Brené Brown has done incredible research and published literature on vulnerability and why it is so important. From her work and others’, we’ve learned that we need to be vulnerable to create authentic connection. We need to risk, take bold inspired action in order to succeed. But what is vulnerability exactly and how do I know when I’m being vulnerable…if I’m doing it right?
Vulnerability is an emotional experience that for many carries with it a visceral reaction. I worked with a client years ago who was asked to share something very personal in group therapy. I asked, what’s it like for you to stand in front of a group and share a story you never thought you would tell? The client responded, “I feel like I’m standing here with my pants down.” This is still the best description of vulnerability I’ve heard. The ultimate in vulnerability…bare, naked, exposed, and seen by others.
Vulnerability is more than just a feeling, it requires action as much as emotion. We have to somehow ‘show’ ourselves to others in order to be vulnerable. That action is the difference between those who embrace their perfectly imperfect authentic selves (and because of that have deep, meaningful relationships) and those who haven’t yet. “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” When we are willing to risk being seen, heard, known and sharing our dreams, while honoring the discomfort that comes along with it, we make space for our dreams to become reality.
Human beings are designed to connect with others and live in community. We crave being fully accepted and wither when isolated (think solitary confinement in prisons). The kicker is, the way to achieve this is by being vulnerable. So how do we learn to be vulnerable, how do we tolerate the feeling associated with doing so? The real bitch of the how is that “we learn by doing.” In order to be connected, we need to get vulnerable. Being vulnerable becomes more tolerable in a connected relationship…BALLS. How do we bridge the gap? We can start by taking small measured risks and develop comfort over time or we can go all in and bare our souls at once. We can increase the odds of these risks being a rewarding experience by choosing who we decide to let see us, who we choose to get vulnerable with. If you are not sure you have someone in your life that you are willing to risk with, psychotherapy is an invaluable tool. You will practice getting vulnerable in a safe, supportive, validating environment that provides confidentiality by law. You will also be offered feedback and freedom to explore all of the “dark places” that we are less likely to talk about in other relationships. In addition to therapy, there are workshops and groups, you can work with your friends or family, self-help books, or if you feel ready, you can just take the leap and risk getting one step closer to living an authentic, connected life.
Remember that if this practice of getting vulnerable doesn’t go well at first…it’s a practice. A skill that will improve over time and don’t forget that using self-compassion through the process is critical. So, where will you choose to stand with your pants down?
Reya Kost, PsyD
(p.s. don’t actually stand with your pants down, it’s illegal in most places)