentic self. Now that you have shown him your willingness to share and to ask for his support, the climate has changed in your relationship.
Let him know if he wishes to practice this way of sharing with you, you will support him, you will not interrupt to blame or excuse, and you will respond only by telling him you hear him.
Your frankness and bravado have created an invitation to your partner, but he may need time to participate with his own vulnerability. There is no rush for your partner to reciprocate, but let him know you are there when he is ready.
5. Seek support, comfort and assistance from your partner:
The emotional consequences of being vulnerable in a relationship are frequently complex, further increasing vulnerability. But when two people are committed to allowing each other to express their deepest feelings, a supportive, well functioning relationship will evolve.
Choosing to be vulnerable is choosing to be meaningful to one another, with an expression of affection and care.
So practice being down to earth, take time to empathetically tune into each other, and allow yourself permission to seek support, comfort and assistance from your partner. Being vulnerable indicates how much you truly care!
Karleen Nevery, MTC, RTC, CPA – www.kitsilanolife.ca/karleen-nevery
This is a complicated topic with a web of issues attached.
When I talk to clients and friends I hear about self esteem, shame, courage, fear, childhood wounds, relational experiences, and cultural expectations. Often there is a negative connotation attached to the definition of vulnerability.
Like, “Vulnerability feels like an open wound”.
Another, “I feel weak. It’s like I exposed too much of myself”.
Why does vulnerability get wrapped up so much in feelings of weakness?
So many reasons. One is that we get vulnerable and needy mixed up. One way to sort some of this is to learn and address the way you are placing appropriate boundaries in your life.
Healthy connection requires healthy boundaries.
To be vulnerable in affirming ways, we need to be able to set boundaries, and to choose and create respectful relationships. With the basics of this life template, we become free to be open and to do so in appropriate ways with appropriate people and for the right reasons.
Some of the strongest and most emotionally mature women I know are very good at boundaries and also very good at intimate connections.
It’s all about judgment. But even those of us who have been practicing, counseling and teaching about boundaries and relationships for years will not always get it right.
We make miscalculations. We trust when we should have limited, or we limit where we could have been more open.
Taking emotional risks and being vulnerable requires courage, and that is precisely because it is often scary.
But with awareness and respect for these endeavors you can create a full and rich relational life.
Moving toward healthy vulnerability in relationships requires getting in touch with what’s going on within you.
So here are some practical steps to get started. Take time and revisit these activities, and feel free to adjust them to your unique needs:
- Write down five areas where it’s hard to practice openness.
- Write down three people in your life with whom vulnerability is easiest. These can be actual people, or if that is too hard move on to step three.
- Write down qualities (at least 5) in an intimate relationship that would make being vulnerable feel like a good choice; traits that attract your openness and allow trust to form.
- Write down actions, behaviors or gut feelings about someone that would suggest having more boundaries around your emotional availability would be the best choice. You are getting in touch with what feels right and what doesn’t.
- Come up with 3 things you can do each week with a loved one, partner or new relationship to try out vulnerability. Choose with your wisdom and courage. Start small. Maybe your new boyfriend takes an interest in something about you that you also hold dear. Share your passion about this part of you. Let your deeper feelings glow from a place of confidence and pride.
- Keep a journal on your vulnerability work and your work on boundaries. Note challenges and fears. Recall memories from childhood or past relationships. Note feelings of courage as well as shame.
- Make goals. Where do you need to preserve your emotional privacy and where can you be more open? Are there people you need to limit? Is there a relationship where you want to risk being more vulnerable?
- Get help. A therapist is often useful for relational growth. Read about it. A great writer on this topic is Brené Brown.
Intimacy, connection, vulnerability and relational growth is a lifelong journey and we never arrive.
We will feel like we are getting the hang of connection sometimes and at others we will feel insecure and detached. Pay attention. Seek support. And keep learning.
Kris Gooding, LCSW – www.find-within.com
Vulnerability involves a lot of uncertainty and emotional openness.
What can you do to embrace being vulnerable and still risk revealing your courageous self?
Here are some steps to take:
- Allow others to see you as you are so you know they are loving the real you.
- Any rejection or NO leaves you open to an eventual YES. The growth and lessons that come with this are priceless.
- Admit your weaknesses and ask for help — Pay attention to how this feels. The support and encouragement is very empowering.
- Understand that you may have unconscious blocks that hold you back. While “hiding behind a mask” may seem necessary to protect your well-being, it can do the opposite and close you off to being loved and giving love.
- Think about the risk you take when you love someone and realize the other person is thinking and feeling the same thing. Together you can share your fears which offers you greater intimacy and bonding.
- Set boundaries, and only let in those who have earned the right to know the TRUE you.
- It’s OK to fear being judged, questioned, or rejected. Does he like me? Will he understand me? Can he be trusted? These questions are valid, but should not keep you from living, loving and laughing your way through the relationship.
- Know that the connection you feel with your partner depends on how much you reveal about yourself. If you’re afraid about what you can say, do or think or your message is misunderstood, any meaningful connection will be lost.
Vulnerability shows strength. When you are vulnerable, others can hurt you, disappoint you, rely on you and especially love you.This may make you appear weak if you give up your strength to others, but it is really indicates the opposite. You are putting your heart out there. How courageous is that!
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
I offer these four tips:
1. See vulnerability as a strength.
It takes strength to open oneself up to the possibility of a meaningful relationship. It takes learning to trust again (even after heartache) and a willingness to be an active partner.
2. Remember your personal values.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that you are willing to give up personal values, but it represents a willingness to let down one’s guard eventually. Remember, although a wall may have been put up to keep danger out, it also forces us to “stay in” and live a life of isolation.
3. Set firm boundaries.
Investigate and discover who is worthy of the vulnerable you. While many women refuse to open up to anyone, some are at the other end of the spectrum and open themselves to everyone. Take your time and enjoy getting to know others.
4. Be safe and follow your gut.
This goes along with setting boundaries. Be empowered enough to end (or don’t start) a relationship with someone who refuses to show respect. You cannot be vulnerable with those types of people; you can only be their doormat.
Dr. Kirsten Person-Ramey – www.linkedin.com/in/kirsten-ramey
To be vulnerable means to share parts of yourself that aren’t obvious, like your height and eye color.
To be vulnerable is to share parts of yourself that you consider special.
If it wasn’t special you would easily share it with everyone. This is what makes relationships unique and valuable; you expose yourself to your partner to enhance and deepen your connection.
On the other side, this is what contributes to the pain and struggle experienced when a relationship ends.
So the question is, how can we allow ourselves to become vulnerable knowing that this risk exists?
The question to ask yourself is does the reward outweigh the risk?
Let’s review some scenarios to put this in perspective.
After dating your new suitor for six weeks, it may feel appropriate to share your long term career plan, items on your bucket list, and something that annoys you about your best friend.
You and your partner have invested six weeks into this new relationship and sharing those thoughts can enhance your knowledge about your path in life, your likes and dislikes.
In another scene, after being in a committed relationship for seven months, exposing your childhood fears and low points in your self-esteem would be acceptable. The reward at this point is looking to form a future together, and therefore this reward could be worth the risk.
One word of caution: don’t judge the reward based simply on the length of the relationship.
You may date someone for eight months that you know you cannot date long term, or you don’t have any intention on marrying. There would be no reward in sharing deep parts of yourself, correct?
Brynn Cicippio, MA, LMFT – www.therapywithbrynn.com
Being vulnerable can feel counter-intuitive if you’ve experienced any type of trauma, rejection, betrayal, or other severe backlash from being open.
There is a way to practice being vulnerable that doesn’t require you to rely on the other person to feel safe.
Focus on trusting yourself instead of whether you can trust other people. People’s anxiety about being vulnerable often comes from imagining how the other person might react to the information or request.
You get to control what, when, and how much you share or ask for. You do not need to be at the mercy of someone’s reaction. How do you focus on trusting yourself? Honor where you’re at and only share or ask what you feel ready to share or ask for.
Can I share (ask) this and not feel devastated or rejected if this person doesn’t react, respond, or understand in the way that I would like?
If the answer is yes, great, share (ask) away.
If the answer is no, great, honor that and refrain from sharing (asking) regardless of whether you feel obligated to. Also, you may not know the answer to this question, so if you don’t know pause and wait until you feel clear.
To effectively work through the anxiety of being vulnerable, requires having new positive experiences to replace the traumatic memories of feeling victimized for being vulnerable.
Support yourself through a potentially vulnerable exchange by sharing something significant or asking for something that feels difficult, but not so significant or difficult that you would feel devastated or hurt if the person didn’t understand, react, or respond in the way you hoped.
Regardless of the person’s reactions focus on your own personal achievement: “Wow, I shared (asked) that, and I’m okay. I didn’t die and I’m so proud of myself for challenging myself to be more vulnerable.”
Of course, we all prefer the experiences of feeling supported, understood and cared for, but that doesn’t always happen.
So it’s important to engage in healthy self-care by making a conscious choice about being vulnerable for yourself instead of doing it out of a sense of obligation, which often leads to feeling exposed, resentful, and anxious.
As challenging as it can be, being vulnerable allows you to be perceived as approachable, human, and desirable to connect with. It’s worth the risk!
Laura Rinset, MS, LMFT – www.laurarinsetlmft.com
First we must look at relationships and come to an understanding that relationships are scary.
We give of ourselves hoping to be accepted and liked.
Once we start to trust we share our vulnerability with our partner and say, here take it and keep it safe.
When we are hurt or when our trust is broken, we think twice or even three times before giving them up again.
Here are some tips to work on in feeling comfortable when getting back into the dating game:
- Work on forgiving yourself for past hurts and letting go.
- Look at past relationships and ask yourself “what do I need to learn about myself from that experience” instead of saying negative things about yourself.
- Decide what you want in a relationship instead of what you don’t want.
- Keep a journal of your emotions daily. Writing out comfortable and uncomfortable emotions is a way to practice getting comfortable with expressing them.
- Learn how to nurture your close friendships, and understand that even in those relationships you are being vulnerable.
- Learn about health boundaries. There is a great book call “Boundaries: Where you end and I began” by Anne Katherine. This is an excellent book to read and understand boundaries.
- Learn how to listen to your gut.
- Speak UP! Your voice is a powerful tool that will show your partners how you see the world and what you are, and are not ok with. If your partner can’t respect your opinion then maybe it’s time to consider a different partner.
These are just a few ideas. Good luck to you.
Monica Burton, MS LMFT – www.monicaburtonlmft.com
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