Think of how it feels to show your messy, human vulnerability. Maybe it’s admitting you screwed up, maybe it’s confessing that you need help, maybe it’s sharing your feelings for someone when you’re not sure the other person will reciprocate. In these situations most of us feel shame, embarrassment, and fear of rejection.
Now, think about the last time someone else revealed some weakness or flaw to you. Did you judge them harshly? Did you think less of them? While the answer certainly depends on the details of the revelation, most of the time when someone dares to show us their vulnerabilities we find them brave and feel closer to them.
This paradox — that when we’re the ones doing the revealing we feel shame, but when we’re the ones hearing a revelation we feel admiration and intimacy — isn’t just you. The phenomenon has been confirmed by new science, and the findings may just give the confidence to reveal yourself more and connect with those around you more deeply.
Researcher Brene Brown launched a high-profile career as an author, Oprah guest, and all around guru of embarrassment with a blockbuster TED talk on vulnerability. If you’re not willing to risk embarrassment, she insists in the talk, there can be no daring and no true human connection.
The overwhelming response to her message demonstrates this is a truth that most of us respond to intuitively, but when it comes time to show our own messiness and failures, most of us shrink away in terror. Brown recognizes this in her book Daring Greatly. “We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we are afraid to let them see it in us… Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me,” she writes.
The idea clearly sells self-help books, but is it actually scientifically true? A team of German researchers recently decided to find out. In a series of experiments they asked volunteers to either imagine themselves exposing a personal vulnerability or having some else expose a weakness to them.
“Time and again, and across many different contexts, participants perceived their own vulnerability more negatively and less positively than other people’s,” reports the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. When the researchers tested this in real life by staging a mortification-producing improv song content, they got the same result. Embarrassing yourself feels horrifying. Seeing others do it is endearing.
It seems Brown is right.
The gap between how we perceive our own vulnerabilities and how we perceive other people’s isn’t just an interesting scientific factoid. Vulnerability is serious business. Sharing weaknesses and embarrassments cements human bonds in all sorts of contexts from the romantic to the professional. Science shows being open about your flaws makes you a better leader, improves creativity, and can even make you appear smarter.
In short, showing your authentic human quirks and foibles will make you a happier, healthier person and a more effective professional. And now science has proven that your worst fears about putting your whole self out there are unfounded. Other people view your messy self a lot more positively than you do.
All of which means that you should probably muscle through your fear and be a lot more open about your own weirdness and flaws. “Given the… positive consequences of showing vulnerability for the relationship quality, health, or job performance, it might, indeed, be beneficial to try to overcome one’s fears and to choose to see the beauty in the mess of vulnerable situations,” conclude the study authors.
Amen to that.
Originally published at www.inc.com