Sometimes you have to drop your guard so your heart can breathe. -Emma Xu
What if you could control the power of vulnerability to ask for what you need or express your emotions without fear of rejection? Showing vulnerabilities can arise in situations like having to tell someone your feelings are hurt or announcing a big personal win. Vulnerability is scary. After all, it holds so much power for us.
To exhibit vulnerability, you must step into uncertainty and examine how it shows up in your everyday life and relationships. Assessing your vulnerability means you’re intentionally examining how it appears in your body or how it impacts your actions. While your gut instinct may be to avoid it at all costs because it is flipping terrifying to put yourself out there, it’s possible to build a quality, life-changing relationship with vulnerability. In the end, it could transform fear into belonging and ultimately living your most authentic life.
What is vulnerability?
Citing the work of author and researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, as I have countless times already in this blog, Brown has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. All sound like scary words, right? I would have agreed with you had I not fallen madly in love with her words of wisdom and have carried them with me throughout my everyday practices. Shoot… I am preaching them to you.
In her book, Daring Greatly, she defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Through her research she discovered two powerful yet opposing takeaways that she shares both in her book and in her TED talk on shame and vulnerability. If you haven’t watched it, I highly suggest doing so.
Vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness.
Showing someone out true self is daunting. We constantly think and worry about how others perceive us, their opinions of us, and how they will treat us.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, and belonging.
To find joy, creativity, and belonging, Brené Brown argues that we must face what it means to be vulnerable: shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness. To get past those, we will find authenticity, love, joy, and all sorts of positive emotions.
4 types of vulnerability
We live in a world where everyone knows everyone, and everyone is in everyone’s business. The wide world of social media has exacerbated vulnerability. We can post pictures of our beautiful children on Facebook but are locking ourselves in bathrooms crying in real life. It would be so vulnerable of us to say we are losing our damn minds and our lives aren’t as perfect as Suzy Homemaker’s. We are afraid that people may perceive us a mom who is just fucking up. We overly photoshop our selfies because we may be judges by that blemish or how are nose is slightly crooked or we have a belly pooch.
Examine the definition of vulnerability. Think about times you wished or wish showing vulnerability would benefit you. Take a minute to identify what actions you could take to strengthen your mindset of human vulnerability.
Vulnerability in your relationships.
As human beings, we all have wants and needs when it comes to relationships. But you may be fearful to express those emotions openly and risk certain social factors like rejection, abandonment, or judgment. But what if he doesn’t love me?
What I have learned in my relationship is that I must show him the way. If I am open and honest with my feelings, needs, or wants, he too will be trained to do the same. The line of communication widens for us, and our relationship is stronger. Because I took the risk to expose myself, he was able to build the muscle to do the same. I feel very free without the burden of ‘holding things in”.
Fun Fact! I started with writing emails to him. Obviously, I am a fabulous writer. More importantly, I didn’t feel as exposed. I could throw it all out there, proofread it, edit it, delete shit, and send. I gave him the option to respond for a while to lessen my expectations. No emails have been sent for a while and full conversations have taken their place.
Vulnerability in your mind and body.
Sometimes, recognizing where genuine vulnerability shows up in your mind and body requires your full, undivided attention on yourself, both mentally and physically. When’s the last time you checked in with yourself? Have you thought of seeing a therapist but fear they may make you look way to hard at yourself? I get it. It is hard to be taken up in front of a mirror and being told to look. When you can start to look past your flaws, your beauty is hard to miss.
Start asking yourself questions when you notice you’re feeling vulnerable. When was the last time you ate? How did that interaction with a friend, colleague, or parents impact you? How are you feeling about your work? How are you feeling emotionally right now?
As you become more aware of your thoughts and your physical self, you can gain a sense of well-being. Practice self-care. Amazing things happen.
Vulnerability in the workplace.
How you do what you do often leaves you feeling vulnerable and less than. Whether you’re comparing yourself to another coworker, doubting your efforts on a task, or struggling with “imposter syndrome”, examples of vulnerability in work are everywhere- even as a leader who may come off as confident as they come.
Consider reflecting at the end of your workday- what worked and what didn’t work. Remind yourself that self-doubt is okay — it might ground you. Remind yourself there’s more to learn. You are constantly evolving. Remind yourself that you have the power to accept who you are. Others’ opinions of you are none of your business.
You might even want to practice affirmation statements or mantras, like "I am strong. I am smart. I am learning. I am capable. I am downright kick ass." You can try using new words or more positive verbiage in your statements you make to yourself. Before long, these affirmations will become part of your new operating system and become a built habit. We must build the muscle.
Vulnerability in your community and circles
You may feel overwhelmed by the number of decisions you need to make to stay safe in your own community or circles and it just may cripple you with social anxiety. You are afraid to socialize or assist in making your community better in fear of judgement. Perhaps, you over talk and over please due to intense nervousness.
You have the power to vocalize boundaries. Make decisions that are best for you and your family. You get to choose the situations you want to be in and those you do not want. You have the power to remove fear from your life by voicing and executing intention based on your needs. Try to accept that the uncertainty around the unknown might be okay, even empowering. By vocalizing boundaries, you may even gain more visibility into your own priorities.
5 benefits of vulnerability
While exposing where you feel insecure can seem a bit like walking onto a stage completely buss-ass-naked, vulnerability lends more benefits than failures. If you’re deciding to move from the fear of vulnerability to unleashing its power to be your true self, you will reap the benefits. I can assure you. Showing vulnerability has been a life changer for me in so many aspects of my life- in my leadership, relationship, as a mother, and as a daughter and friend.
Vulnerability strengthens relationships
Have you noticed why some of your relationships are stronger than others? Many of the strongest relationships come from embracing genuine vulnerability, whether it’s showing empathy, sharing information with someone you trust, or simply expressing needs and wants openly without judgment. Think about your best friend. She has seen you in all your glory- un-showered, puking in a toilet, crying hysterically over a breakup. You have asked for her advice and have not been afraid to let her hear yours. Imagine how much love we could feel if we allowed to show vulnerability to more people who are close to you.
I can almost hear you say- well, if I do that, I will get hurt more. Maybe. Maybe not. Are you going to risk losing out on an abundance of love?
Vulnerability can help us grow and learn
Buddhist author Pema Chodron, who wrote Living with Vulnerability, shares that vulnerability is part of the human experience. She notes that vulnerability is “the category of things that, if we move toward them, have so much to teach us. Having a relationship with vulnerability, with things falling apart, is a life changer.” Instead of being a problem, vulnerability can be a solution.
I have learned so much about myself by showing vulnerability. I have learned I needed to set boundaries, that I needed to strengthen my leadership skills, that I needed to love and be loved more. I learned more of what I liked and disliked. I am living my authentic life now because I do not stay in the world of shame, fear, or unworthiness long. I still feel those, but I am a hella-more mindful when I am.
Vulnerability expands gratitude
The word ‘gratitude’ resonates through Dr. Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability. She finds as we fully embrace the meaning of vulnerability, we are filled with a growing sense of gratitude and joy.
I am so incredibly grateful for the risks I have taken, the shit I have been through, the mistakes I have made, and the boundaries I have set. I show gratitude to The Universe and all who have come into my life-for the good and the bad. I have zero regrets. For all that I have been through and all that I have learned has made me who I am today. I am grateful for my newfound love for vulnerability.
Vulnerability improves self-awareness
When you work to let go of your assumptions and biases, you begin the process of accepting uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. That moment when you admit you don’t know everything opens a path for you to continue to explore, grow, and learn. You are evolving.
One of my practices with my staff is that I always remain transparent. I tell them when we are going to try something new, if it doesn’t work out, or shit, when I am just plain winging it. Why? Because I am very self-aware of my needs and wants. I want my team to succeed. I want them to respect me. I want them to learn from me and grow quicker and stronger than I did. I want to take away all expectations and have joy in the workplace.
In my relationship, I try to think of my part in the tiffs. I apologize every time whether I think I was in the wrong or not. Again, my self-awareness of my needs and wants leads me to knowing that I need to be apologized too. We build the muscle for others while building the muscle ourselves.
Vulnerability affirms you are enough
Brené Brown is clear: “to connect, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.” When we choose to be vulnerable, we recognize that we are enough. It’s what we bring to the table, how we demonstrate kindness, and how we interact with people in our lives. We begin to understand that what we offer is exactly what is needed at this moment. Relish on those who are around you- your support system.
I have struggled with feeling “not enough” for a very long time. Still to this day, I catch myself is this feeling. Because I can practice vulnerability and go to my partner or friend and express how and why I may be feeling this way, I know that, right there, is why I am enough.
Also, you have no idea who you may touch when showing your own vulnerability.
Are you unable to make yourself vulnerable?
Even when you decide you want to embrace more uncertainty, risk, or exposure in your life, there are certainly many triggers that may halt this process. It comes from our past and backstory that has made us learn traits and feelings that are not of our own. Since birth, we have formed thoughts and behaviors that are not congruent with our truths.
You may find yourself avoiding vulnerability when:
You want to be perfect
Perfectionism can be your own worst enemy. The last thing you want is to say or do something that might be misconstrued, so you say nothing. If you cannot do something perfect, you will not do it at all. If you do not look perfect, you will not love yourself and you sure as hell are not attending that party. We have extremely hard expectations of ourselves, and we can be so cruel to our own selves. Would you let a friend talk to you the way you sometimes talk to yourself?
You don’t ask for what you need
You remain silent. Your needs will never be met so you do not ask. Other people are not mind readers and cannot predict what you need at any given moment. We have to ask. We may here “no” a hundred times over in our lives, but I am assuming you have heard “yes” that many times too. No? It is always a 50/50 chance you may receive the opposing answer you wanted. But if you do not ask, it is 100% you will not receive what you so need and desire.
You keep people at arm’s length
You’ve been hurt before, so you are not going to dive in and get hurt again. You stay busy at work, or home, or school — anything to keep you safe. You build walls around your heart. You do not let people in. Are we gaining a sense of belonging and love by doing this? Could letting people in more construct better relationships?
You don’t share — frustrations or success
You believe if you express frustration, you’ll be labeled bitchy. If you share a success, you’re cocky. So, no matter what happens, you keep it to yourself. One of the saddest things I believe is when one does not feel worthy of being celebrated. And it is extremely unhealthy to keep stress and anger bottled up. You are a ticking time bomb. Share in all the glory that you are and all the marvelous things you accomplish. Cry, scream, and lose it to those who support you. Do not be afraid to show your best and worse self when practicing the art of vulnerability.
3 misconceptions about vulnerability
There might be several reasons why you may evade vulnerability. In Daring Greatly, author Brené Brown breaks down three misconceptions that play a role in the avoidance of vulnerability.
It’s a sign of weakness
Look at us so tough not showing our true selves. Or is it being a coward? It so easy to attach human vulnerability to shame or fear, you may forget about the benefits, like of belonging, courage, and joy. Vulnerability takes strength. We are bad ass, right? We are strong, independent women (and men), right? What would happen if you looked at the full picture and took the journey from fear to courage? I can guarantee exhibiting vulnerability will only strength you, your relationships, your leadership, and more.
I don’t share my dirty laundry
You believe that to be vulnerable you must share everything and anything with everyone. On the contrary, it’s critical to know and feel safe when you do choose to open up. The purpose of your vulnerability is to deepen relationships by sharing emotions in thoughtful and intentional ways- to let your freak flag fly when you feel s right. Know that showing vulnerability is setting boundaries, with yourself and others.
I’m a lone wolf
When you think you’re the only one who can solve your problems, you often end up isolated and alone which I can assume exacerbates the feeling of not belonging the that of not being enough. Asking for help actually changes how the people in your life will respond to you — most often, the people in your life will support and empower you. It is also how we learn and grow. If you do not know how long to cook a meatloaf, do you not ask Google? You have a sore throat. Do you not go to the doctor and ask them to help you with medicines?
Ways to be more vulnerable
So how might you accept vulnerability as part of your life while knowing it takes embracing the scary parts to unleash your whole self? How can you travel the path of authenticity to live the best life possible?
First, acknowledge your emotions- the good, the bad, and the ugly. When an emotion barrels through, see it without judgment. Are you sad or angry or ecstatic? Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Then decide how you’re going to express, share, or address the emotion. You are allowed to feel all the feels. I give your permission to. Give yourself it. As you agree to take the risk to be vulnerable, you begin to experience what’s on the other side: courage and joy, connection, and authenticity.
Live with integrity. Know your values and boundaries. Find your true desires and what you need. When you live out the values that mean the most to you — like courage, forgiveness, growth, or kindness — your whole self aligns with all the wonders The Universe has for you. As you lean into your values, you’ll be able to embrace vulnerability and expand your sense of belonging. Setting boundaries solidifies them. Living for your wants and desires while having your needs met is a life we all long for. Can you picture it?
Practice. Like almost everything in life, it starts with practice. Learn how to walk the walk of vulnerability. Step into the space of uncertainty, risk, and exposure. With a dream and a strategy, anything is possible. Look for additional resources. Continue to read this blog. You have no idea how it may affect your life. It is an uncertainty. Leap in and make the pitch to your manager, or ask a potential friend to go out, or tell your significant other you want to spend more time with them because you feel disconnected. Try something new. Share your emotions openly and see what opens. With practice, your confidence and security grow. Others will see it. I bet you they try and copy you.
Take the plunge. Vulnerability is a life changer. Harnessing the power of vulnerability allows you to say what you want, ask for what you need, express your emotions, and celebrate your achievements. You are able to communicate better and build connections. Burdens are lifted off your shoulders. Every time you show it, you give yourself permission to do it again. You expand that sense of confidence, security, belonging, joy, and growth. You are bad ass and gleaming as your authentic self. With each practice of vulnerability, you’re living for your true self. Soon, you'll see vulnerability as a strength. You will lead others to do the same.
Only you have the power to change your life. Take the risk.