We once had a client who was great at protecting his family from vulnerabilities, or in other words environmental threats. He went above and beyond to ensure he and his family were always safe and secure financially, emotionally, and physically. He worked a lot, which is not a bad trait at all. His intention was to build more security for his family. He is a proponent of education and stresses its importance to his son.
He was an excellent protector. He never believed in sharing financial or other threatening concerns with his wife. He would just “double down” and take care of it. I’d call him “Superman.” However, with all of the best of intentions, there were some unintended consequences resulting from my client’s intense position on protecting himself and his loved ones.
My client had learned how to push down difficult emotions so that he could focus on addressing the problem at hand. Pushing down those emotions meant he had few to no opportunities to express his feelings. His inability to express his feelings not only impacted his relationship with his wife, his son who was entering puberty had begun to adopt some of my clients dispositions. Mainly, he had difficulties expressing his feelings. Sometimes, following our natural instinct to scan for and protect against threats, can lead to building up walls; Walls that make it difficult for one to be vulnerable. My client saw vulnerability as a weakness. “It opens one up to a threat,” he thought.
This is what brought him and his wife to therapy. Today, he and his wife and their son are doing great! They are doing fine in what they describe as a new season of their lives together.
To protect ourselves from physical harm in our social environment, we are wired to scan for threats and respond appropriately. However, what do you do when the threat is perceived as an act that would expose you to emotional harm? Do you shut down those emotions? Do you come to view some emotions as weaknesses, or do you explore ways to address the perceived harm by identifying and communicating thoughts and feelings that may be a little difficult to express? I believe that far too many people avoid communicating difficult feelings or emotions because doing so can cause harm. Many come to perceive being vulnerable as an act of diving into a situation that leads to poor outcomes. The survival mechanism then becomes avoiding or suppressing communication that could expose one’s areas of vulnerability.
What is Emotional Vulnerability?
Emotional vulnerability is the willingness to be open, honest and sincere in your relationships. It’s being willing to show others who you truly are, even if it means you might feel uncomfortable or insecure. It’s about letting yourself be known by others and allowing them to get to know you— the good, bad and ugly parts of yourself. It is also important to remember that beauty can be found in the bad and ugly parts of one’s self. Some actions can heighten one’s motivation to change positively. Introspection is the tool used to promote change.
Emotional vulnerability is the opposite of emotional numbness, which often occurs when people have been hurt by others and now fear that they won’t be able to protect themselves from future pain. The fear of being vulnerable can keep us from forming friendships and romantic relationships because we think it’s safer not to connect with anyone at all than to risk letting someone in and then having them leave us or hurt us again. Emotional numbness will undermine the possibility of future healthy relationships, career advancements, and other positive life outcomes.
Brené Brown’s Talk on the Power of Vulnerability | TED Talks
Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage and authenticity. Her TED talk on vulnerability has been viewed more than 60 million times, making it one of the top five most-viewed TED talks of all time.
In this talk, she shares what she learned from interviewing thousands of people about their lives and from studying social connections and the brain. She argues that we are fundamentally hardwired for connection and belonging. Still, for centuries we have been told to hide our needs, mistakes, failures and emotions in order to be accepted or deemed valuable. She argues that this disconnection has led to an epidemic of loneliness and depression in today’s society.
The Benefits of Being Vulnerable
By embracing vulnerability, you become more aware of your emotions and other people’s emotions. You learn to express yourself and be more honest with others about who you are and what you need from them. Because vulnerability allows us to be honest, it also helps us connect in meaningful ways that could otherwise never happen.
It is a challenge to be vulnerable, but the rewards are worth it. Here are some of the benefits of being vulnerable:
1. Promotes Resilience
Vulnerability is a key component of resilience. Being open to new experiences and challenging ourselves can increase our capacity to react and respond to challenging situations. Vulnerability encourages us to embrace uncertainty and become more resilient in the face of adversity.
2. Improved Self-Awareness
Being vulnerable also helps us to become more aware of our feelings, thoughts, and motivations. By being vulnerable, we can become more in tune with our emotions and identify what we need in order to feel fulfilled. This can help us become more self-aware and make positive life changes.
3. Strengthens Relationships
Being vulnerable also allows us to develop more meaningful relationships. Opening ourselves up to others allows us to create deeper connections with those around us. We learn to trust, understand, and accept one another, which can lead to stronger relationships.
4. Improves Mental Health
Being vulnerable can also improve our mental health. By allowing ourselves to express our emotions, we can gain insight into our thoughts and feelings and better manage our mental health. Furthermore, being vulnerable to others can help create an understanding and supportive environment.
5. Increased Self-confidence
Being vulnerable can increase our self-confidence. As we take risks and put ourselves out there, we can build our confidence and develop a greater sense of self-worth.
How Vulnerability is Perceived by Men vs Women
Vulnerability can be a difficult concept for both genders to accept and feel comfortable expressing. Many men and women struggle to be open and honest about their feelings and emotions. This is why creating a supportive and understanding environment where everyone can express their vulnerability without fear of judgment or ridicule is so essential.
When both genders learn to embrace vulnerability, it can help create stronger and more meaningful relationships. We can foster greater understanding and connection with others by being honest and open about our feelings and emotions. Together, we can learn to embrace the power of vulnerability and use it to build stronger relationships with ourselves and each other.
Can allowing ourselves to become more vulnerable lead to greater self-awareness?
In a word, yes. The ability to be vulnerable is a crucial factor in developing self-awareness. Being vulnerable requires opening ourselves up to the possibility of pain, but it also allows us to explore our innermost feelings and thoughts. This can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
When we become more vulnerable, we’re able to tap into our true selves and examine our deepest desires, motivations, and values. We’re able better to understand our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. As a result, we can create a more meaningful and purposeful life.
The practice of being open and honest with ourselves helps us to better recognize our patterns and behaviors. It also helps us to make better decisions and build healthier relationships.
3 Steps towards learning to be more vulnerable
The ability to be vulnerable is a skill that can take time to develop. It’s not something that comes naturally and can be emotionally and practically challenging.
But if you’re committed to growing your emotional intelligence, we’re here to help! Here are three steps you can take towards becoming more vulnerable:
1. Decide to be vulnerable
This is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important. When we decide to be vulnerable, we’re taking a step towards becoming more open and honest in our relationships with others. It’s a choice, and it’s not an easy one!
2. Begin with small steps
If you’re used to keeping people at arm’s length emotionally, it might be difficult to start sharing your feelings and experiences with them right away. Instead, start by opening up about more minor things—the weather, your favorite food, your favorite song—and gradually work your way up to sharing deeper thoughts and feelings. You’ll get there eventually!
3. Be kind to yourself
It takes time for us to learn how to share ourselves openly with others, so don’t expect yourself to get there overnight! Be gentle with yourself as you try new ways of connecting with others; give yourself time and space for mistakes along the way (which will happen). If you can do those three things, then anything is possible!
It takes courage to be vulnerable.
It is not easy to lay our hearts and souls open to others, to share our deepest thoughts and feelings, and to expose our innermost desires and fears. But being vulnerable is one of the most important steps we can take in our personal development and relationships.
When we are vulnerable, we open ourselves up to the possibility of trust, connection, and intimacy. We allow ourselves to be seen and heard and invite others to share in our lives. This can lead to more meaningful relationships and a greater sense of belonging.
At the same time, being vulnerable also carries risks. We may fear being judged, rejected, or taken advantage of. We may worry that showing our true selves will expose us to criticism or manipulation.
But it is important to remind ourselves that vulnerability is not a weakness; it is a strength. It is an indication of courage and self-awareness. By opening ourselves up to vulnerability, we create the opportunity for an honest and lasting connection with others.
Vulnerability is an essential part of being human. It is an invitation to connect, to share our authentic selves, and to trust in the possibility of relationships that can grow, heal, and strengthen us. It is a courageous act that can lead to greater intimacy and understanding in our lives. As Brené Brown brilliantly puts it, “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.”
So take the risk. Embrace your vulnerability. Open your heart and be brave. It takes courage to be vulnerable, but it is worth it.