The next in this series of one thing for wellbeing is about being vulnerable. I know that your immediate reaction to this might be to close this blog and say ‘no way’! Please don’t! – before you go, just see if there’s anything useful to read. You never know, some of it might resonate. To be clear, I’m talking here about being emotionally vulnerable, not putting yourself in harm’s way by taking inappropriate risks.
What does being vulnerable mean?
Often, being vulernable can be seen as a bad thing. It’s the place where bad things happen. It’s often seen as a sign of weakness. It’s the place where people take advantage of us and hurt us because our guard is down.
However, without vulnerability, how can we be open to love and belonging? How can we learn or consider other points of view?
Let’s unpack this a little
Why do we feel struggle to feel vulnerable?
According to Brene Brown, difficulty in being vulnerable is the result of shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness. So, you might believe that if you show your vulnerabilities, people will see you for real, not who you want them to see. It’s often because you’ve developed and are maintaining a persona.
It’s a bit chicken and egg as if you can be confident and authentic about who you are, being vulernable is not as scary. However, if you feel you don’t like who you are (or you feel others won’t), that’s when the walls go up.
If you’ve been criticised or left feeling ‘less than’ at any point, it can lead to feelings of shame, of not being good enough. It can lead to feelings that you’re fundamentally flawed and and your response can sometimes be to try and hide whatever it is that you’re ashamed of. Often, this won’t have been on purpose, but a throw away comment about your looks or a comment about your work that was never meant to hurt.
Shame, in itself, can be a motivator for sticking to rules and the norms of our world; it’s a kind of evolutionary thing. However, when this feeling is turned inwards and you become harsh on yourself, it can be self defeating and self limiting.
Why might being vulnerable be a good thing?
So, whilst there’s an element of survival going on here, what are the benefits of feeling vulnerable? Yes, there are some societies where being vulnerable might truly be dangerous. And, this isn’t about leaving yourself open to bullying, unwarranted criticism or unkindness.
But, largely, when you foster love and compassion in relationships, be open to change and develop trust and self awareness, these are all great ways of staying safe and authentic. Feeling vulnerable is also where creativity can happen too as you loosen the reins a little.
And, these are all the things that human beings crave – it’s the root of being human.
How might you know that you struggle to be vulnerable?
If you’re fighting against feeling vulernable, you might see the following;
- you might numb your emotions (the ones of anxiety, shame, fear etc). This might be in a number of ways (legal and not so much!) such as medication, alcohol, food, avoidance behaviour. Trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings is quite normal, until you realise that if you numb the unwanted emotions, you’re also numbing all emotions. You can’t pick and choose. So, doing this for any length of time removes access to emotions such as love, belonging and joy.
- you might try to control things. If things are under your control and you have certainty, then there is a reduced risk that you can be ‘caught out’ by something unpredictable.
- you might catastrophise everything – let’s face it, if we’ve imagined the worst, then reality can no longer harm us – can it???
- you try to perfect everything. Not just in life, but in yourself. If there is no chink in your armour, then you can’t feel vulnerable.
- you pretend all is well with the world and that uncomfortable feelings are for wimps. No discomfort allowed here!
Have you recognised any? Now, it’s true to say, that we’ll probably all indulge in some of these behaviours in our life, but when they become the norm, that’s the time to start looking more closely.
Committing to being vulnerable
So, now you know there might be some benefits to practicing appropriate vulnerability, how can you do it?
- Be open about your feelings, even the ones which you might consider to be negative. You’re human and have a huge range of emotions, including the tricky ones such as rage, jealousy, fear, anxiety etc. You don’t have to act them out, but name them to a trusted person – this can often reduce their power over you.
- Share a compliment with someone – telling them something about themselves that you’ve noticed. The power here lies in complimenting who they are, not what they’re wearing, or how much weight they’ve lost.
- Ask for feedback or help (see previous blogs!). Demonstrate that you don’t always get it right.
- Acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake and own it with an apology.
- Practice gratitude – every day. Many times. For the smallest of things.
- Not immediately defending yourself if someone is sharing that you’ve hurt them in some way.
- Share with someone else that they’ve hurt you in some way
- Trust someone even when you want to take control.
- Be compassionate with and compliment yourself.
- Try something new and step out of your comfort zone (we’ll do more on that in a later blog)
- Focus on your own needs and ask for reassurance, love and compassion from trusted others
In all of this, recognise that all humans feel this way sometimes. And, mostly, other people are focusing on themselves, not you. I love the saying ‘don’t compare the inside of you with the outside of others’. Everyone wants to show the world the best side of themselves, but when this is at the expense of not allowing yourself to experience the joys of vulnerabilty, it’s time for a rethink.