How to Cultivate Vulnerability
What is Vulnerability
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences" yet its paradoxical nature can be such a funny thing. While we all crave love and connection, we are also deeply afraid of being vulnerable, therefore resisting the very trait that initiates the connection to begin with. When we’re grasping for connection or sweating buckets pouring our hearts out, vulnerability may not be as funny in the moment, but in the end it does allow us to truly be ourselves — to expose a softer side that would otherwise be hidden behind our defenses. Researcher Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. While society may view vulnerability as a weakness, Brown argues that vulnerability may actually be “the most accurate measure of courage”.
Counsellor Keir Brady states that “being vulnerable requires you to break down your walls and share who you are, what your needs are, what you fear, without having the security of knowing how your partner will respond”. In other words, surrendering your control over the situation. This can be scary as “the underlying fear might be that if your partner truly knows you and all of your flaws, they might reject you” (Brady). Therefore, knowing that rejection may be a possibility, yet bravely taking a risk in that your partner could also respond with understanding, empathy, and compassion takes a lot of courage! Speaking from experience, I was casually seeing a guy where there was a lot of support and care present but also a lot of uncertainty, perhaps the default nature of ambiguous relationships. I was having a rough day and I remember the first time I asked him to come over and simply hold me. I was terrified as I had no idea how he was going to respond, and felt so vulnerable that even a sliver of rejection would feel like a bullet to the chest. Luckily, he enthusiastically responded to my plea for comfort. It not only emphasized the benefits of vulnerability, but also taught me that if I didn’t bravely put myself out there, I would have never learned that I can actually ask for what I want, and get it! How crazy is that!
Vulnerability requires emotional risk, as it opens doors to judgment and rejection while asking you to share aspects of your being with complete authenticity. Therefore, allowing yourself to truly be vulnerable is to allow yourself to be authentically known. “Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen” (Brown).
Why Do We Fear Vulnerability and Why is it So Difficult
Our reasons for avoiding vulnerability are often deeply personal and unique to each individual, however, they all often tie back to earlier chapters in our lives where we first learned how to relate from our earliest relationships. As children we absorb how our parents treated each other and the world around them. Dr. Lisa Firestone, the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association, states that “limitations in our environment or ruptures in our childhood relationships gave us a model for how we now see ourselves and the world around us”. Unfortunately these experiences lead society to believe that something about us is deeply flawed or shameful, and thus should be hidden from the world. As a result, we try to protect ourselves by keeping our guard up, which further draws a divide from ourselves and the people around us. Being unwilling to be vulnerable hurts our connections to others, as “there can be no intimacy—emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy—without vulnerability,” said Brown. “One of the reasons there is such an intimacy deficit today is because we don’t know how to be vulnerable. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, and asking for what we need. Vulnerability is the glue that holds intimate relationships together” (Firestone).
How to Practice Vulnerability and Why it Helps Our Relationships
1. It All Starts Within
As Brené Brown shared in her Ted Talk, the ability to be vulnerable requires you to believe that you are worthy of a deep connection. Knowing that you deserve to express your most authentic self and deserve deep and loving connections, requires you to first trust and allow yourself to just be. Be willing to courageously expose your feelings, even to yourself. “Acknowledging and accepting our feelings is an important part of being in touch with ourselves, [...and] a big part of strengthening our connections involves being willing to share how we feel with someone else (Firestone).
2. Allow the Candle to Slowly Burn and the Trust to Build
Deeply sharing and being vulnerable requires trust, and trust requires time. When we give ourselves and our partners the space to unravel naturally without the pressure of having to be seen or accepted in a certain way, we allow ourselves to be more comfortable exposing parts of ourselves that are otherwise difficult to share. It is okay to start slow. Asking questions and encouraging your partner to be more vulnerable with you, can also help them feel safer in sharing. When you begin to build more trust and start feeling more comfortable, vulnerability will show up more naturally and thus allow you to open up about more intimate and personal matters.
3. Soak Up the Present Moment
Make it a practice to be open about sharing what’s going on and how you’re feeling as it occurs. When uncomfortable emotions arise we often try to bury, hide, or completely ignore our feelings altogether. However, the more you can authentically share yourself and your feelings in the moment, the closer you will feel to your partner because it allows you to have the opportunity to be truly accepted for who you are. On the other side, part of vulnerability is being willing to be in the moment with someone else. “Looking our partner in the eye, listening to what they have to say, and being willing to give time and attention to the moment are acts of vulnerability that are often harder to do than we imagine'' (Firestone). Actively making an effort to engage in these behaviors of mindfulness makes us feel more in touch with one another and to our own feelings.
4. Fear Loves Company
When fear shows up we often believe that we are doomed to deal with it all on our own, however, you will create a deeper level of intimacy when you share your fears with your partner. This can also include sharing the fact that being vulnerable is scary for you. We all have insecurities and deep-seated fears, and even if you believe these fears are irrational, they can still have an impact on you. So instead of shutting down when you are feeling insecure, open up and talk about them with your partner. When you share your concerns, you not only give your partner the opportunity to care for you, but you also give yourself the opportunity to feel understood.
5. People Are Not Mind Readers: Ask For What You Need
Asking for what you need requires a great deal of vulnerability because there is a possibility that you are setting yourself up for rejection and disappointment. However, there is also the possibility of feeling understood, nurtured, and deeply connected to your partner. “When you ask for what you need, you allow your partner to make an active choice on whether they are able to meet your needs” (Brady).
Although being vulnerable with your partner has a huge risk factor— as it can cause levels of anxiety and uncertainty—its benefits are well worth the risk as it can also increase your level of intimacy and deepen your connection. Vulnerability is certainly no easy task and, like many great things, often takes practice and patience. One way to practice being emotionally vulnerable is to write down your feelings in a journal, as it can help to create the habit of reflecting and articulating your emotions. Another way to practice emotional vulnerability is to go to therapy. For many of us, our habits and defense mechanisms, like emotional avoidance, have become so ingrained that we may not recognize how damaging these behaviors can be for our relationships. Therefore, counselling can help guide you through difficult emotions, and help give you the tools to courageously embrace your vulnerability, and ultimately your most authentic self.
Blog post written by Yasmine Ross, Certified Relationship Coach and Content Writer at An Elegant Mind Counselling in Vancouver