The Courage to be Vulnerable

What does it mean to feel vulnerable?

Vulnerability can take many forms. It’s the feeling we often have during times of risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure. It can come up when we’re sharing our innermost feelings or expressing sides of ourselves about which we have the least confidence, especially when we’re not sure how others will react. Emotional vulnerability is the process of acknowledging our emotions, especially those that are painful or difficult. Essentially, vulnerability is about the moments when we feel most raw or delicate – the parts of ourselves we often prefer to keep out of public view.

Unsurprisingly, vulnerability can be challenging. It isn’t always easy to be with these more tender parts of ourselves, and it can bring up feelings of shame, discomfort or unworthiness. Showing our vulnerability can feel deeply exposing, and we may fear rejection or disapproval. As a result, it’s often easier to shut down or try to mask our vulnerabilities, both from ourselves and others.

The value of vulnerability

Yet vulnerability is a natural, intrinsic part of being human – and also has great value. Acknowledging and learning to safely express vulnerability is vital for personal growth and living authentically. Allowing ourselves to engage with difficult emotions that make us feel vulnerable can help to discharge anxiety, avoiding resentment and unhealthy expressions of pent-up stress.

Vulnerability is also integral to meaningful connection in our relationships. Connection is fundamental for our wellbeing; our lives are defined by the quality of connection we experience. Real connection requires authenticity to thrive, and mindfully expressing vulnerability helps to foster intimacy, trust and closeness in relationships of all kinds. As such, vulnerability is at the root of love and belonging. So how do we learn to embrace it?

Embracing vulnerability

Embracing vulnerability is about allowing ourselves to be seen as we truly are – both by ourselves and others. Emotional vulnerability involves acknowledging our true feelings, even when they are difficult or uncomfortable, and learning to validate and fully experience these, rather than denying them.

In our relationships, vulnerability is the willingness to share our authentic selves and feelings, to admit mistakes, and to have hard conversations when needed. Vulnerability requires taking a risk and showing ourselves, embracing our human fallibility, and doing something when there are no guarantees. It’s about letting ourselves be with the messiness, fears and complications of life, and learning to hold with these discomforts and uncertainties.

Finding inner courage

Leaning in to vulnerability in all of these ways requires courage. We often conflate vulnerability with weakness, yet learning to embrace vulnerability is an act of true strength. As researcher and author Brené Brown, a renowned expert on shame and vulnerability, notes, the word courage comes from the Latin ‘cor’, meaning ‘heart’, and originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart’. We can interpret this in many ways. At different times in our lives, courage in relation to vulnerability may be about sharing our deepest feelings; being fully ourselves; being kind to ourselves and others in vulnerable moments; and being brave enough to do something even when we feel afraid or uncomfortable.

No matter how vulnerability arises, practicing compassion is key to navigating it. Reminding ourselves that we are worthy, being gentle with ourselves, and remembering that everyone experiences vulnerability in some form – whether they show it or not – are vital. Self-compassion is especially important when it comes to exploring emotional vulnerability, helping us to engage with our feelings without self-judgement or criticism.

It’s also important to remember that healthy expressions of vulnerability require discernment. Vulnerability doesn’t mean sharing everything with everyone. We need to be able to trust those we share with, and to put healthy boundaries in place around what we choose to share and how. This supports our experiences of expressing vulnerability to have a positive outcome for our development, rather than something that can lead to hurt or distress.

While embracing vulnerability may not be easy, learning to do so has real value. By mindfully exploring and expressing vulnerability, we support ourselves to thrive. Being vulnerable means that we are alive – and embracing this opens us up to deeper levels of self-awareness, growth and meaningful connection.

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