Last modified on July 13th, 2020
At the core of being human is the need to connect with other humans. Connecting with others can fill us up in very positive ways and forms an essential part of any relationship. Yet, the often maligned concept of emotional vulnerability is at the heart of the deepest of human connections.
As humans, we’re hardwired to connect for love and belonging. This connection can be on a psychological, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual level. This sense of connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.
Thus, all of us have the desire to be connected. And this is irrespective of whether we acknowledge it or not.
It was for this reason that as children, we were open and free, having a willingness to share with others. But as we grew and matured we started understanding that the world can also cause us pain.
Also, we learned, often from unpalatable experiences, that not everyone could be trusted or has our best interest at heart.
The older we grew, the more we started protecting ourselves from being hurt. To stay protected from external harm, we toughened up and hardened up ourselves. Along the line, we also started building walls around our hearts.
As adults, we now have protective mechanisms that are sophisticated. However, we learned these mechanisms during our raw and impressionable young years.
Thus, we have essentially developed ways to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. We’ve built up these walls and hardened ourselves up. All these effort are simply attempts to protect us from hurt, diminishment, or disappointment by anyone.
In the process, we’ve used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons to guard against any form of emotional vulnerability. Our protective mechanisms have also become as individualized and unique as the emotional vulnerability, discomfort, and pain we’re trying to avoid.
So, as a child that has had some really traumatic experiences, you might have learned at a very early age to protect yourself. You found it was best to keep friendships and relationships at surface level and never let anyone come too close.
So you keep people at arm’s length. Intentionally, you become buried in school, your work, or other activities. And once a new relationship starts becoming intimate you start becoming uncomfortable. And before long, you find yourself cooking up reasons about why both of you are no longer compatible.
Dawn of a Reality
But at 30, you start looking at these same walls as a problem. Within the deepest part of you, the desire for a more truly intimate and fulfilling loving relationship grows ever stronger. The reality of a problem looms!
When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.
It’s a fact that building these walls does create a safe space into which you can quickly take refuge. Yet, these same walls equally shield you from the love, intimacy, and true connection you now crave.
This is because the door you’ve shut up is also the one through which love and intimacy comes in through. Thus, when you closed it to the undesirables, you inevitably closed it to the desirables.
Why So Much Fear of Emotional Vulnerability?
Typically, emotional vulnerability for most people resonates with dark emotions. Some of these emotions include fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment. For others, it’s an anxiety about being rejected, or judged as being inadequate.
Thus, for the large majority, being emotionally vulnerable means to be weak, or at least easily hurt or frightened. The reason why people might feel this way is pretty obvious. And this is because emotional vulnerability of itself is an openness to experiences, people, and uncertainties.
If there’s anything strongly attached to an individual being open to new experiences, new people, and an uncertainty about anything, it’s nothing more than fear itself. And fear for most people can be very crippling!
It can be unnerving at times when you express your fears and doubts to someone else. Waiting for a response can often seem like the time between hearing a gunshot and waiting to see if you’re hit.
Yes, emotional vulnerability can be frightening. But it’s also exciting and powerful considering the change it can make in your life.
Given most of these considerations, it becomes obvious why the human tendency is for most people to reject the idea of being emotionally vulnerable. However, most of these views are very limiting and are particularly untruths.
What True Emotional Vulnerability Is!
According to Dr. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience.”
She goes further to state that “Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.”
In the light of an initial assertion, Dr. Brene also defined emotional vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
Thus, emotional vulnerability can be said to be one’s willingness to be exposed to the uncertainty and risk about the outcome of an emotional self-disclosure. While it can be terrifying at times, emotional vulnerability is yet always brave.
Thus, against all anecdotal evidence, emotional vulnerability is never weakness. Entertaining the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure involved takes courage. That isn’t weakness but strength on display.
In this vein, it’s being emotionally vulnerable that gives you the courage to be the first to truly say “I love you,” even without the certainty that you’re going to be loved back.
The Power of Emotional Vulnerability
Yes, it’s powerful, very powerful! To underscore this, Dr. Brene also says that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”
Despite the armor we might be putting on, we all have fears and doubts about various aspects of our lives. These might include doubts about the true identity of who you believe you are, your abilities and mental competencies. It might also be about the way you feel society perceives you, or even about your relationships.
This is vulnerability. Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.
So, emotional vulnerability can greatly expose you to possible pain. But at the same time, it has the power to bring out the very best in your relationships.
For instance, it’s a fact that without experiencing true emotional vulnerability, you can never experience the true depth of intimacy that your relationship has to offer. For the most part, you’ll struggle in your relationships without it.
Being emotionally vulnerable is what empowers you to experience the true potentials of emotional intimacy in your relationships.
Thus, being emotionally vulnerable is the key to the relationship connection that allows you to open up and express your fears, hopes, struggles, secrets, and affections to your partner. It allows for the free expression of the words that are pressing from the inside.
More Meaningful Relationships
When you become comfortable about discussing your fears and anxieties with your partner, you unconsciously give them the permission to talk about themselves. While you hope that it’s well received, you’re OK even if it isn’t.
Without romanticizing it, we all know that it’s a scary thing opening one’s self to love. It simply leaves you open to being hurt as you aren’t sure of the outcome of your expressed emotions.
In fact, only few things can cause as much hurt and pain as the heartache from relationships. Yet, love has always been uncertain and incredibly risky. Then again, would you rather prefer imagining living without loving?
By dropping your guard and becoming emotionally vulnerable, you make the people around you to feel compelled to do same. This opens the door to creating deeper connections in your relationships.
When you learn more about the people in your life and create an environment to talk about your emotional vulnerabilities, you have a chance to create stronger bonds through the trust and empathy developed.
Also, when you share your fears and weaknesses with those that matter in your life, you’ll become more emotionally stronger, more confident, and better at developing deeper connections in your relationships.
It’s true that when we open up ourselves emotionally we become vulnerable. But at the same time it creates possibilities for greater connections and intimacies. As such, the key to true emotional vulnerability is your willingness to accept the outcomes no matter what they may be.
A Necessary Caution
There’s a need to understand that true emotional vulnerability is based on mutuality. Additionally, it requires the existence of the elements of trust and boundaries. Emotional vulnerability is not about indiscriminatingly making emotional self-disclosures about yourself to other people.
True emotional vulnerability is about you sharing your feelings and experiences with the people who have earned the right to hear them. It’s a trust building process between individuals who already share some form of mutual boundaries and element of trust.
Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.
Being emotionally vulnerable does not mean going about oversharing emotional information and personal history in conversations. So, you can’t go about baring your soul to someone whom you’ve only recently met and know little or nothing about.
Emotional vulnerability is intentional and it’s intuitive. With practice, you’ll be better at discerning when someone merits such emotional self-disclosure.
Don’t unload your emotional baggage on someone you hardly have a connection with. Because even when you’re truly authentic, it still makes you look needy and pathetic. It also makes you to look repellant and unattractive.
The same applies to even when you already have an existing connection. Emotional vulnerability does not warrant your unloading of unnecessary emotional stuffs on people.
Also be wary of displaying behaviors that look like vulnerability on the surface just to solve your unmet needs or to get attention. That’s just plain manipulation.
True Vulnerability Check
When it comes to true emotional vulnerability, you need to ask yourself what exactly is driving the emotional self-disclosure. Are you trying to show your “sensitive side” or simply get people to view you in a particular way? Is the emotional self-disclosure about reaching out or to connect with someone specifically?
Being truly vulnerable is about the “why” behind what you’re doing and not just simply “what” you’re doing. Vulnerability is intentional and that’s what determines whether it is true or not.
Thus, being emotionally vulnerable is about emotional self-disclosure to people who have earned the right to hear them. These should be people with whom you’ve developed relationships. They should also be able to handle the responsibility that your story demands.
There are some questions that can help you validate any displayed emotional vulnerability. Ask yourself if the relationship has the elements of trust, empathy, and also if you can truly ask for what you need.
To be able to show emotional vulnerability, there has to be a degree of connection. These questions are the crucial connection determinants you need to ascertain.
Becoming Emotionally Vulnerable
Reclaiming the essential emotional part of your life and reigniting your passion and purpose will entail learning how to own and engage with your vulnerability. This also requires that you learn how to “feel” the emotions that comes along with it.
Being able to open yourself up to emotional vulnerability and feeling comfortable with your emotions is not going to happen overnight and might feel gruesome at times. Try to always remember that it’s a process and that processes by nature take time.
What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.
You might also want to consider setting and enforcing new healthy boundaries. Such boundaries help to attract the right type of people into your space.
Setting such healthy boundaries help you to know when to say no. They also help you to spend less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter.
The process to true emotional vulnerability might be uncomfortable and painful. And it might also bring some tears to your eyes. But through the process, you’ll find true healing. You’ll also become better at embracing your vulnerability. And as a whole, help you to create deeper and more intimate connections in your love relationships.
Remember that it’s when you finally allow yourself to be vulnerable in a relationship, no matter how terrifying it may appear, that you give your relationship a real chance to grow.