Learning How To Be Vulnerable & 5 Ways To Get There
In my Passion Struck podcast episode from last week, I explained why experiencing pain is the pathway to growth. In this article, I will build upon that episode by exploring how to be vulnerable and its relationship to overcoming the pain we experience.
But, Let me first ask you a few questions:
- Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you needed help or support but didn’t feel like you could reach out for help because you feared being judged, rejected, or embarrassed?
- Do you bottle up your emotions and keep them to yourself?
- Do you ever feel like you are disappointed with yourself? Why?
- When was the last time you felt things were out of control?
- Do you sometimes feel lonely?
These are all questions we can relate to.
We are all imperfect beings with flaws, shortcomings, and limitations. But often, we feel guarded and disguise our pain and emotions. We feel shame and fear, and instead of opening up and reaching for support, we put on a facade of confidence and suffer in silence and isolation.
Often we hide behind a mask to keep our struggles and challenges to ourselves as we go through our daily routine and put on a smiling face while we writhe on the inside. All this is happening because we often hold ourselves back from learning how to be vulnerable. After all, we are afraid we’ll be rejected if we open up to others. This fear of our big feelings can make us feel like the risk of sharing our vulnerability is not worth taking.
Vulnerability in the context of today’s episode refers to your ability to express the truth of your feelings and the need for help at any given moment in time. It is opening up your heart and letting others see you for who you are, despite whatever fears or doubts you might be feeling. Expressing vulnerability can be terrifying at times, but it is always a brave and rewarding thing to do when done with the right people.
I will enlighten you on the importance of vulnerability and the need to constantly practice it to enjoy all its benefits. I will begin with a short personal story a friend of mine shared about a time when he struggled terribly with vulnerability and how he learned to be vulnerable after a particular experience.
The struggle with learning how to be vulnerable
Growing up, Victor was always reserved and quite withdrawn. These traits were more pronounced in his teenage years. This didn’t mean he was shy or avoided interacting with people. In fact, Victor held several leadership positions in high school and had friends. But he only shared so much of himself and constantly put up some sort of shield against anyone seeing deep inside of him. He also did not like asking for help but handled things all alone. Victor was accepted to university with these traits, and a particular experience helped him begin his journey to overcome his vulnerability.
When Victor was 18, he received his first-ever ATM debit card. It was evening, and he stepped out of his room to withdraw cash from one of the available ATMs. Victor got in line, and when it was his turn, he pulled out his debit card and inserted it into the machine. It was his first time using one, and as you might expect, he was pretty nervous. He clicked a button to confirm that he wanted to make a withdrawal, clicked on the account type, selected the amount, and pressed OK.
However, after completing this process, the only response he got was “transaction failed.” He repeated the same steps again and got the same result. At this point, he felt he must have done something wrong, and the natural instinct to ask for help from someone in the queue kicked in, but he resisted. He thought, “I would rather not withdraw cash now than ask for help,” because he was afraid of the embarrassment and judgment he could face if people knew he needed help to use something so simple as an ATM. And so he left to try another ATM.
He went to another nearby one, repeated the same process as before, and yet, got the same response: “Transaction failed .” Still unwilling to ask for help, he decided he would just visit the bank the following day to get help from one of their staff. However, he needed the cash to get something to eat, but the available restaurants did not accept electronic payment at the time. The only option he had now was to borrow money from one of his few friends or roommates. But he quickly discarded that thought, preferring to go hungry and wait till the following day to get help at the bank.
The next day came, and Victor went to the bank early in the morning. He told the attending staff what happened with the ATM, and they informed him that he had mistakenly clicked the wrong bank account type and selected checking instead of savings.
He thanked the staff, went to an ATM, and finally made his withdrawal, thinking about how he could have saved himself all that trouble if he had simply been vulnerable enough to ask for help. He also thought about how he could have asked for help with money from a friend or roommate and avoided going hungry.
Like my friend here, we can all relate to times when we were held back from reaching for help, like Victor. This holding back affects us adversely, and in some cases, this lack of being vulnerable could even be fatal.
A story in The Atlantic Magazine, written by a waiter in a midtown Manhattan restaurant, tells how men would sometimes choke to death because they hid in the bathroom and refused to ask for help, fearing embarrassment — a direct result of not learning how to be vulnerable.
Given the many benefits of vulnerability, why do people avoid it? Before I explore the answer to this question, let me first clarify what vulnerability really is.
What vulnerability is and what it is not
You must clearly understand what vulnerability entails and what it doesn’t to practice it effectively. The first point I will make is that vulnerability doesn’t mean oversharing — which implies saying everything about yourself to anyone and everyone. Oversharing might only indicate a lack of boundaries on your part. At the end of the day, you’re still an individual with a need for privacy. In being vulnerable, you have to be intentional with what you’re sharing about yourself and with whom you’re sharing it with.
The second point is that vulnerability is not a strategy or tactic you can use on others, so they pity you and be manipulated into doing what you want. It has to be a genuine openness and invitation of others into your life to see you for who you are and offer their love, help, and support in their capacities.
Learning how to be vulnerable takes a lot of bravery, and you have to be willing to trust and open up without any guarantee of receiving anything in return. It cannot be done casually.
Why do people avoid learning how to be vulnerable?
Certain factors make it very difficult for a person to practice vulnerability and seek help or support when needed. The following points highlight some of these factors:
- Fear of being ignored, rejected, or embarrassed by those you seek help or connection from.
- Previous betrayal by someone else.
- Past trauma which you haven’t healed from.
- A wrong belief that you can handle life all alone.
Now that we know the factors that make practicing vulnerability difficult, we are a step closer to learning how to tackle them to enjoy all the benefits this vital trait offers. This need for vulnerability and the benefits that accrue to those who practice it is what I will now dive into.
What are the benefits of learning how to be vulnerable?
Vulnerability is a very necessary aspect of our co-existence as humans. We are all hardwired to connect with one another, as positive relationships are crucial to human wellbeing. Vulnerability is the driving force of this much-needed connection. It’s simply impossible to connect and form beneficial bonds with others without it.
In a nutshell, vulnerable people have the following qualities:
- They are self-aware and have a great sense of self-worth
- They trust and respect others accordingly
- They are very empathetic
- They make great partners and enjoy thriving relationships
- They communicate really well
- They take responsibility for their errors and mistakes
- They are great team players
- They constantly seek to grow emotionally and spiritually
- They bring out the best in others.
5 ways to learn how to be vulnerable
Now that you understand just how powerful vulnerability is let us delve into five ways by which you can express it. The following are five ways through which learning how to be vulnerable can be developed, practiced, and expressed:
Learning how to be vulnerable begins with accepting yourself. This entails accepting your reality for what it currently is rather than constantly wishing things were different about you. This doesn’t mean you don’t hope for or work on yourself to become better, but it means you are not ashamed of yourself or your current situation.
In episode 133 on Accepting yourself, I shared the story of Sam Berns, who suffered from the rare genetic disorder progeria, which causes raping aging. Yet, he could live a fulfilling life because he first accepted himself as he was vulnerable enough to share his life with others.
Love, understand, appreciate and spend enough time with yourself and your thoughts. Know that you are enough, and you will be able to gain the confidence to let others see the imperfectly perfect you and accurately share yourself with them so that they can be of value to you in your growth.
Admit your need for help and support
I am sure you have heard the idiom ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’ This proverbial saying is used to express the idea that when you face difficulties, it is valuable to talk to someone about them. No person is an island, and no one can do everything alone. We all need help every now and then. You must learn to be comfortable enough to turn to your loved ones and other people who could be of assistance when you’re at your lows rather than isolating yourself.
As I shared earlier about my friend’s story of not seeking help when he needed it, you also could be in those shoes. But as Victor realized how he needed to be vulnerable, you can also learn how to share your challenges with someone. You can never tell how willing and ready they will be to help and support you.
Be honest about your feelings.
Our feelings are simply what they are and allow us to experience an infinite array of emotions. You have to be sincere with how you feel and share those feelings, even when they are challenging, like anger, frustration, disappointment, and so on. Only by being honest will you be able to heal from them rather than numbing them, as I addressed in episode 142 on the need to find emotional healing.
You are not separate from your feelings, so you can’t pretend they don’t exist or try to express them in ways that aren’t true. This will only result in self-sabotage, and people won’t be able to see you for who you really are. So make sure you say exactly how you feel so that the people you’re expressing your vulnerability to will know how to effectively be of help.
In episode 118, on the importance of empathy, I explained that being empathetic is a cornerstone for successful relationships. When you practice empathy, you can connect with people deeply and get them to be open with you. Resulting in you inevitably feeling more comfortable with being vulnerable with them.
By maximizing the power of empathy to understand and be patient with others, you will be getting the same in return. And if you don’t get the response you’re particularly hoping for, empathy will help keep your heart open and patient toward yet more people.
Express yourself despite fear
The truth is that being vulnerable won’t always be easy, and expressing yourself to others can often be scary due to the fear of the unknown response. However, you must make up your mind to be courageous enough to express your true self no matter how frightful it might seem. Allow yourself to feel your fear, then face it and conquer it, as I shared in episode 130 on how to stop living in fear and letting it control you.
You can’t always wait for a time when everything is perfect, for such a time may never come. You have to take action right where you are. You may find yourself pushing back often but be patient with yourself and never succumb to fear.
We are all imperfect humans in an imperfect world.
Bestselling author and professor Brené Brown, a leading figure and expert on the subject of how to be vulnerable, summed up what vulnerability is with the following words: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
In her 2010 TED Talk on the power of vulnerability, she mentioned that one of her significant findings from her six-year-long research was that those who had a strong sense of worthiness, love, and belonging were those who fully embraced vulnerability and believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
We are all imperfect humans in an imperfect world, and that’s perfectly okay. We are all learning every day, and there is no need to keep our struggles all to ourselves. Because we all go through them. We were made to connect with one another, which is what we must do.
When we seal off our hearts and minds from vulnerability, we may be shielded from hurt, but by extension, we are also protected from love and intimate connection, for they all come into our lives through the same door. Closing the door to one is sealing it to all.
So, in essence, vulnerability may allow for the possibility of feeling pain. Still, it ultimately also makes it possible to enjoy love, acceptance, joy, and all the good things that come from our connection with others. You definitely don’t want to miss out on all that, so make up your mind to practice vulnerability intentionally, and you can be sure to be better for it.
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles.
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