I Don’t Know How To Be Vulnerable!

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” Brené Brown

 

Talking is dangerous.

It can feel terrifying, scary, nauseating to open yourself up to someone else. In therapy, my clients will tell me something in confidence which they “could never tell anyone else.” And when I press further I hear things like this:

“I don’t know how to be vulnerable.”

“Vulnerability is scary.”

“I don’t believe that it’s beneficial to be vulnerable.”

I have so much respect for these clients because they admit they need help with vulnerability and are willing to do the work to get there. In fact, they are being vulnerable with me – which totally counts as a brave, honest, open act of vulnerability. It is their first act of defiance.

As we proceed to unpack what leads people to this fear of opening up, certain patterns have emerged. If you have trouble speaking your truth, maybe you’ll find that this list resonates with you.

  1. ‘I have been hurt in the past.’

In general, I believe that people at some point in their lives were open, innocent, and shared their most intimate thoughts and feelings. But, the result of sharing was probably traumatic in some way. Sometimes we are open with people who are not capable of being present with us.  We either encounter or find ourselves around those who are not going to keep our secrets, give us the love we need, or support us. Instead of moving onto other, healthy relationships, we get deeply wounded by these encounters.

2. ‘I have been lied to or betrayed by those I trusted.’

Despite having parents, siblings, and friends, a lot of people don’t have the experience of a healthy, trusting bond with another adult. A lover may have been disloyal and broken your heart, or a parent may have made a big decision without hearing your opinion. Or maybe you shared a secret with a good friend and they didn’t respond with the compassion or empathy that you expected to receive. Whatever it was, it was probably enough ‘proof’ for you to decide that it’s not worth it to share or take a chance with your heart and that if your best friend, parent or lover can’t understand you then no one can!

3. ‘I am out of practice.’

Sometimes being vulnerable is a matter of going through the motions. We might have had a healthy bond at one time, but because of moving to a different town, or losing touch with old friends, we may not have those who regularly listen to our heartaches.

 

So, how do I do this vulnerability thing? 

You could practice with a therapist.

Going to therapy can give you a taste for what it feels like to go through the world with a healthy relationship. Finding a therapist you can trust helps you get familiar with what it’s supposed to feel like to be accountable, honest, and open in a relationship.

I’ve had clients in the past who were new in town and their first step was to get therapy in order to help them make friends, get a job and to find a community. In some way, these clients have known that it would take a lot of emotional effort, courage, and motivation to get settled in a new place. They were vulnerable and honest about the fact that they would need support. Together, we navigated this difficult task, and the client got my support while they went through the daily tasks of managing new colleagues, new friends, and finding their place.

 

“When we deny our stories, they define us.

When we run from struggle, we are never free.

So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.”

Brené Brown, Rising Strong

 

You could practice being compassionate towards yourself and others.

Other people are also going through a lot. If you haven’t been raised to be familiar with emotions, then you might assume that other people don’t have a particular emotion, or that they are being mean or cold (instead of scared and closed-off). While you can’t change other people, it might help to remember that everyone is going through something difficult. Instead of thinking ‘That person is mean’, actively remember that this person might just be in a difficult situation: “That person is hurt in some way, I can give them the benefit of the doubt.” The caveat here it to know your limits. If people are not worthy of your truth or your time, you may need to actively try to find healthy friends who can be compassionate towards you and others. Having a healthy support system with help you cope with the people who test your patience.

 

What are the benefits of vulnerability?

As you go through the practice of being more open, the specific benefits to your life will present themselves. Perhaps you will feel more confident – more capable of saying the things you previously thought were impossible to say. You may find a new capacity for intimacy – for sharing your true self. You may become more compassionate towards other people because you will find that the scary parts of yourself exist inside everyone – even those who put up a front of anger, bravado and bluster.

Ultimately, the benefit of vulnerability may be creativity. You might find that being yourself and accepting others may relax you, and open you up to other ideas. When you’re vulnerable, you’re free to create, write, play, act, to be productive in your work and in business. 

 

At the end of her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown wraps up the findings of her research with this lovely reminder:

“We are the authors of our lives.

We write our own daring endings.

We craft love from heartbreak,

Compassion from shame,

Grace from disappointment,

Courage from failure.”