Have you been criticised, hurt, and now you’re afraid to speak openly about yourself? Are you scared of being rejected or judged for expressing your thoughts? Do you find it difficult to open up in front of others?
You’re not alone – the Fear of Vulnerability Club is vast. But what if I told you that vulnerability is the key to deep connection, authenticity, and, most importantly, to growth?
Vulnerability is a state of emotional exposure that carries a certain degree of risk or uncertainty. It’s an intimate act that involves boundaries and earned trust. It allows you to accept and embrace different aspects of yourself. Engaging in vulnerability demands a willingness to accept the fear associated with exposure.
A Few Reasons Why We are Afraid of Being Vulnerable
Fear of rejection – personally or professionally. We worry that if others see our true self, we might be judged, criticised, or ultimately rejected. Individuals with low self-esteem may fear that exposing their true selves will confirm their negative self-perceptions. They might worry about being unworthy or unlovable.
Fear of suffering – Vulnerability involves sharing one’s emotions, and the fear of being emotionally hurt or manipulated can make us hesitant to open up. We may think that not being vulnerable can protect us from uncomfortable feelings, but often this is not the case – because we don’t show up in relationships as ourselves, keeping some parts hidden.
Past Trauma or Betrayal – if we have experienced past traumas or betrayals, we may be hesitant to be vulnerable due to fear of reliving those negative experiences. Trust may be difficult to reestablish. Previous experiences in relationships where vulnerability was exploited or taken advantage of can lead to a general distrust of sharing personal feelings.
Social Conditioning – Society often values traits such as strength, independence, and self-sufficiency. People may fear that showing vulnerability contravenes societal expectations and may be perceived as a sign of weakness. It’s only okay to share the “full part of the glass” – in other words: revealing the positives in your life and not complaining about your struggles.
Cultural Factors – In some cultures, expressing vulnerability might be stigmatised or seen as a sign of weakness. Cultural norms and expectations can play a significant role in shaping individuals’ attitudes towards vulnerability.
7 Strategies for Embracing Vulnerability and Some Practical Exercises
- Take (small) risks that could lead to rejection – initiate a conversation with a colleague you haven’t spoken to yet, or someone at a social event, with the risk that they may not reciprocate the interest. Express your opinion on a topic even if it differs from the majority. Make eye contact when someone talks to you – that will signal that you are listening; that you care.
- Talk about the mistakes you’ve made – share stories of your past mistakes, fostering an environment where imperfections are not only accepted but celebrated as opportunities for growth. Ask for help – admitting that you don’t know something and asking for assistance can be a small risk. You might fear being perceived as less competent, but it opens the door for learning and connection.
- Allow yourself to feel difficult emotions like shame, pain, or fear. These emotions can be expressed in a healthy way through writing, any creative activity, or moving your body (fitness, running, walking, yoga, etc.).
- Reconnect with someone you’ve had a conflict with – every relationship involves some level of conflict. The key to healthy conflict isn’t armouring yourself for a battle; it’s setting your armour down and getting vulnerable. Be the first to apologise.
- Be honest about what you need in a relationship, including your boundaries and expectations. Clear communication fosters understanding and strengthens the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling connection.
- Manage your perfectionism – Perfectionism serves as a means to evade self-discovery, essentially acting as a barrier to connecting with our own emotions. Embracing imperfection opens the door to self-compassion and allows for genuine growth and understanding of our true selves.
- Express your appreciation – if someone shows you patience or kindness, let them know. The little thank you’s and acknowledgments mean more than you think. Celebrate the vulnerability in others. When you witness someone sharing their authentic self, respond with empathy and understanding.
Theory aside, let’s see how we stand in practice.
I invite you here to an open discussion – on Vulnerability. Choose any of the questions or suggestions below and write your answers in your journal (or practice your vulnerability by listing it in the comments).
I. What would you not want to be asked today under any circumstances by your friend or therapist? That’s definitely one for your journal.
- Do you feel comfortable talking about your feelings?
- If someone says, “I have bad news for you,” what do you think is going to happen?
- Name one thing you’ve given up because of challenging situations.
- What seems easy for everyone but you?
- Have you ever felt excluded? What was the occasion?
- Is there something you can’t get over? If yes, why?
II. Please finish the sentences:
- If I were ready to risk everything, I would…
- If I could live anywhere in the world, I would move to…
- The best gift I’ve ever received is…
- The best gift I’ve ever given to someone is…
- I am an expert at…
Note down your thoughts as they come to your mind. Don’t attempt to censor yourself or present yourself in a favourable light. Alternatively, simply notice without judging. Read what you’ve written the next day. Write down how you feel.
A constructive conversation begins with a genuine desire to listen and understand the other person. Vulnerability doesn’t mean something hurts, and authenticity isn’t synonymous with showcasing it on the internet, on stage, or in the middle of the street. Nor does it entail becoming loud at any cost.
You are vulnerable when you engage wholeheartedly in something – it could be a project, a job, a business, or a relationship. It’s when you expose yourself, knowing that if you lose, you might lose yourself. It’s when you express your deepest ideas and beliefs, aware that people might react negatively, criticise you, point fingers, or leave you. It’s when you choose to love without knowing if the other person loves you back or will ever love you. It’s when you have a dream and share it with others. It’s when you create something and present your work to the world, risking the possibility that the world might disregard it or even laugh. You are vulnerable when you take risks, not necessarily when you cry.