Vulnerability: The Price of Admission To a Happy Life
Everyone struggles with vulnerability. As a couples counselor and relationship coach, I know this especially well, and I get it — being vulnerable is a scary thing to do. Part of bettering our emotional intelligence, however, is learning to be vulnerable. There are so many emotional benefits in learning to open up and accepting the scariness and the unknown of vulnerability.
How to Be Vulnerable
Potential vulnerable moments are around us all the time. You may have experienced some of these common examples yourself:
- Inviting a new acquaintance to do something with you.
In doing this, you’re opening yourself up to rejection. There is a chance they do not want to get closer to you, but that is a risk worth taking. Why? Because there is also a chance (a greater one, most likely) that they do. That vulnerability of letting a new friendship bloom is beautiful.
- Allowing anyone to experience something that you have created.
By showing others your work, no matter what shape or form it comes in, you are opening yourself up to their judgement. They may hate it, but they might also love it. Sharing something you have worked hard on can feel like letting someone peek into your soul, and isn’t that amazing? Scary, yes, but also amazing.
- Coming to your partner with a genuine need for comfort, for acceptance, or for cooperation.
You are risking their refusal of: “no, I don’t love you enough to be inconvenienced by your needs.” While this is not likely, especially if you are in a healthy, stable relationship, it can still be nerve wracking to tell someone how much you need their support. Asking for help can feel like a bigger request than it is, and a person who loves you will not make you feel bad about your needs. These difficult conversations are the ones that move relationships forward.
- Following your dreams and doing your very best every day to make them happen.
It is hard to dream big and easy to fall into a stasis (a position of not moving forward or backward, just going through the motions.) By actively following your dreams, you are taking on more than just your fears. You are risking not just failure, but the loss of the dream itself. This whole ‘not giving up’ thing is daunting, yes, but the benefits outweigh the fears you have and the vulnerability you feel is a part of that process.
- Loving another person intensely.
This one goes back to that feeling of ‘needing’ another person. It can be intimidating to admit that you love another person deeply, or even at all. If you focus on the risk of losing your “irreplaceable other,” you may feel like you cannot be vulnerable. However, sharing in mutual love is one of life’s most beautiful gifts and it is one that you deserve to allow yourself. Emotional intimacy is key to longevity in romantic relationships.
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The Power of Vulnerability
These moments are scary. It is really so much easier to hide: to be unseen and unknown is safer and to not try your best brings comfort in the idea that you could have done better if you’d truly applied yourself. To sail through the world in a sea of acquaintances who don’t really know you protects you from rejection. To keep your creative work safely hidden in your mind shelters it from the judgment of the world. To blame your partner for your feelings rescues you from having to show your irreplaceable other how important they are to you, and humbly ask for their help.
Every time I put myself out there in a big way, I have to cope with a “vulnerability hangover” as Brené Brown calls it. It’s the most unpleasant feeling— sort of a mix of embarrassment, shame, and anticipation of rejection. Yuck.
It shows up for me when I try new things that I’m not good at, or when I open myself up to other people who I don’t feel entirely safe with yet. This is especially true with my writing.
Any good art requires the creator to expose the contents of their mind or heart to others. Our art is therefore an extension of ourselves. Whether we smear our emotional innards on canvas, or heave them out onto digitized paper, or stitch them together to be worn on our bodies, we’re saying: “Look. See who I am.” And then we stand on the stage, simmering in the broth of apprehension and wait for the audience to pass their judgment: lame, boring, weird, irrelevant…. or not worth our attention at all.
Sometimes it makes me feel like not even trying or getting “virtuously busy” so that I don’t really have any time to extend myself anyway. I know you can relate.
It’s an emotional echo to being fourteen years old. Do you remember? I do – I remember so vividly the effort I would put into my appearance: meticulously shredded jeans, angsty black tee-shirt, dark lipstick. The uniform of my tribe, down to the shoelaces and pins. I was frozen in the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, so I generally just glared at the world through lashes stiff with mascara. My crunchy hair turned with my head like a helmet. My facade was bulletproof and no-one had any idea of who I was (least of all, me).
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I became real through the years after I started taking risks and opening myself up to love. Like everyone, I still struggle with fears of rejection and failure. But if I wasn’t okay with saying stupid things that alienate people sometimes, I would never get the chance to say something wise that might be be meaningful or helpful to someone else. It’s a mixed bag, but here it is. I’ll leave you to sort through and pick out the good parts. In this way, you can own your awesome.
What Does It Mean To Be Vulnerable?
It takes an enormous amount of strength to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is like a release of control that changes the way your world is. To be fully engaged with the world, and with other people, means that you will have to cope with pain, with rejection, with failure, and with loss. But what are your choices?
To not engage at all means depriving yourself of:
- True love, deep connection, and the chance to be truly known and cherished by others.
- Being genuinely successful and taking the chance to manifest your dreams instead of settling.
- Creating authentic happiness in your life through living in line with your values and highest purpose.
Being vulnerable to the world, to others, and to love is the price of admission to this carnival that we call life. You pay your way by accepting and coping with fear. The prizes are feeling the excitement and joy of doing interesting things, feeling the love that’s so intense it’s scary, experiencing the satisfaction of success, and having the fullness of a life rich with strong connections.
But you don’t have to. You can stand with your fingers curled in the chain link fence, watching others take the ride of their life, and keep your heart deep inside. Where it’s safe.
If you’ve learned anything from this piece so far, it’s that vulnerability can be scary, right?
When are the moments that you feel most vulnerable? How do you cope with the fear of failure or rejection? I’ll look for your answers in the comments.
Until next time,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.