Vulnerability—everyone’s favorite word to use…maybe not so much to actually do. We get it; being vulnerable is hard, uncomfortable, and challenging. Webster’s definition of vulnerability is the quality of being [vulnerable], in other words able to be easily hurt, influenced, or attacked. Yeah, that doesn’t sound too pleasant to us either.
While this definition lends itself to being physically vulnerable, we want to discuss the mental and emotional side.
In fact, professor, author, and speaker, Brené Brown, defines this type of vulnerability as: “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” All of which is still incredibly scary, and therefore, we understand why being open and vulnerable is so tough.
But we also understand the power of doing so and the positive impact it can have on you and your life. A few of these benefits include helping you be more authentic, build courage, and create powerful, amazing connections—all very important things in life. Like Brené Brown puts it, “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.”
As we dive into this, we hope you can start to peel back the curtain and see for yourself how the amazing benefits can outweigh the difficulties and discomforts that come with opening up.
The Science Behind Vulnerability
Vulnerability is incredibly powerful. If you’ve experienced it first-hand, then you know. But even if you don’t have much experience being vulnerable and opening up, science can show you.
A study was conducted on whether or not people tended to open up and show their weaknesses. The results? Those who were comfortable with being vulnerable were overall happier, mentally tougher, more interpersonally skilled, and had higher emotional intelligence than those who hid their flaws and didn’t open up.1
Another study on nurses found that the nurses’ own experiences with “vulnerability and suffering helped their patients gain the courage to face their own vulnerability and suffering and in turn, ultimately shaped their ability to engage in care.”2 Even if you’re not a nurse, the findings of this study can be applied to your own life—your job, family, relationship, etc.—and showcase the power of vulnerability in our own lives and of those around us.
The Benefits of Vulnerability
So, why is being vulnerable so powerful? Although there’s science behind what goes on in our brains, we want to focus on the proven benefits that being vulnerable has shown to provide. Just a few of the many benefits are listed below.
1. Allows Authenticity
When we are open and real about who we are, what we’ve been through, what we’re struggling with, what we need, etc., we get to show off our truest selves. We often live our lives trying to please people, achieve unrealistic expectations, or mold ourselves into impossible standards. Doing those things often requires putting a mask or front up, or hiding who you really are or what's really going on. Being vulnerable allows your most authentic self to be seen, known, and loved by yourself and those around you.
2. Builds Empathy
Vulnerability requires us to open up and share something with another person. Which can be incredibly terrifying. However, sharing encourages others to do the same. And when someone opens up to us, it allows us to practice having empathy and compassion. This practice not only helps us be someone people can be vulnerable with, but it also allows us to give more grace and compassion to ourselves. Vulnerability builds empathy which, in turn, creates opportunity for more vulnerability.
3. Fosters Good Emotional and Mental Health
Life is not easy—and often our minds and emotions pay the price of that. The problem is, our learned reaction is to push those difficult thoughts, feelings, or emotions down and keep them to ourselves. The more we do that, the more dangerous they become when they inevitably burst back to the surface. But, as we begin to be vulnerable and open up to others, we learn to work through issues and difficult emotions. Talking it out allows you to be more aware of your own feelings as well as creates a healthier emotional and mental state.
4. Creates Better Connections
Being vulnerable requires you to open yourself up to someone—whether that’s a family member, friend, significant other, mentor, etc. While it’s not easy, the more you do it, the better connections and relationships you will build. This is because you’re allowing someone to see and know the real you. Vulnerability helps us find people who will accept us for who we really are which, in turn, builds trust and creates better connections.
5. Builds Courage
Last, but not least, vulnerability builds courage. There is no courage without fear, and vulnerability certainly brings out lots of fear in us. But, the more that you are real about who you are and what you’re feeling, and embrace those things, the more you become resilient and brave for the future.
Tips for Vulnerability
As we’ve mentioned, vulnerability is not easy—even if you have some experience opening up. So, we want to give you some tips and reminders to help you feel more comfortable opening up and being vulnerable.
1. Push Away Misconceptions
There are many misconceptions out there about vulnerability, which when believed, can make it difficult to open up. We address 3 of the main misconceptions below in hopes of helping you push them away and make space to be vulnerable with others.
“I Don’t Want to Be Weak”
People think that opening up and sharing what you’re feeling or going through makes you weak. Because “strong” is seen as someone who has it all together, is buttoned up, or never shows weakness. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The ability to be vulnerable is actually a superpower in any and all relationships, and shows true strength in allowing people to see and accept the real you.
"I Don't Need Anyone Else"
Another common misconception is the lone wolf mentality that people have, thinking they can make it through life on their own and don’t need to let anyone else in. That’s a really lonely and difficult way to live. The truth is, we were created to be in community and relationship with others. Opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable with others gives the people in your life the chance to support and empower you in bigger ways.
"I Don't Want to Air My Dirty Laundry"
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you share every dirty little secret with every single person you meet. That’s a common mistake people make. On the contrary, it’s important to know and discern who is safe to open up to and what things make sense to share. It’s making sure you find the right people to practice vulnerability with, so that you can deepen and strengthen your connection with those people.
2. Acknowledge Your Emotions
Acknowledging your own emotions is a big first step towards vulnerability. After all, how can you open up to others if you don’t take time to process, accept, and validate your own feelings? If you don’t know your own emotions, it will be pretty difficult to know how to open up to others. But, once you better understand what you’re feeling, experiencing, or needing, it becomes easier to be vulnerable and know how to ask others for help.
Practice…doesn't make perfect. Because the truth is, ‘perfect vulnerability’ isn’t actually attainable by anyone. However, practicing being vulnerable does make it easier to open up in the future and helps vulnerability become second nature to you. It’s important to know that as you are working on vulnerability, it's okay, and actually healthy, to start small and take small steps. You don’t have to share your entire story, you could just share one feeling or one detail. You don’t have to tell someone you’ve only known for a month about a big event that happened. You don’t have to open up to every loved one in your life. You can start with one detail, one feeling, one story, one person, and practice being more vulnerable from there.
4. Remind Yourself of Truths
Sometimes, regardless of how much practice or experience you have, there’s still going to be fear around being vulnerable. And that’s okay. When those thoughts and feelings pop up, do your best to remind yourself of these truths:
Almost everyone is scared; it’s natural and okay to be afraid to open up
You’re not alone and never have to go through any of this alone
Most people in your life are willing to listen and would love to support you once you open up
There’s no courage without fear; sometimes you just have to do it scared
5. Find a Safe Space to Open Up
When you do feel scared, or are doing something scary, like being vulnerable, the setting in which you do it can make a big difference. It’s important that you find a safe space to open up and be vulnerable. This includes both the person you open up to and the environment around you. When your mind and body feel more comfortable, it will be easier to share what’s going on and practice vulnerability.
Why Safe Spaces?
We believe that having a safe space is such an important piece of vulnerability that we are going to spend a whole section talking about it!
A safe space is the best place to be vulnerable. Why? Because as we mentioned above, feeling comfortable equates to an easier time opening up. It’s the same reason you might take deep breaths when you’re overwhelmed or go get a massage after a stressful week or month. When we’re met with something difficult and challenging—whether that’s stress, anxiety, fear, or being vulnerable—allowing our bodies to relax allows our minds to open up more too.
We’ve laid out a few concrete ideas and descriptors below to help get you thinking about what a safe place would be for you. Because the truth is, ‘safe’ will look a little different for everyone.
Examples of Safe Places:
A judgment-free zone – both the person and the environment
Quiet – you don’t want to have to yell or strain to be heard when you’re sharing personal stuff
Calming & relaxing – this will look different for everyone. But think about specific places that help you feel calmed or relaxed. At home? In a park? A quiet coffee shop?
A person who is a good listener, supportive, and who you can trust
At Churches Care, we’re passionate about providing safe spaces for people to open up, talk, and receive support for whatever they’re going through. That’s why we partner with caring people at local churches and ministries to help get people connected with someone they can trust and be vulnerable with. Having someone who you know will be there with you and for you can make all the difference!
To wrap up, we want to support your desire to open up and be vulnerable with someone as best as we can. Whether or not you choose to get connected through us, we want to provide ways you can start being vulnerable. We’ve listed three examples below.
1. Discuss Vulnerability First
As we’ve mentioned throughout, vulnerability is scary—for you and the person you're opening up to. So, before you share what it is you want to open up about, try talking about the idea of vulnerability itself first. Talk about how you know vulnerability is important, but that it also scares you and any specific fears you may have. This may seem silly at first, but if you can practice opening up by being vulnerable about vulnerability, it can help ease the tension before you share what’s really going on. This also allows the other person to better understand and support you.
2. Ask Questions
If you know you want to work on vulnerability for healthier relationships, but don’t have anything specific to start with, try asking questions! Asking deeper questions of yourself can help you get to know yourself better. Once you know yourself better, it’s easier to communicate your feelings and what’s going on to others. Asking questions may also unlock some new things you may want to share with someone that you didn’t realize before. Also, getting together with someone you trust and want to be open with, and asking each other specific questions, can be a great way to grow and build vulnerability together. You can find some great example questions here.
3. Express a Need
When you don’t know where to start, expressing what you need can be helpful. Simply say “I need ___” and fill in the blank—comfort, alone time, a hug, validation, a listening ear, some advice, etc. If you don’t quite know what you need, take some time to process and think about it first!
Start with something small you need and work up to feeling comfortable with the bigger things. While this will likely still be scary, it’s easier to express something in the moment rather than later when it’s likely built up into something much larger. This practice then helps you prepare for bigger things when they happen in the future.
At Churches Care, we help make vulnerability easier by doing the leg work for you. When you let us know what you want to talk to someone about, we pass your information along to one of our trusted partners to connect with you. Someone from their team actually reaches out to start the conversation so you don’t have to worry about how to do that. You can just feel safe and comfortable to open up and receive the support you need and deserve