How Being Vulnerable Allows You To Thrive Again (It’s Not What You Think)
Are you sometimes ashamed of being vulnerable or unable to show your true feelings? And do you secretly believe that being emotionally vulnerable is a bad idea?
Those of us who experienced childhood trauma (sadly, that’s too many) avoiding emotional vulnerability probably has been one of our most important survival strategies.
We simply couldn’t bear to feel any more emotional pain, so we learned to dissociate from it, suppress it or numb ourselves in many different ways.
Perhaps we have been invalidated, emotionally tortured or our needs for love, attention, acceptance and praise were neglected.
Maybe our caretakers just weren’t able to see us for who we are… or too busy with themselves, life or other siblings. All of these scenarios can leave deep wounds in the tender heart of a child and result in us putting a heavy armor around our hearts.
We may have become highly intellectualised or split from our feelings and bodies. There really doesn’t need to be a big awful bang or event for this to happen.
A creeping suspicion that our feelings or sensitivity are not acceptable, or that “being a good kid”, “smart” or whatever is expected of us is more important than showing ourselves as we are can be enough to shut ourselves off and hide our true feelings. After all, as children we intuitively KNOW that we totally depend on the approval of our caregivers. So we banish our feeling of pain - and because our pain is clearly not acceptable in the eyes of our caregivers, we hide the resulting toxic shame as well. Often we do this so well, that as adults we are no longer aware of these stored emotions (however they may pop up from time to time as uncontrollable feelings or habits).
Yet, together with our deepest pain we also banish the very parts of ourselves that we need to be able to feel tenderness, joy, care, and love… the precise feelings that we need to feel alive and happy.
What you may have been telling yourself about feeling vulnerable
Myth #1: I SHARE myself with others, therefore I am VULNERABLE -
Sharing and vulnerability are two different things. Sharing means offering facts, opinions, knowledge and so on.
Vulnerability is authenticity. Showing another how you are feeling, and being truthful about who you are and how things you have experienced have affected you.
Oversharing can be a way to avoid being vulnerable. For example, giving exact details about something that happened to you and turning it into a comedy or story, could be a way to avoid showing how hurt you really are or how you truly feel.
Myth #2: Being VULNERABLE means being weak and miserable - I prefer to be HAPPY and STRONG
Being emotionally vulnerable undoubtedly has its risks. It means letting someone see who we really are. This means we risk being rejected or feeling abandoned.
Being open with others means risking the possibility of old memories being triggered or bringing up unprocessed childhood pain, too. On the other hand, people we show our true selves to may also love and accept us – and we may make a true and deep connection that enriches us. Authenticity is the foundation for true friendship and love.
Refusing to be vulnerable can become a pattern of pushing others away and hiding emotionally over showing your real personal strengths.
The trade-off are feelings of loneliness, repressed anger, toxic shame, inner rage, and can lead to others not trusting us when they pick up on the inconsistencies we put out… This eventually not only leads to anxiety, but also depression or emotional burnout.
While avoiding vulnerability might see us ‘survive’, it definitely does not see us thrive.
Letting ourselves feel happy is often a way to feel more vulnerable, not less.
For example, if we dare to love someone, we are vulnerable to the pain of being rejected.
In other words: Vulnerability happens, regardless if you’re happy or sad. Avoiding it, believing that this will make you feel better, just won't work.
It is true, that opening yourself up to strangers without discernment can indeed lead to feeling miserable or hurt. Sharing your deepest self with someone you don’t know who might be emotionally abusive or emotionally unavailable, or doing so knowingly with someone who hurt you before, can veer into self-abuse over healthy vulnerability.
Myth #3 : I am just NOT A TOUCHY-FEELY PERSON - I don’t get that EMOTIONAL STUFF
There are all sorts of excuses we can come up with to avoid being emotionally vulnerable – we don’t have the time, it’s not safe, it’s for other people, but not us. But these excuses are a way of trying to avoid feelings we are scared of or ashamed about.
"Your shame hides in many places - in anger, blame, denial, workaholism, perfectionism, drinking, and anything else you compulsively engage in to make yourself feel better. But if you could just learn to be vulnerable for one second, and open up to the pain, you would find there's no place left for your shame to hide." - Adam Appleson
If you’ve shut off your emotions for long enough, you may convince yourself that you are somehow flawed and ‘made of stone’.
But we all do feel vulnerable (unless we have a narcissistic personality or are a sociopath).
So what does feeling vulnerable mean then, really?
It means being human. We are wired to feel vulnerable. Even if we repress it in public and only let ourselves feel it alone, late at night.
Feeling vulnerable is part of the brain’s survival design, triggering the fight of flight response. It once protected us from dangers like wild animals. According to research some of us are genetically more inclined to feel vulnerable than others.
And it means you are being asked to make a decision. Is this really still the time to protect yourself? Are you engaging with the wrong people who may judge or reject us? Then simply stay clear.
How exactly is the belief (conscious or not) that vulnerability leads to hurt still serving you as an adult?
Or is it time to re-visit your ideas around being emotionally vulnerable?
Is this your time to step forward, to accept yourself fully and show yourself as the person you are capable of becoming?
Being aware of the fact that vulnerability is the birthplace of all joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, true connection and love. Aren’t those worth making time for in your life now?
Only as authentic beings are we able to have fulfilling and meaningful relationships, to be fully alive, and to live in alignment with our true values (which our feelings are guiding us to express). That is the meaning of happiness.
To risk rejection (by those that don't 'vibe' with you) and perhaps by doing so gaining a stronger sense of self, a feeling of being authentically connected to like-minded others, and a sense of freedom to create the life that feels right for you, personally.
If you are experiencing difficulties with allowing yourself to be more connected to others you may wish to see a therapist to untangle your unconscious beliefs or patterns that keep trapped in loneliness, fear or feelings of low self-worth.
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