Thanks to endless Instagram memes, counseling apps, and the work of the fantastic Dr. Brene Brown, who has spent close to 20 years studying it, vulnerability has become one of the trendiest mental health buzzwords. And just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve the requisite amount of mindspace. But what does it mean?
Brown says it means “to show up and be seen, to ask for what you need, to talk about how you’re feeling, and to have the tough conversations.” It’s a tough concept to wrap your head around. Because we’re taught to express our feelings is weakness. The thinking is that sharing your flaws and needs is to open your soft underbelly for attack, so we learn to harden and become cold.
The truth is we’re built for connection. Vulnerability deepens our relationships. It’s counterintuitive, but vulnerability opens us up to safety, security, and acceptance in the arms of the people we care about. Of course, it’s all fine and good to know that vulnerability fosters connection, but how do you be vulnerable?
Communicate Your Fears
New relationships are scary! It’s a natural instinct to want to pretend to be cool and level-headed even if you’re worried your bottled up feelings my scare off your date. We all have past wounds that get triggered by current situations. It’s up to us to communicate them. And while it may not be the best strategy to unload on date one, prepare for opening up as an eventuality. Also, chances are they share some of your same fears.
Start by admitting to yourself your fear. It might be a fear of abandonment or a flaw your last partner pointed out to you. Maybe you’re just scared you like them more than they like you. Wait for the rapport to develop in your relationship, then ask them to hear you out. Someone worth being with will listen. Odds are, they’ll open up, too.
Own Your Past
Start by owning your past. Childhood trauma, past bad relationships, addictions, money problems, missing traditional markers of success (savings, a house, a well-paying career): these are some of the common areas for which many people bear shame. We’re terrified others will reject or judge us harshly if they knew the truth, but in order for a relationship to reach real depth we have to give up the fear and be honest about our past, good and bad. True vulnerability begins with self-acceptance, which by itself is not an easy admittance. The longer you ignore your past and let your shame define you, the longer you’ll be stuck in your relationships. When you accept your past, you allow yourself the possibility of true acceptance, and that’s true power.
Open Up When You Feel Like Shutting Down
If your go-to form of emotional expression is shutting down and closing everyone out, you got some work to do. Communication can clear up so many misconceptions or any other obstacles that are standing in the way of maintaining a connection with your partner. Start opening up with how you feel and why. If your loved one did anything to confuse or hurt you, express that. If you’re being triggered by something and it’s causing you anxiety, say so to your partner. Silence kills a relationship. Clear communication is the key to building a strong stable bond with your partner.
Share Your Passions and Joy
Too often we think what lights us up, everything from casual hobbies to our wildest dreams, sound silly so we clam up. True connection is about two people celebrating each other for the things that make them, well, them. That includes the tough parts but also the passions. Your connection with your partner hinges upon them understanding what makes you tick. You need to let them in, so they can get the full picture. In a perfect world, they want to share in your journey.
Vulnerability is uncharted territory for a lot of us. Most of us haven’t really practiced it, but we have to start somewhere. It begins with a small opening, a little share. Then, it grows from there, into an open heart. With a little luck, love will follow.