Learning how to be Vulnerable*
By Alanna Ketler
What does it mean to be truly vulnerable?
This question has been on my mind a lot lately. Being vulnerable means letting your guard down, and it means risk. By completely exposing yourself and expressing your thoughts and feelings, you risk being hurt, you risk being rejected, and you risk being seen. Understandably, many people find being vulnerable challenging and frightening, particularly men, at least in my experience. They often have a more difficult time showing or expressing emotion, having been told by society, their parents, or their friends that it’s not ‘manly’ to do so. It’s not uncommon for men to feel weak or effeminate when expressing emotion, so often they lock it all away and bear the burden of holding on to so much. But there is such power in being able to be absolutely vulnerable with someone, and deep connections are made in this way.
As C.S. Lewis once said,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and the author of the bestselling book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, has devoted nearly 15 years of her life studying the emotions of vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her research has made it into the mainstream and has been featured on PBS, NPR, CNN, The Katie Show, and even Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday. Her Tedx Houston talk, “The Power Of Vulnerability,” is one of the top ten most viewed Ted Talks in the world. When it comes to vulnerability, I think it’s safe to say she’s an expert.
I absolutely love the part where she says:
“They had connection . . . as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were.”
And this line was pretty brilliant, too:
“Being willing to be the one to say I love you first, and do something that doesn’t provide any guarantees, this is ways one could show vulnerability.”
As Dr. Brown mentions, people who feel shame are more likely to avoid vulnerability out of the fear of not being understood, or disliked, and therefore distance themselves from other people. It is a vicious cycle. It can be very challenging to be absolutely yourself and authentic with the ones you love, but it is so worth it in the end. Besides, don’t you want people to love you for who you are, flaws and all? If you are constantly hiding these aspects of yourself, you may never truly connect with another person.
Being vulnerable means showing your authentic self to the ones that you love despite the fear that they may not accept you for who you are. This is a remarkable way to connect deeply with those who are important to you. I’m sure you may have met someone — or you may be like this yourself — who never lets their guard down, and never reveals who they truly are. This can come in the form of what I like to call being a “chameleon for love.” These are people who always agree with what everyone says, and always seem to like the same things as everyone else, never sharing a different or controversial opinion. In order to be likeable, loved, and accepted, they do not show who they truly are or voice their own opinion, out of fear of being rejected. This is an example of someone who is afraid of being vulnerable and expressing themselves authentically. But how can you expect to truly connect with someone else if you can’t even be yourself around them? This is something to think about.
Being vulnerable also means having your defences down. Instead of being in defence mode and attacking what someone says about you, you can actually listen to what’s being said, accept it, and share your feelings in turn. If you can let your guard down, you may find it interesting to see how perceptive other people can be, and you may learn something about yourself that you were afraid to see or face.
By practicing vulnerability you allow yourself to feel:
- A deeper degree of honesty
- A greater degree of transparency
- Less defensiveness
- More courage
- More authentically yourself
- A higher level of understanding
- A deeper sense of connectedness
- Less lonely and isolated
- Deeper, more loving relationships
At the end of the talk, she offers some fantastic advice worth practicing every day, for it really can have a more positive effect in your life than you might imagine. Here are the 4 main points:
- Let yourself be seen.
- Love with all your heart with no guarantee
- Practice Gratitude in joy; in moments of terror and fear, be grateful
- Believe that you are enough
This takes practice and yes, it can be difficult, especially starting out, but give it a shot and see how your world transforms. I guarantee you will feel more confident in who you are and more connected to those you love.