5 Ways To Embrace Vulnerability
I just watched a fantastic Netflix show called The Call To Courage - a talk by Brené Brown, who is a world-renowned shame and vulnerability researcher.
The talk is all about vulnerability, and how being vulnerable in our lives is the key to being courageous, allowing for more connection and love in our relationships.
I loved this show so much - I gobbled it up, watched it again, showed it to my boyfriend, and then watched Brené's awesome TED talk and read her book Daring Greatly. So it's probably safe to say that I resonated with the message a lot.
I've always thought I was okay with being vulnerable. I talk about my emotions, I tell people if they've done something to upset me, and I'm not afraid to cry. I thought I had it licked, to be honest.
But as I learned more about Brené's work on vulnerability and courage, I realised that I had always felt extremely ashamed of my tendency to talk 'too much' about my feelings, 'make a big deal' out of things, or be 'too emotional'. I remember coming home from school crying on many an occasion because I'd told my friend a secret that she'd then blabbed to the rest of the class. My mum would say "Don't show them that you're upset because that's what they want." I subconsciously learned that showing emotion to others was perceived as 'weak'.
I mean, this is not unique to me - pretty much everyone I know has this same belief. Vulnerability is not celebrated in our culture. We are taught from a young age to be strong and to be courageous. At the same time, we're told to hide our emotions and never show weakness.
Brené's research highlighted to me something I always suspected, but that felt so good to acknowledge - that without vulnerability and putting yourself out there, you cannot be courageous. They are two sides of the same coin - if you are showing courage, you have to take a risk, which means being vulnerable.
Vulnerability is scary, and means, without a doubt, that you'll get hurt along the way. But Brené's work teaches us that, by being vulnerable, we create more loving and meaningful connections with our family and loved ones, we can succeed in our goals, and we feel more at peace with ourselves. I'd really recommend reading and watching her work to learn more about this.
With that in mind, I wanted to share 5 ways that you can practice vulnerability to become a more courageous and fulfilled person:
1. Disagree with someone
Have you ever been with a group of people, and someone says something that's kind of not okay and definitely not something you agree with? Everyone looks around and titters nervously, but no-one calls that person out.
One of the things we worry about the most is not 'fitting in'. This is a worry that can cause us to change who we are to be accepted, whether that be wearing certain clothes, speaking a certain way, or agreeing with certain beliefs. In order to live vulnerably, we have to start living in a way that is true to our authentic self, and that means sometimes disagreeing with people.
If you hear something you don't agree with, and you feel compelled to say something, speak up. It's not about yelling or making someone feel bad. It's about making it known that you don't share their view, in a gentle and respectful way. Yes, you may offend or annoy someone. That is the risk of being vulnerable; sometimes it doesn't work in your favour. However, be proud in the knowledge that you stand for something, and showed your true self to others. The important people in your life will listen and appreciate your courage.
2. Tell Someone Special How You Feel
Even though I'm in a long-term relationship, I still sometimes struggle to tell my boyfriend that I love him. If I'm feeling particularly down-trodden, saying 'I love you' can feel like a big vulnerable mountain to climb, because the feeling that I might be rejected is too scary to bear.
This isn't just in romantic relationships - sometimes we find it hard to tell our parents, or our best friend, what they mean to us. We all struggle with vulnerability when it comes to expressing our feelings to the people we love and care about. We worry that they won't return our feelings or that we'll feel stupid. Sometimes it's easier to shut down and cut off to protect ourselves.
However, if the gamble pays off, what we can actually gain is something truly special. When two people express how they feel to each other, they experience genuine connection and a sense of belonging that can only be found with letting someone else see you exactly as you are. The gamble is worth it to experience something beautiful.
3. Display Your Work
There is something about showing friends and family something you created that feels like being naked. You are exposing a part of yourself that's very private, offering up something for judgement. It's incredibly scary to do so.
There's a chance that whoever you show won't like your work. But as Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood." This is the quote that Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly is based on.
Those who fear showing their labour to other people allow themselves to be defined by someone else's opinion. It's your hard work, your effort, and your courage to offer yourself up for criticism that counts. By hiding these parts of yourself, you may avoid judgement, but you also may miss out on a connection with someone who finds your work fascinating, helpful, or stirring. That's a valuable experience that's worth being vulnerable for.
4. Tell Someone If You're Not Okay
This is something I struggle with a lot. I have confided in people that I'm not okay and been told I'm a 'downer', that I've made things 'awkward', or have just been met with silence. It's crushing, and we've probably all experienced something similar.
The truth is that admitting that you're not okay is really hard. We're encouraged to adopt a happy positive persona and to spin bad experiences in to good ones. Not being able to talk to someone if you need help is extremely harmful to our mental wellbeing.
Sadness or mental illness can make people feel awkward - it's as simple as that. Sometimes people don't know what to say. If you experience a feeling of rejection, know that there is nothing wrong with you - it's the other person's issue with not being comfortable with the harder emotions. The people who deserve to listen to your struggles and your story are the ones who are able to sit with you, who listen, who don't judge, and who make you feel heard. As much as I can remember times that I've been rejected for reaching out to someone, I have also experienced moments of real belonging and connection when I open up to a loved one and they say 'I know how you feel, and that sucks'. By practicing this, you get to know who your real friends are and who you want to surround yourself with.
5. Admit When You're Wrong
Have you ever been in a situation where you know you've messed up and just been unable to apologise and admit it? Yeah, me too - that's normal. No-one likes to confess that maybe they did or said something hurtful, because it can be conveyed as weakness.
The courage to apologise to someone is really powerful, and can allow the other person to forgive and move on quicker. If you had a relationship with someone where they apologised to you even though you knew it was difficult for them, wouldn't you have so much more respect for them? Wouldn't you feel safer in expressing how you feel, and admitting fault when you're in the wrong? True, honest communication like this can once again significantly strengthen your relationships and allow you to be your real self, warts and all. This creates a real sense of peace and contentment within yourself, knowing that you don't have to pretend.
Once again, I'd really encourage you to check out Brené's work - it's incredibly thought-provoking and insightful. How do you feel about vulnerability, and what do you struggle with?