I recently received the following question from a reader, "I know vulnerability is a good way to be, but I find it difficult. The moment I notice that feel I lost control of a situation, rather than keep feeling vulnerable, I move away from it. For example, when I am with people I date, rather than discussing my feelings, admitting my imperfections, or letting my faults show themselves, I am more often concerned with looking as perfect as I can be and engage in more superficial conversations."
Why does vulnerability feel so scary and awkward sometimes?
Most of us can relate to times when we expressed an emotion and it was not received well, so we develop suppression techniques. In this reader's case, she realized that her parents expected her to have her stuff together and be a good example because she is an eldest child. Emotion was looked down upon, and keeping it together was rewarded.
Although it may seem like we are protecting ourselves, suppressing our expression erects walls around our hearts and reinforces beliefs about it not being safe to share our genuine feelings with another. As a result, we form relationships that are based more on fear than love. Rather than being truly authentic with others, we become strategic. Vulnerability is discounted because it just feels too risky.
But we cannot truly experience the delicious emotions that a relationship offers if we are not authentic. I invite you to read the word "intimacy" as "into-me-see." We create intimacy with others when we allow ourselves to be seen. Vulnerability is our way to break patterns of avoiding being truly seen for fear of how we will be received. If you are protecting and guarding yourself, you are unavailable for intimacy. And if you are unavailable for intimacy, then you will most likely attract unavailable people!
If you crave true intimacy, here are some tips for how to be vulnerable:
1. Choose wisely.
Vulnerability is tender and deserves TLC. Begin practicing vulnerability with someone who will not judge you, advise you, or attempt to interrupt your process. This person can be a dear friend, family member, mentor, coach or counselor, who will receive the gift of your vulnerability with compassion.
2. Ask for what you want.
I encourage you to create the context for sharing an authentic conversation by asking if the other person is willing to just listen. You can also request that they do not offer any advice unless you specifically ask for it. The purpose of vulnerability is not about problem solving. It is about exposing and releasing.
3. State what is.
If you feel nervous or perhaps even ashamed, I suggest calling it out by stating, "I feel ashamed," or, "I am nervous to share this." Remember the key ingredients of vulnerability are authenticity and intimacy. Let yourself be seen!
4. Share from your heart, not your head.
Be aware of not recycling your emotions by just talking about them, judging them or analyzing them (read more about this here). Let yourself cry. Ride waves of anger or frustration by not restraining your voice or editing your words.
5. Shine light on shame.
Tell the secrets you have locked away because you've been too ashamed to speak them aloud.
6. Let yourself be messy.
Forget about grammar, making sense or looking pretty while you cry. Be free with your expression!
Please do not underestimate the healing power of vulnerability. Don't let fear stop you when it comes to being raw and real with others. To fully feel the love and connection we all yearn for, vulnerability is required. Think of someone you feel very close to. There have been times when you have shared a feeling with that person that felt risky to expose, yet when it was received with love, rather than judgment, your relationship got stronger. Vulnerability connects us. It is a great gift we give to another person when we let them see behind any masks or walls of emotional protection. Moreover, vulnerability is a priceless gift to give to ourselves.