Many of us might be under the impression that emotional vulnerability is more trouble than it's worth. Vulnerability can be daunting; it might leave you feeling exposed, open to rejection, or open to other complex feelings. We can't deny that facing things head-on can feel frightening. Still, it's important to remember that there are valuable benefits to opening up. Emotional vulnerability doesn't just leave you exposed to emotional risk; it also allows you to open the door to joy, intimacy, love, empathy, and a wealth of connection.
There are many reasons people might feel particularly wary of being emotionally vulnerable. You might feel like it's just easier to stick to surface level topics, you might feel scared to trust others, you might be scared of being rejected for your genuine thoughts and feelings after being burned in the past, or you might have been taught that vulnerability is weak or shameful. Eventually, though, a reluctance to engage in emotionally vulnerable relationships can get lonely, contribute to feelings of anxiety, and hold us back from tapping into the full potential of our relationships.
So, let's break it down. What is vulnerability, and what is it not?
Emotional vulnerability is the willingness to take the risk of being honest about your thoughts, feelings, and needs, not only with others but also with yourself, especially when it feels intimidating.
Vulnerability is not: weak, wrong, gendered, or constantly focused on negative emotions.
In researcher Brené Brown's 2010 TEDx talk about emotional vulnerability, she says, "Vulnerability is not weakness. It's the most accurate measurement of courage." As humans, we need to experience connection to survive. Although the level and type of connections we prefer might vary from individual to individual, the quest to connect with, love, and coexist with others is foundational to most human experiences. Sometimes it can be hard to remember this while managing our day-to-day lives.
Brené Brown (2012) discusses how vulnerability can help us maintain healthy, fulfilling, and secure relationships. Some of the benefits of these deep connections might surprise you! Brown suggests that daring to practice vulnerability can encourage self-awareness, creativity, improved self-esteem, intimacy, better health and relationships, empathy, and even reduce anxiety.
Developing emotionally vulnerable practices in your own life
It can be hard to imagine letting your guards down, especially when it's not something you have much experience doing. We are here to tell you that that's okay, and most people feel the same way when starting the journey towards vulnerability. One of the great things about starting down this path is that you control the speed and can get support to figure out what emotional vulnerability looks like for you.
Here are some ways you can get started:
Connect with people who have similar lived experiences. Sometimes it can feel scary to jump into sharing your inner world when you know that the person you're talking to might not be able to understand. An excellent first step can be connecting to others who are going through something similar. This could be through casual conversations within your existing social network or activities like group therapy or other community resources.
At the end of the day, a lot of us have deep-rooted fears of opening up, and that's okay. It's never too late to start building more meaningful, rich, loving and fulfilling connections. Being emotionally vulnerable helps us to appreciate and admire ourselves, others, and the world around us.