Vulnerability: The Key to Nourishing Relationships

To be Emotionally Vulnerable Means to Open Your Heart...

To embrace your whole self and bring that full self into your relationships- both with yourself and others. It means being willing to show all of who you are – even and especially those parts of you that you may have rejected due to embarrassment, guilt or shame. Being vulnerable includes speaking your truth from the heart, knowing you may be ridiculed, judged or rejected. It means being willing to take off your mask to show and share your true feelings.

Vulnerability is Essential for Nourishing Relationships

Authenticity - When it comes to building authentic connections with ourselves and others, our ability to be authentic is directly related to our willingness and ability to be vulnerable; that is, to reveal the “good”, “bad” and “ugly” of what is true for you as it is relevant to and serves your communication interaction.

Miscommunication and misunderstandings often occur because we think (consciously or subconsciously)  that other people should be able to read our minds. Reminding ourselves that “No one can read my mind and they won’t really know what’s going on with me unless I share it” helps us to not take things personally, and to be more willing to open up and share with the intention of creating a healthier and closer connection.

Disclosure is the act of uncovering, revealing; bringing to light. When we disclose ourselves in a way that allows the other to feel free to do the same, powerful, authentic sharing occurs.

Freedom, Trust & Intimacy  
Our ability to create true intimacy (Into – me – see) with ourselves, a loved one or in an authentic relationship of any kind is directly related to our willingness to accept ourselves fully and be seen wholly. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and real about who we are, it has a transformative effect, on us and the other person. Self-disclosure is freeing. Being real and vulnerable dissolves the facade and walls that keep us from intimacy. When you share authentically from the heart, the fear of being found out dissolves in the light of your revelation. Even if the other person may not understand it, by sharing, you are learning to trust yourself.

Being vulnerable enables others to feel closer to you, because you’re taking down the barriers. Ultimately, we all have the same or similar fears and foibles anyhow. If you can accept these in yourself, the other person knows they will also be accepted, warts and all. By choosing to show up as authentic and human, you are giving the other permission to do the same. Sharing yourself is a strength and conveys trust. It’s a gift which honors the other person, who can experience their own compassion in response to your vulnerability. When we have a 360 degree view of another, we feel more intimately connected, and the other person becomes more lovable, “imperfections” and all. And in that moment, we know we’re not alone. Ideally we would get that this person is “like me”. I can relate, have empathy, compassion, and seek to relieve this person’s suffering. And in doing so, I relieve my own.

What Keeps us From Being Vulnerable  

“Vulnerability” is “The state of being left without shelter or protection against something harmful.” (  Left without shelter or protection. No wonder vulnerability has a bad rap.

Culture “In our culture we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.” – Dr. Brené Brown

We’re taught from an early age not to be vulnerable. “Don’t cry”, “Don’t be a sissy”, “Be brave”, “Smile” “Toughen up” and “Get over it”. We got the memo early on that it’s not okay to feel badly, or to express negative emotions. It saddens me when an adult I’m talking with starts crying and then apologizes for it. I say “Please don’t apologize for crying. It’s healthy to cry. Do you apologize for laughing?” They smile sheepishly “No”. “Well crying is just another emotion. In fact, science has shown that when you cry emotional tears, the stress hormone cortisol is released. That’s why we feel better after a cry.”

Fear, Shame & Guilt  In the popular U.S. sitcom “Seinfeld”, there’s an episode where Jerry gets in touch with his feelings until George’s opening up and sharing “scares him straight” – “Hoochie mama: I love you George, but good luck with all that”

If someone revealing their true selves elicits a similar feeling for you as it did with Seinfeld in this episode “Good luck with all of that!”, then I invite you to look within to see what’s being triggered and why. We each have the capacity to be that which anyone else is. Anytime we’re judging or rejecting another for a particular “weakness” or vulnerability, it’s time to look within to see how we’re judging or rejecting that same or similar perceived “weakness” within ourselves.  Whatever we don’t own will eventually own us. This is the time to bring whatever we’ve shunned in ourselves out into the light to heal and reintegrate so we can live wholly (“holy”).

Vulnerability requires opening up, revealing and sharing, which come from love. Fear is the only reason we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. There’s the fear of not looking good, appearing weak, bad or otherwise imperfect; there’s the fear of rejection, or being hurt. We’re afraid we might get a bad “rep” or lose that client or friend. We fear the repercussions, including lost relationships, personally or professionally. These fears come from thinking that if we have deemed something unacceptable in ourselves, others will deem it unacceptable also.

There’s also the fear that we may be taken advantage of or controlled if we’re vulnerable. So, we place more importance on keeping up appearances and looking good, than being real and authentic. This fear comes from a competitive, win/lose, “power over” worldview. If you can realize that true strength and power come only from within, your worldview can shift to collaboration, win-win and power with vs. over, and your fear will start to dissipate.

The ability to be comfortable sharing what you perceive as bad can only take place when you’ve accepted that thing within yourself. Once you’re accepted all parts of yourself, you have nothing more to fear, because no one can hurt you. When you’re sharing what is going on for you from your heart, you have no need to blame or judge the other, and they have no need to feel defensive.

Vulnerability: Practices & Gifts

In Business: Vulnerability can show up as: “Hey, I screwed up on that shipping order. It was my fault.”  Or “Would you be willing to help me on this? I’m stuck.”

In our personal lives: Being vulnerable could mean telling someone “I love you” without knowing we’re going to hear it back. Asking for help moving. Saying “I was wrong and I’m sorry” to a loved one you haven’t spoken to in years. It means speaking what’s true for you even when you know what you will say will open yourself up to the potential for being hurt. It means being honest and real about your faults, idiosyncrasies and quirks. It means shedding the mask that we so often wear to “look good” for others. It may entail crying on the phone with a friend, admitting you’re scared to someone, admitting you have a problem or that you’re not perfect in some way. Wow! It’s self-disclosure from your core. It’s real and requires courage and the willingness to take a risk.

Vulnerability in my life: I feel honored when someone is sharing vulnerably with me. I feel witnessed and loved when another holds the safe space where I share vulnerably.  

~ My Sales Manager shared his struggle with social anxiety. "Ben" and I shared a good rapport and mutual respect,  so years ago, when he shared this, telling me "I tend to shy away from events with large numbers of people", I was astonished as I'd been with him at these events and never noticed his discomfort. This revelation touched my heart and I felt closer to him and liked him even more. It also helped me feel freer to share my own anxiety with other issues.

~ I shared my struggle with highway panic attacks with someone at an HR event. I was at a lunch presentation with 80 Human Resource professionals. The presenter asked us to partner up with someone we didn’t know and share things about ourselves including “Something you don’t want most people to know”. I partnered with a woman in her 60s, and shared “I've had panic attacks while driving on freeways where I feel closed in.” She then revealed “I've also been struggling with panic attacks while driving for years. In fact I have to drive to the Greenville airport tomorrow and am feeling anxious about it.” Serendipity! This reinforced the perfection of the universe in bringing us together, and the truth that when we share our vulnerabilities, it gives others permission and confidence to do the same.

~I shared a childhood wound with a new good friend. About a week ago, a contractor friend was at my house, helping me with remodeling. He suggested once again how some material I’d chosen “wasn’t good enough”. I felt deflated, hearing the words “Not good enough”. I realized it triggered an old childhood belief “I’m not good enough” which had led me into people pleasing and trying to be perfect. I knew I could stay shut down with him, or share what was happening with me. So I said “Hey I need to share something with you. This isn’t your fault, and when you said that what I chose for flooring wasn’t good enough what I heard inside me was “I’m not good enough” and I felt “ouch”. Intellectually I know this isn’t true but I also know that “not good enough” drove me to be a perfectionist for years and now I need to trust that what I choose is “good enough” even if it’s not perfect." He said he understood and hugged me, also explaining “As a contractor, I see what “could be” and I want you to be happy with what you choose.” This self-disclosure brought us closer.

6 Ways to Increase your Comfort with Being Vulnerable

1.    Choose to Act from Love vs. Fear. “Fear is the energy which contract, closes down, draw in, runs, hides, hoards, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals.” (Conversations with God: Book 1 by Neale Donald Walsch)

2.    Notice How You Feel When Others are Vulnerable.  What are you thinking and feeling when someone is sharing at a deep level? Are you intrigued, thinking “Wow, I never knew that. I can completely relate” or uncomfortable: “Oooohhh, this is getting a bit too intense (or hitting too close to home) for me!” Notice your body’s responses, such as stomach tightening, heart beating faster, etc. Identify what about the other person’s communication is uncomfortable for you and look at where you’re not allowing yourself to accept that same or similar thing within yourself.  

3.    Welcome & Reintegrate Your Disowned Parts. Remember we all have them. For example, I used to judge a former boyfriend for being “inauthentic” until I could find that inauthentic part of me I’d rejected. Once I could see it and understand why it was there to protect me, I could accept it, then have self-compassion and compassion for my boyfriend.

4.    Identify Fears that Hold You Back from Sharing. What qualities within yourself or issues are you most reluctant to share? What one thing would you fear most for others to know about you and why? Ask yourself what the worst thing could be if you shared something that made you feel vulnerable.

5.    Share with Someone Who Feels “Safe”.  Not someone who’ll respond with “Thanks! That’s more than I needed to know.” There’s a time and place for all kinds of sharing. Before sharing, ask if you can accept this thing in yourself. Is your communication partner open to hearing this share? Is it relevant to your relationship? Could it help the other and/or your relationship? Will you feel better for sharing it even if the other person doesn’t understand?

6.    Wade into Being Vulnerable. Think of something you’ve been longing to tell a friend or colleague, but haven’t due to fear. Test the waters with a share on a smaller scale and see what happens.  Notice how you feel after. Do you find it freeing? Empowering? Ask for feedback from the other. How do they feel about your communication?

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.
- M. Scott Peck



Barbara Brady