Lastenia Francis, LMFT
The Necessity of Vulnerability
When one thinks about vulnerability, they see it as a form of weakness. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Being vulnerable takes strength and courage to allow your true self to be seen. Vulnerability is the bridge to connection. Don’t get me wrong, vulnerability can be terrifying because you are revealing the imperfect sides to the world and hoping that they will accept you for who you are (Brown, 2016; Brown, 2010). However, vulnerability is freeing. It allows you to be free of the masks that you wear to hide your truth. Vulnerability allows you to not rely heavily on the approval of others, but navigate on a path that you control.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity. Think about it. How can you love someone if you don’t know their worst parts? How can you hold someone accountable without knowing their flaws? You wouldn’t know if what you’re asking of them is realistic. How can you ask for authenticity if the person that you are presenting doesn’t resemble the person you see when you’re all alone? Being vulnerable is a courageous act that should be prompted not because you want to fit in. Rather its because you want to belong in a world that accepts you for you. Vulnerability grants you the permission to accept yourself first before allowing others to be the orchestrators of what your life should look and sound like.
Dr. Brown (2010) explains in her Ted Talk, “in order for connection to happen we need to allow ourselves to be seen.” I agree completely with this notion. Connection is built on trust. If we are presenting half ourselves to others, how can we honestly say that we trust the person to connect with us? Similarly, how can we say that we trust the other person to see us? When we hide or true selves from others we are hiding behind our shame and fear that we are not enough. Shame is the silent toxin that detonates a relationship. Shame can result in self-loathing, low self-esteem, feelings of being a fraud, unworthiness that can lead to self-sabotage in a relationship. When you feel ashamed of yourself, you feel others are ashamed of you. I implore you to stop that immediately. What are you afraid of your partner seeing? Do you know that you are enough? If you can’t answer this question, how do you expect others to? It starts with you. Acceptance and self-love start with you. However, to get to a place of acceptance and self-love starts with welcoming the vulnerabilities (Brown, 2010; Brown, 2016). Those imperfect parts infused with the other amazing parts make up who you are. Embrace it! Redefine your vulnerabilities. While those aspects of your life make you vulnerable is it not your defining quality.
Say it with me, “you are worthy to have a sense of love and belonging”. Worthiness is the state of being good enough. Who defines whether you are good enough? I hope the answer to that is you. Of course, you set the standard of what you are worthy of having. However, if you do not believe your self to be worthy of love and belonging, then it would be difficult for you to love and belong. Life would be more amazing if you embraced the reality that you’re better than the life you’ve settled for. Worthiness changes how you welcome your experiences (Brown, 2010). When you truly believe that you are good enough, you won’t settle for mediocre love. Rather, you set the standard of how you want to be treated by others.
Why is vulnerability so important in relationships? Vulnerability helps to establish healthy relationships by allowing both partners to have a sense of connection and trust. Not being vulnerable leads to people being emotionally shut down, isolative and lonely (Brown, 2016). However, without vulnerability there is less opportunity to build with another. Connection gives us purpose and meaning. Without it, we remain lonely and disconnected from others. This is not a fate anyone should experience. As humans, we crave social connection. Without it we go crazy. However, connection goes hand in hand with vulnerability. You cannot have one without the other.
Vulnerability is risky. While there is an opportunity to develop love and intimacy by being vulnerable with another, it is also the same thing that opens the door for being hurt (Brown, 2010; Brown, 2016). Being vulnerable can dredge up all kinds of feelings such as embarrassment, shame, fear and anxiety. No wonder, this messy thing is often avoided. However, being vulnerable with someone you trust can be rewarding.
With all the risks of vulnerability, becoming vulnerable with someone should be a slow process. Vulnerability is just as much for you as it is for others. As a result, you need to know that who you are sharing your most vulnerable information with is someone you are comfortable with. As a therapist instructing my clients to be vulnerable with their partners, I often ask them to share in a safe space. Telling clients to avoid extremely large social gatherings and go to places where it reminds them of comfort can allow for a more relaxed experience while sharing discomforting experiences. Also, I instruct my clients to ask their partner for enough time to share their vulnerability in its entirety to ensure that they feel heard and safe during the process of sharing. Once, they have shared that individual needs to reflect on whether they felt heard, comforted and whether their partner reacted in a way that helped them feel supported. It often starts with sharing one vulnerable moment for the individual to feel more open to continue to connect and share more of their vulnerabilities. Similarly, that can also be a gateway for their partner to share their vulnerable moments too.
Being vulnerable with others is risky. In fact, this is apart of why others remain guarded and refuse to share with others. They often fear rejection, have some shame of what they did and are fearful that they won’t be accepted. Nevertheless, being vulnerable needs to start with yourself first, before you can truly be vulnerable with others. Believing that you are worth it in spite of your flaws is freeing. The task then becomes difficult when it comes to who, what, when, where and how to share those vulnerabilities with others. Once you have shared with the right people you welcome a plethora of opportunities to connect with others and confirm the notion that you are worth being loved and accepted.
Brown, B. (2010). The power of vulnerability [Video file]. TEDTalk.
Brown, B. (2016). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. London: Penguin Books.