“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.” – Brené Brown
“Vulnerability” has become a bit of a buzzword in pop culture and as such, often gets distorted into something it’s not. Here’s what vulnerability really is and what it can and can’t do for you. Maybe you’re one of those people who cringe when they hear the word “vulnerability.” Maybe the very thought of being more vulnerable nauseates you, conjuring up images of holding hands around the campfire while you cry over how your best friend doesn’t love you as you love him, or whatever.
Well, I’m here to tell you that vulnerability is far simpler, more mundane, and yet way more powerful than all of the preconceived, wishy-washy notions you might have.
Humour me for a moment—read through this list and tell me if any of it applies to you:
- You consistently fall into boring conversation topics because they’re “safe” and shallow and you don’t have to risk offending or inciting anyone with them.
- You’re stuck in a job or lifestyle you don’t truly enjoy because other people always told you that it was a good idea and you didn’t want to upset or disappoint others.
- You haven’t exercised or groomed yourself to the extent that you could because you didn’t want to stand out too much.
- Dressing extremely well makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Smiling at strangers makes you feel creepy.
- The idea of asking someone out openly scares you because of the possible rejection.
All of these are symptoms of a root problem: an inability to make yourself vulnerable.
Many of us weren’t taught how to express our emotions freely. For whatever reason—maybe our home situation, maybe childhood trauma. Maybe our parents didn’t ever express their emotions either—we’ve grown up with habits embedded deeply into us to keep us stifled and bottled up.
Don’t be controversial. Try not to be unique. Don’t do anything “crazy” or “stupid” or “selfish.”
I was the same way. My entire young life I was terrified of anyone not liking me. The mere thought of someone hating me, girl or guy, would literally keep me up at night. As a result, every aspect of my life revolved around people-pleasing, hiding my faults, covering my tracks, blaming others. This all may sound hokey and new-agey. Trust me, it’s not.
Connecting with others in this way by being vulnerable—as opposed to overcompensating and trying to get everyone to like you—will result in some of the best interactions and relationships of your life.
Vulnerability is a cornerstone concept in pretty much all of my writing, from life and purpose to finding a career you enjoy, to connecting with the world around you—all of it.
It’s also probably one of the most misunderstood concepts I write about. So I’m here to try to fix that.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you sit around the campfire with me and sing songs about how great we all are deep down inside…although, it might be just as uncomfortable at times.
But I promise you this: it’s worth it in the end. Trust me.
What Vulnerability Really Is
A lot of people—especially those who’ve spent their entire lives covering up their emotions—have a hard time knowing exactly what vulnerability is.
It’s understandable. A lot of behaviours that might look like displays of vulnerability on the surface are actually incredibly manipulative and/or needy; i.e., the opposite of being vulnerable.
We’ll get to those soon, but first, I want to be clear about what genuine vulnerability is:
Vulnerability is consciously choosing NOT to hide your emotions or desires from others.
That’s it. You just freely express your thoughts, feelings, desires, and opinions regardless of what others might think of you.
This can be as simple as complimenting someone on how good they look. Approaching an attractive stranger you don’t know. Establishing clear and strong boundaries, or expressing your undying love to someone.
It can mean putting yourself in a position where you can be rejected. Saying a joke that might not be funny. Asserting an opinion that may offend others. Joining a table of people you don’t know, telling someone you’re attracted to them.
Practising vulnerability really is as simple as just doing these things. But while being more vulnerable is simple, it’s not always easy.
That’s because all of these things require you to stick your neck out emotionally in some way. It’s risky and there are often real consequences to being vulnerable.
But the key to true vulnerability is that you are willing to accept the consequences no matter what.
You will offend some people. And you will turn some people off. You might lose a friend or a client or a romantic partner.
But vulnerability is the path to true human connection. As Robert Glover said in No More Mr. Nice Guy, “Humans are attracted to each other’s rough edges.”
Show your rough edges. Stop trying to be perfect. Expose your true self and share yourself without inhibition. Take the rejections and lumps and move on because you’re the bigger, stronger person.
Examples of Genuine Vulnerability
I really want to hammer on what true vulnerability looks like, so I’ll give some more concrete examples here. Hopefully, this will help you see the subtleties—and the beauty—of being more vulnerable in your life.
Admitting you suck at something
Think about it: if someone is obviously bad at something—whether it’s their golf swing or high-stakes business negotiations—there’s probably nothing more cringe-worthy than when they openly brag about how good they are at it.
On the other hand, when someone openly admits they really suck at something. You’ll probably end up respecting them more for it (as long as they’re not too desperate about it, of course).
If you suck at dating, tell a friend about it and ask for feedback on what you can do about it.
If you’re not good at connecting with people at work and you think it’s affecting your job performance, tell some of your coworkers you’re having a hard time and see if they have any advice for you. I struggle with receiving compliments, I literally “twitch”. But I am learning how to accept this and the few people I have mentioned this to actually help me overcome this.
The point is that you’re not trying to be something that you’re not. You accept who you are, faults and all. People will see this as incredibly confident behaviour and respond in kind.
Taking responsibility instead of blaming others
We all know someone who always seems to blame someone else (or everyone else) for their problems:
- The man who blames his “lying ex” for all of his current relationship problems. He’d be a lot better off if he’d just acknowledge that things didn’t work out and that he was a bad partner at times and then work to address that.
- The coworker who constantly falls short of their performance goals and blames the culture in the office, or the economy, or basically anything but their incompetence. Just admit when you need help with something and find someone who can help you get better.
- The woman who blames all men—not just one man, but all men—for her terrible dating life. As a general rule, if you’re trying to figure out if it’s between half of the population all having the exact same problem or if it’s, perhaps, just you—well, I have some bad news: I did the math and it’s extremely likely that it’s you. So start there.
The reason for taking responsibility for your problems is so powerful because it puts you in control of the solution. When you blame others, you’re handing over control to everyone and everything around you and—SPOILER ALERT—you can’t control everyone and everything around you.
You may not be to blame for your current bad situation, but stepping up and saying that you’re going to take care of it is a power move. A power move.
It shows you’re not fazed by external pressures to look, act, or feel a certain way—that instead you accept reality for what it is and set out to work with what you have.
And it’s a shining example of vulnerability because you’re saying “I have a problem. I’m not perfect, but that’s okay. I can deal with it.”The point of emotional vomit is to make you aware of your issues, so you can fix them. Tweet Me
Power In Vulnerability
If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ve noticed that real, genuine vulnerability represents a form of power—a deep and subtle form of power.
Brene Brown talks about this in her book, Daring Greatly. A person who can make themselves vulnerable, exposing their weaknesses without any regard to what others will think, is saying to the world, “I don’t care what you think of me; this is who I am, and I refuse to be anyone else.”
It’s the backwards law in action: in order to become more resilient, more formidable, you must first bare your flaws and weaknesses for the world to see. In doing so, they lose their power over you, allowing you to live your life with more honesty and intention.
Opening oneself up to vulnerability, training oneself to become comfortable with your emotions, with your faults, and with expressing oneself without inhibitions doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. A gruelling one at times.
But I can assure you if you put in the work—if you have the difficult conversations; if you express yourself honestly even when it’s risky to do so; if you tell the world “this is who I am and I refuse to be anything else”—you’ll find new depth in your relationships. All of your relationships.
And you’ll come out the other side unashamed of your flaws and who you are.
In closing I will say, there’s a difference between emotional vomit and vulnerability. Emotional vomit is when you suddenly unload an inappropriate amount of emotions and personal history onto a conversation, usually to the utter horror of the person listening. That is repellant and unattractive. In effect, you’re being open and authentic about how needy and pathetic you are. And whether hidden or apparent, neediness is never attractive.
The mistake people make with emotional vomit is that they expect the simple act of vomiting it out to suddenly fix their issues. But the point of emotional vomit is to make you aware of your issues, so you can fix them.
Choose vulnerability to strengthen your relationships but do not emotionally vomit. People respond better when you own your flaws. As always hope you and yours are safe. Share with us your thoughts in the comments section or shoot us an email. Let’s Go!