What’s our struggle with being vulnerable?

In being vulnerable we often feel what we don’t want to feel—embarrassed, defenceless or exposed, to name a few. With a drink too many and inhibitions decreased, we often speak more easily from the heart—sometimes to good outcomes and sometimes not so good. Vulnerability is risky because it often means acknowledging something about ourselves that makes us squirm. We see how messed up we are inside and are afraid that if we let the other really see us, they will think less of us—possibly losing respect or love. When we make ourselves vulnerable, we give the other the ability to hurt us and hope they won’t.

Why be vulnerable?

We know that vulnerability is the gateway to connection. Yet we connect in many powerful ways—through shared passions, challenges, adventures etc. What sets the vulnerability connection apart from the others? Recall the last conversation when someone opened up and let you in to that sacred space. Something happens between you when the other person entrusts you with their raw and sensitive admissions. To violate that trust, calls into question our own personhood. When people make themselves vulnerable, we trust them more because they are giving themselves as they are—we don’t have to second guess them. And if we don’t violate their trust, they have more reason to trust us as well.

In addition, as the other person shares his or her brokenness and frailty, something comforting and curative happens within us—and reaches us at a profound level. It touches on the core of our human condition—and at that moment we are the same, and not alone. That encounter also helps us acknowledge and face our own struggle.

What’s the cost of not being vulnerable?

Most of us can likely recall a time when being vulnerable was also costly. The other person did betray us, humiliate us or use what we said against us. We remember the pain of the others’ misunderstanding, misinterpretation or mockery. As we absorb the hurt, we are reminded why vulnerability was a bad idea in the first place.

Yet putting up a wall and defending ourselves not only disconnects us from the other, it also disconnects us from ourselves. When everything inside us tells us to defend ourselves, sometimes the best results occur when we make ourselves vulnerable instead. Vulnerability is a counter-intuitive path to connection.

Acting on vulnerability

  • See vulnerability as your gateway to vital connection with others. Use it to build relationship, deescalate negative emotion, and increase trust.
  • When you squirm because of what you are about to reveal, recognize that only the good in you enables you to see the “not so good.”
  • Reflect on the impact on the other person—of what you’ve just acknowledged about yourself—and hold yourself accountable to making a change, if that’s what’s needed.
  • When the other uses your vulnerability to hurt you, focus on who you want to be even in those circumstances. The other person’s response always informs how vulnerable you will make yourself with them in the future.