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Table of Contents
- 1 Feeling Vulnerable
- 2 The Benefits of Vulnerability
- 3 Vulnerability's Drawbacks
- 4 Final Words About Feeling Vulnerable
To feel vulnerable is to feel exposed,
to have the flesh of your heart revealed,
the skin of your soul on display,
your emotions revealed, like a rose in bloom.
It is an unshielded existence,
a life lived with nothing to hide.
But also, it is to be seen,
to be understood as you are.
It's like this flower bent by wind.
Its petals scattered, bruised and broken.
Yet, it closes on itself,
tightens its grip on soil,
and awaits new growth.
Exploring the Concept of Feeling Vulnerable
To feel vulnerable is to be open to attack or damage. It's a feeling of exposure, with less protection than usual.
Vulnerability is a necessary part of being human—and that has both good and bad aspects, as described in the poem above.
On the downside, it can mean feeling threatened, anxious, or even traumatized. On the other hand, it can also mean feeling connected to others and allowing for deeper relationships with them.
“The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.”― Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes
If you're in an emotionally healthy relationship where you feel safe with your partner, there is security in sharing your vulnerabilities with them, because you know they will not use them against you.
This kind of vulnerability is necessary to build trust and intimacy in any relationship, whether it's with a spouse or even a close friend who you trust, like family.
In this post, I will explore the benefits of feeling vulnerable but also its drawbacks -- and there are plenty of them on both sides of the ledger.
Examples of Vulnerability
Have you ever been to an unfamiliar place, maybe a new city or even a different country?
Do you remember how you felt when you walked through the streets and found yourself among locals who spoke a language you did not understand?
I remember feeling totally disoriented and lost in that circumstance.
I didn’t know what to do or where to go.
I felt vulnerable!
There are many other examples of vulnerability in life, such as:
1. Going to the doctor: There's a certain vulnerability that comes with being examined by another person. It's challenging to feel as though you're in control of your own body when someone else is poking and prodding. Worrying about health results adds to the discomfort.
2. Speaking in public: Whether you're giving a speech or just asking a question, expressing yourself in front of a large group of people is inherently vulnerable. Any speaker may easily feel judged by the audience.
3. Being at a large social gathering: When you're surrounded by tons of people, it can be difficult to stand out and get noticed—and it's even more difficult when you want to avoid standing out! Social gatherings are vulnerable places because they can be so unpredictable and chaotic.
4. Meeting new people: Meeting new people requires engaging in conversation and opening up about yourself, which can be scary if you've been struggling with your identity or self-confidence.
5. Falling in love: Love requires trusting someone else with your heart and your life, which can be terrifying when you aren't sure whether they'll take care of it or break it into pieces (or both!).
6. Losing loved ones: The loss of a loved one forces us to confront our own mortality, which makes for an extremely vulnerable state of mind, both emotionally and mentally.
7. Experiencing any change in life: Perhaps you're starting a new job, launching a business, moving to a new city, or meeting a group of people for the first time. Any change can feel unsettling and make you feel vulnerable.
There are so many other examples of vulnerability in life and in relationships (e.g., admitting a mistake, inadvertently disclosing information, bumping into someone you don't feel comfortable with, etc.).
Indeed, you may feel vulnerable when and where there is potential to experience fear, anger, shame, embarrassment, and the like.
When a vulnerability surfaces, the best thing you can do for yourself is...
- Accept that it's happening. It is. No matter what, it's happening. So, accept it.
- Understand that it's okay to feel vulnerable.
- Allow yourself to feel whatever you're feeling, whether it's sadness, anger, or fear. You can handle this and will make it through.
- Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Even the worst situations don't last forever, so take comfort in knowing this won't be your permanent reality.
- Commit to doing something positive for yourself today. Whatever lifts you up to mitigate any uneasy feelings associated with vulnerability, do it!
I will expound on more ways to combat the negative feelings of vulnerability later in the post.
The Benefits of Vulnerability
“We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.” ― Eric Micha'el Leventhal
The more I feel vulnerable, the more I am authentic.
The more authentic I am, the more I am connecting with who I truly am.
The more I connect with who I truly am, the more genuine and authentic my relationships become.
The more genuine and authentic my relationships become, the less worried I am about other people's opinions of me.
The less worried I am about other people's opinions of me, the less worried I am about "hurting" others.
The less worried I am about "hurting" others, the freer I feel to be myself.
The freer I feel to be myself, the happier and lighter my soul feels.
The happier and lighter my soul feels, the more energy and lightness in my life.
The more energy and lightness in my life, the more inspiration and creativity flow through me.
The more inspiration and creativity flow through me, the better my work becomes.
The better my work becomes, the better my service to humanity becomes.
As you can see, feeling vulnerable can provide a positive cascade of benefits.
As a review, feeling vulnerable leads to:
- More authenticity
- Deeper, enriching connections
- Being unapologetic about who you really are
- Not worrying about others' reactions to you
- Less worry about what other people think, do, or say
- Feeling free to live in the present moment and see things as they are.
- A more fulfilling, purposeful life
In my estimation, here are the two most powerful benefits of feeling vulnerable:
a) It gives you the opportunity to learn about yourself. Vulnerability isn't exactly something we actively choose to feel—it's more of an experience we have when we're trying something new, or when our feelings are threatened or hurt by someone else.
But once we embrace the experience (or once the experience passes on its own), it teaches us about ourselves, making us stronger in the long run.
2. It's a way to share our human experience with others and form deeper relationships. We've all been there: someone close to us has betrayed our trust, and now we're feeling so vulnerable and hurt that we want nothing more than to isolate ourselves from everyone else in the world.
But if we instead use this experience as an opportunity to reach out and connect with other people who've been through something similar or can understand our pain, that vulnerability becomes a glue, a bond that cements meaningful relationships.
Feeling the Strength that Lies Beneath Vulnerability
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness, will we discover the infinite power of our light.
Brené Brown, a researcher and professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, began studying vulnerability after a series of life-altering moments left her feeling particularly vulnerable.
Her findings led her to some surprising conclusions about vulnerability, and to develop a new way to think about it: as courage in its truest form.
Brown calls vulnerability "our most accurate measure of courage." Being vulnerable, she says, means being open to raising our hands and admitting our confusion, at times, about who we are and our place in this chaotic world.
Remaining open, true to ourselves, our vulnerability can foment love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.
It is also the source of hope, understanding, accountability, and authenticity.
If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
Vulnerability is a feeling we all experience at different times and in varying degrees.
To feel vulnerable means to be open and to expose ourselves to the possibility of being hurt, both emotionally and physically.
Most people avoid feeling vulnerable, as it can bring up great fear.
Many people try to cover up their vulnerabilities by appearing strong, confident, and in control.
But by doing this, they actually cut themselves off from life's most fulfilling experiences.
But admittedly, there are serious drawbacks when feeling vulnerable:
1) When you feel vulnerable, you will find yourself having difficulty trusting others because you may believe that they are going to take advantage of you or hurt you in some way.
You will also have trouble trusting yourself because you will be afraid that your choices are wrong or won't work out for the best.
This lack of trust will only intensify your feelings of "wayward vulnerability" and make it difficult for you to form healthy relationships with others or make choices that improve your life overall.
2) When you feel vulnerable, you could end up experiencing episodes of extreme anxiety which could lead to panic attacks and other mental health conditions if they become chronic.
When vulnerable, we may become even more uncertain about the future and whether we can deal with any pain that arises.
3) Discomfort, fear, and embarrassment can be the norm when we open up to others. This can make us uncomfortable with relationships or in our personal or professional lives.
4) Your sense of self-worth gets wrapped up in what other people think of you, which can make you anxious or cause you to feel inadequate. (Some vulnerable people may be able to dismiss others' judgements about them, although that is difficult to put into practice at all times.)
5) You become overly aggressive or defensive when people try to criticize you or make negative comments about your work. This is usually an unconscious response and not something anyone would consciously program themselves to do.
6) Fear of ridicule, an aspect of human nature, is a powerful negative associated with feeling vulnerable. It’s the result of our upbringing and society’s views on differences and imperfections.
We are always told that we have to look and be perfect in order to be accepted. When we are honest about our imperfections, we may worry less about how others respond to us.
7) Vulnerability opens up to exposing our weaknesses. We then fear betrayal, hurt, or blame. We may feel shame and embarrassment, or feel threatened by humiliation and rejection.
Many people think vulnerability puts a big red target on their backs.
Is Vulnerability a Weakness?
Being vulnerable is not a weakness. It's actually a sign of mental and emotional strength.
Paying attention to and knowing your own emotions, being able to admit when you're wrong and having the courage and honesty to share your feelings with others are all signs of strength.
However, vulnerability is a scary thing for many people because they fear the consequences of exposing their true selves to others.
These could include being rejected, mocked and laughed at and embarrassed. People who have been hurt in the past or were raised in an environment where it wasn't safe to express emotions may be especially fearful of vulnerability.
The real potential consequences of vulnerability are very different from what people imagine.
In fact, as mentioned earlier, vulnerability can lead to a deeper connection with loved ones, improved self-awareness, and a more authentic way of communicating (and that includes the area of conflict resolution).
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.
The dictionary defines vulnerability as:
- Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as with a weapon.
- Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
- Open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.
When I think about vulnerability, I think about getting hurt. And that's because it's something I've avoided at all costs.
Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers we face in our lives. And when it comes to vulnerability, fear is the underlying emotion that stops us from putting ourselves out there and taking a chance on love and intimacy.
We'd rather feel pain than vulnerability because we associate pain with feeling hurt and vulnerability with letting ourselves be hurt by others.
But in reality, you can feel pain without being vulnerable and you can be vulnerable without feeling pain.
How to Deal with the Insecurity that Comes with Vulnerability?
Trying to be vulnerable is hard, but the insecurity that comes with it can be even harder.
While this may sound like a bit of a paradox, vulnerability is actually meant to create feelings of uncertainty and unease.
It’s not exactly a comfortable place to be. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done or shouldn't be done. (Think of vulnerability in the context of personal growth.)
Here are some things you can do when you feel anxious about being vulnerable:
1. Don’t give up on being vulnerable right when it gets tough!
Being vulnerable is not easy, and it’s supposed to be difficult. The more you practice feeling those uncomfortable emotions, the easier it will get.
And in the end, knowing that you are capable of experiencing something so uncomfortable and still going through with it will give you confidence in yourself.
2. Think about what your anxiety is telling you.
When you feel insecure or anxious about being vulnerable, ask yourself what it is that bothers you about the situation?
Are you worried someone will hurt you if they know how you really feel? Or are you afraid of rejection?
This type of self-reflection can help you understand where your anxieties about vulnerability come from.
3. Prepare for insecurity-related vulnerability.
When you know what you're going to face, and how you're going to handle things when they come up, then you'll feel more confident in your ability to deal with things when they do come up.
You can't control everything that happens, but you can control your response so that it's positive for you and for others.
4. Practice self-compassion.
Compassion is often thought of as being something directed toward others.
But having compassion for yourself is just as important as having compassion for others, if not more so because it allows you to have the capacity to be compassionate toward others in a way that's healthy and nurturing rather than just enabling or damaging to them.
If you don't have much compassion for yourself, then start small by practicing kindness in everyday life by saying nice things about yourself and/or doing something kind for yourself, such as watching an entertaining show or taking a slow and relaxing walk.
5. Give up perfectionism.
Perfectionism leads to procrastination, which can manifest itself through the inability to make decisions on your own and the need for constant approval.
In order to overcome this kind of insecurity, you need to learn how to distinguish between what's vital and what's superfluous in order to avoid wasting time on unnecessary tasks.
You also need to acknowledge that sometimes you can't control everything, so there's no sense in agonizing over it.
The moment you stop looking at the standards of other people is the moment you will start to feel more comfortable with yourself.
Do not look at other people and think that they are perfect or have a perfect life. Most of the time, they don't! They have struggles just like you do.
6) Stop looking for outside validation and believe in yourself.
As long as you don't feel good about yourself, it will be hard for you to believe someone else does.
So, stop comparing yourself with others and focus on your own goals instead. Remember that you can't please everybody, so it makes no sense to pursue this useless agenda.
Simultaneously, enhance your self-esteem. Not everyone is born with high self-esteem. Indeed, many people have to work very hard to develop it.
People with high self-esteem tend to feel more comfortable being vulnerable, because they know who they are is good enough, no matter what happens on the outside.
Some people manage to develop their self-esteem by engaging in regular affirmations. They say things like "I am pretty" or "I am smart" or "I am kind" to themselves every day.
Others find that they need to take bigger steps to increase their self-esteem, such as trying a new activity or making a change in their lives that boosts their confidence in themselves.
Accept yourself for who you are and don't try to change yourself for others. Learn how to respect your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Understand that rejection is normal and shouldn't be feared. Try to forgive yourself for your faults and mistakes and forgive others too.
“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable.”― Madeleine L'Engle
By allowing yourself to be who you are, and accepting others where they are, you can withstand any outside judgements and criticism.
7) Ask for what you need.
The first step to getting what you need is, simply, asking for it.
Being vulnerable isn't about being a martyr or suffering in silence. It's about the courage to ask for something when you really want it, even if the person you're asking might say no.
You'll never get what you need if you don't ask for it!
So, take a deep breath and reach out to your partner, friend or family member and let them know that you're feeling insecure in some way.
Paint a picture for them of what you actually need — are you needing more attention? More reassurance? Physical contact?
Tell them exactly what would help you feel more secure.
You might be surprised by how much better they can make you feel just by knowing what they can do to help.
Final Words About Feeling Vulnerable
Why do we feel vulnerable?
Vulnerability is not knowing what the future holds and whether you can handle it.
Vulnerability is walking into the unknown.
Vulnerability is having the courage to show up when you can't predict or control the outcome.
Vulnerability is being brave enough to put yourself out there, despite your fear that you might fail, or someone might laugh at you.
Vulnerability is taking off your mask and admitting who you really are -- no matter how painful it might be.
In a world that values certainty, invincibility, and self-sufficiency, it's no wonder that so many of us are afraid to admit when we don't have the answers or can't do something on our own.
But in reality, vulnerability is a display of strength, not weakness. It takes a lot of courage to embrace uncertainty and live with the possibility of failure, shame, and heartbreak.
Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.
Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy--the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.
Let me repeat: Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness, will we discover the infinite power of our light.
Vulnerability - Final Poetic Reflections
Is it not a sign of strength to admit when you need help?
Does it not take courage to lay yourself bare before others?
When we stand behind our walls,
We are only protecting ourselves from the possibility of love and connection.
Instead, we must embrace the truth:
We are not less than if we need help.
We are more fully functioning beings when we're unafraid to feel vulnerable.