Many of us grew up being told that showing our true emotions is a sign of weakness. Maybe we saw this modeled by caregivers and portrayed by macho heroes in movies. We may avoid expressing our emotions because it feels uncomfortable or scary. We may believe that handling hard situations alone makes us brave. Or maybe we fear being a burden. But contrary to this, practicing healthy emotional vulnerability is what makes us bold and strong. It helps us appreciate ourselves and connect with others.
What is Vulnerability?
Emotional vulnerability is our ability and readiness to admit our feelings. It can be described as “putting ourselves our there”, allowing ourselves to be truly seen by others. It also means accepting our emotional self. This may make us feel exposed, unsure, or threatened (the threat of shame, rejection, etc.). Emotional vulnerability often makes us feel anxious.
Emotional vulnerability refers to feelings we see as positive, and negative. To clarify, no emotions are good or bad, but we often view them this way. If we are making a big move to the city of our dreams, we may feel uncertain about how things will work out. If we confess our love to someone, we may fear they’ll reject us. However, when we acknowledge our fear of moving and go anyways, we honor our goals. When we express love knowing that it may not be returned, we honor our truth. When we take risks, we learn about our capabilities and become more courageous and confident
The emotional vulnerability allows us to share our feelings with loved ones. It also allows us to receive the emotional vulnerability of others. Instead of dismissing their feelings or experiences, we can show up for them in a supportive, non-judgmental way. When we tell people how they’ve upset us, it creates an opportunity for discussion. All parties get the chance to understand each other more deeply. When we do this, we connect honestly and build a safe environment for the expression of all feelings.
E.g., If our partner says they are going to wash dishes, but they don’t, we may be mad (especially if it happens a lot). We can choose to respond in different ways. Option one, say nothing and let resentment build. Eventually, we may angrily explode at our partner, seemingly out of nowhere. This leaves our partner confused, and us annoyed. In option two, we tell our partner, “I feel upset when you say you’ll wash dishes, but don’t. I need help cleaning up, so things feel equal.” This option clearly communicates our needs and helps our partner understand our views.
Emotional vulnerability also helps us build confidence. When we are courageous and show people who we truly are, we learn to accept ourselves. This lets us care less about what others think. Self-confidence will positively influence all parts of our lives.
How to be Emotionally Vulnerable?
- Know what vulnerability means to us. We need to ask ourselves what vulnerability in action would look like. In which ways would it be expressed? How would it affect our lives? What would be most meaningful to us? This will look different for everyone, as we have different relationship structures, expectations, and cultural norms.
- To show our emotions, we must know our emotions. We should spend time learning about ourselves and understanding our feelings. This can be done in many ways, from meditation to journaling, or just trying to identify feelings as they happen.
- We are responsible for our emotions. It can be easy to blame others for our emotions, especially uncomfortable ones. However, emotional vulnerability requires that we own our feelings. This helps us feel less defensive in difficult situations, which makes us more open to real expression and connection. It’s important we don’t shame ourselves for having emotions, no matter how difficult they feel.
- Understand how vulnerability feels. We should recognize how vulnerability makes our body feel (e.g., sweaty palms, shaky, butterflies in our stomach, etc.). This allows us to be aware of when we’re feeling vulnerable and respond appropriately.
- Be honest and take risks. Express love for people, share feelings of fear and sadness, apologize meaningfully, and get out of the comfort zone. We should live honestly, even when we’re afraid.
Emotional vulnerability can be scary. It requires that we bare our true selves without knowing how others will react. But when we do, we strengthen connections with others and gain the courage to be who we really are.