I’ve always been a motivated, independent person who loves to support others. I was known for being a good listener, went out of my way to be there for my friends and met my own needs with ease. By my mid 20s, I was traveling for my job and engaged in work that I was passionate about. I was about buy my first condo, I had a wonderful group of friends: From the outside my life looked perfect.
But inside I felt a loneliness that wouldn’t go away. I was struggling with unhealed wounds from the past, and I was afraid to let people see a “nonperfect” version of me. I was afraid that if I allowed people to see the insecure or broken-down version, I wouldn’t be accepted. I didn’t actually allow anyone to be with me in a breakdown, I would only seek comfort from close friends after I had put myself together.
In a conversation with one of those friends, I asked her if she thought the reason I was having trouble finding a relationship was because I came across as so broken. She reflected that she didn’t think that came across at all, in fact, quite the opposite: She thought I came across as successful, accomplished and well-rounded. I remembered that comment for years, and I was confused by the disconnect of how I saw myself versus how I portrayed myself.
Connection to others is an essential part of being alive.
It was around that time I first watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability, and it struck a chord. What stood out for me was that Brown’s research found that being vulnerable was a source of connection. I was putting out an image that showed how many boxes in life I was checking off and unknowingly creating a shiny image of myself that looked perfect. Brown’s findings showed that relating and connection came from sharing struggles, heartbreaks and failures. She found that connection shows up when we actually allow ourselves to be seen. It isn’t about what we do, it’s about who we are. If people don’t see who you are, it’s difficult to connect.
Myths About Being Vulnerable
The myth about vulnerability is that it means weakness. I hear about people who are concerned that if they admit to not knowing something or ask for help, that it implies they aren’t competent. I’ve also heard many people say that the fear of their need not being met is enough for them to not even ask. For example, imagine being afraid to ask a work colleague for help doing something that you think you “should” know.
When vulnerability is seen as weakness, people tend to overcompensate and try to show strength or competence in everything they do. Some of the common traits I see are perfectionism, the need to control the outcome and taking on more responsibilities than they have time for. What was difficult for me, and what I see in my practice as a life coach, is that until the conversation is started, there’s no awareness that this myth is getting in the way.
It’s this view of vulnerability being on a scale, where vulnerability is weak and competence is strength, that is a complete myth.
Why You Should Let Yourself Be Vulnerable
It’s no surprise that I felt a disconnect when I didn’t let anyone see the real me. Connection to others is an essential part of being alive, feeling joy, being present and giving us a purpose in life. In creating deeper connection with others, it sources our being, and in doing so gives permission for others to be vulnerable as well.
By accepting yourself exactly as you are, you lower the defenses and walls you’ve built up around yourself and allow people to affect you. It’s a choice to acknowledge that the risk of getting hurt, feeling unworthy or feeling exposed is just fear and doesn’t actually mean anything about you. It feels like a weight lifts from your shoulders as you relax from trying to control other people’s perception of you.
Vulnerability is about connection to others, and it’s also about connection to ourselves — giving ourselves permission to be human, to feel pain, to make mistakes, to be messy. Allowing vulnerability means trusting that, whatever happens, you are worthy of love and belonging just as you are.
Vulnerability is a new “muscle” to start strengthening each day, and there’s no formula or right way to do it. If you want to work on being more vulnerable, here are some practices I recommend:
- Make a list of things you do for yourself without help.
- Practice receiving help for each item on your list once a week until all the items on your list are crossed off. Then make a new list and repeat the process. Whatever you do should feel outside of your comfort zone.
- Make a list of what you need. Practice asking for those things daily from friends, a partner or a stranger.
- Watch this Brené Brown TED Talk. (see video below)
- Journal about any resistance you felt asking for help and any judgements you have about yourself.
Vulnerability or lack thereof does not have a thing to do with being weak or strong. It’s a practice of allowing yourself to be seen and accepting yourself exactly as you are. To be vulnerable is to take away the barriers that you use to control and predict what happens in your life. When you lower those walls, you allow your authentic self to come through. It’s through common experiences of humanity and authenticity that we build deep, intimate connections with others.
Readers — Do you view being vulnerable as a weakness, either in yourself or others? Do you have trouble sharing your “low moments” with your family and friends? Do you think that being vulnerable is a kind of strength all its own? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Kristin Price is inspired by a deep commitment to whole-body approaches to wellness that uncover the root of a challenge. Kristin founded her own company and is a leader, life coach and certified nutritional practitioner who works with others to transform their lives. Connect with Kristin on her website, Facebook and Twitter.