We are often encouraged to be vulnerable with others. But how vulnerable are we with...ourselves?
When we are young, we trust other people freely. As we get older and become more attuned to the ways of the world, we share less openly and trust less freely.
Vulnerability Needs Safety
Learning that the world can be a painful place where not everyone has our best interests at heart is no easy shift. Often, we can trace fear of vulnerability back to a time when we were punished (either by people or consequences) for being soft and open.
In general, our societal culture does not reward vulnerability. This matters because vulnerability is essentially an emotional risk. It involves risking emotional exposure in order to do something that is necessary or important for us in the long term.
Embracing vulnerability is also an important factor in our social and emotional growth. Practicing vulnerability is a courageous act. To feel challenging emotions, to love, take big risks....this all requires vulnerability and allows us to live full and authentic lives.
What makes taking an emotional risk easier?
Well, it's easier to be vulnerable when we have a safety net
We were never meant to bare our hearts and souls to anyone we come across! A safe trusting relationship is a key foundation to vulnerability. Otherwise, we will repeatedly take that emotional leap, fall short, and learn that it is not safe to reveal our rawest selves to the world.
Crucially, this applies to our ability to be vulnerable with ourselves. Do you feel safe enough to face AND accept your own flaws, mistakes and shortcomings?
Are you your own safety net?
Securing Your Own Safety Net
If we believe our true self is unacceptable to others, we will protect ourselves with walls. These walls can take the form of self-defeating behaviours:
- Avoiding depth in conversations (keeping things at at surface level)
- Ignoring others' bids to get to know you better
- Disappearing at the first sign a relationship is getting close and intimate
- Keeping others at arms length and burying ourselves into school, work, and hobbies
If we are struggling to let others see our authentic selves, it may be a sign that we are unable to embrace ourselves first and foremost.
Being vulnerable with other people becomes infinitely more difficult when we can't be vulnerable with ourselves!
And when we feel safe enough to embrace our true selves, that safety net extends more easily to other people. We can be authentic and take emotional risks because the emotional safety of our own nets will catch us.
6 Ways To Be More Vulnerable With YOU
We are always encouraging people to be more vulnerable with each other. How often do we ask turn this question inwards and reflect: Can I be vulnerable with myself? Do I love and accept who I am, flaws, mistakes, shortcomings, and all?
We offer 6 ways to help foster INTERNAL vulnerability. You may notice after practicing internal vulnerability that being soft and open with others is a little bit easier. This is your safety net, expanding to include other people 💙
1. Write A Letter To Your Younger Self
What does your teenage self need to hear from you today? Or perhaps you need to go back further into the childhood years. Whichever version of yourself you are writing to, sometimes we need to forgive ourselves for the emotional leaps we took that did not land.
Those early experiences of rejection, and conditional love can damage our self-esteem. They leave a lasting impression on our nervous system, stirring up fight-or-flight feelings when we have an opportunity to be vulnerable in the future.
Prop up a picture of your younger self and write to them, releasing those fears and negative experiences. Reflect on what you did not know back then, and what you were not responsible for.
2. Ask For Help When You Need It
How do you ask for help? By first admitting to yourself that you NEED help.
We are so quick to deny the part of ourselves that wants to depend on other people. This can be traced to how we interpret what asking for help means and what we believe it says about who we are.
For example, do you find it demeaning to ask for help? Some of us may feel embarrassed or ashamed that we did not meet our own standards or others' expectations. In this case, asking for help may feel like a sign of failure or a damning verdict on our own competence.
It takes self-vulnerability to recognize that we are fallible, and sometimes we should depend on other people. Being compassionate with our flaws also helps us reveal this unguarded side of ourselves to those who are closest to us.
3. Allow Safe People To Know When You Are Upset
Like #2, this one asks us to first recognize and accept the fact that we are feeling upset. A telltale sign that we are struggling to be vulnerable with ourselves is when we dive deep into distraction or avoidance behaviours.
This looks different for everyone. Some common distractions that serve to numb our emotions are binge-watching TV shows excessively, online shopping, and casual/surface-level online dating. When taking in this information, remember that on their own, these behaviours do not automatically indicate that we are avoiding our emotions. Context is important!
Difficult or intense emotions can feel unsafe, which makes accepting them challenging. Self-vulnerability takes courage. Once we recognize and accept the feelings, extending that vulnerability to others becomes easier.
4. Allow Yourself To Cry
Why do our tears have to break a dam to come out? Even the phrase 'a flood of tears' implies that we hold our emotions in until they take on a will of their own!
Crying might just be the pinnacle of vulnerability- or at least the most obvious physical manifestation of it. And crying in front of others is not easy. Part of the reason for this is that often we do not know how to hold space for someone who is crying- and this is true even when that someone is US.
Allowing yourself to cry connects you to the raw emotions inside that are fighting for a chance to surface. When we cry and emerge from that experience feeling okay (perhaps even better), it builds our internal safety net. We become our own safe space!
5. Journal Your Raw And Authentic Thoughts
If you can't stand to think about it, try writing about it.
Write without judgement or censorship. There is no evaluation, and the only person you are facing is yourself. Writing about our feelings and experiences helps us process them. It also takes away some of their power. If you can stand to write about something, it feels less daunting.
Journaling can also help us validate our own emotions. It makes those thoughts and feelings seem more real- which can be a scary thing! This is where vulnerability comes in. It takes courage to admit we are thinking and feeling certain things- especially the stuff that we believe is unacceptable or taboo.
And taking a private, emotional leap to reveal ourselves on a page is much easier than doing this with other people.
6. Build Trust In Yourself
Unhealthy habits and breaking promises we make with ourselves (procrastination, hi, I'm looking at you!) can chip away at our ability to trust ourselves. When we don't trust ourselves, internal vulnerability is a struggle.
Build up your self-trust in small, but meaningful ways. Set minor, achievable goals. Avoid making promises to yourself that you know will be difficult, it not impossible to follow through on. Prioritize your needs and SHOW UP for yourself by honouring your boundaries.
As your self-trust grows, so will your ability to face and accept the more unguarded and vulnerable parts of yourself.
Do you trust yourself enough to be truly vulnerable? Not only with others- but with yourself. Internal vulnerability is often the first and most important step to increasing vulnerability with other people.
This work takes time and patience and it can be something your therapist can guide you through as well.
I want to hear from you: When was the last time you had a vulnerable moment with yourself? What was it like?
Until next time!