For many, the idea of being vulnerable can cause fear or anxiety and in our society there can be a tendency to view vulnerability as a weakness. In this article we will show you how vulnerability can actually be a strength. We will discuss how loving yourself completely and deeply can help you feel safe enough to allow yourself to become more vulnerable.
The tendency to see vulnerability as a weakness is rooted in a reptilian survival response in the brain. We commonly refer to this survival mechanism as the fight-or-flight response. Fear triggers this fight-or-flight mode in-which vulnerability would be considered less than useful. When we perceive something as a “threat” and we are operating from this place of fear, vulnerability is typically viewed as a weakness.
In ending the fight against life we shift our perspective from fighting against whatever it is we feel is attacking us to taking a stand for what we believe in. As we begin to infuse our bodies with love, it becomes easier to operate from the higher part of our brain know as the neocortex. In doing so, we begin to change our relationship with vulnerability. Vulnerability can now be more easily accessed. We become able to see it as a strength and it becomes something to embrace.
Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. In a blog post titled, How Embracing Vulnerability Strengthens Our Relationships, she suggests some healthy ways in-which vulnerability can improve relationships.
Being open and honest about our needs allows others to know when we are struggling and what we are struggling with. It also gives them the opportunity to provide us with the support we need.
It is important to acknowledge our feelings, to take the time to work out how we can best express ourselves and to let others know how we feel. Firestone says “acknowledging and accepting our feelings is an important part of being in touch with ourselves and sharing ourselves with others.”
Asking for what we want can be hard but it often leads to greater closeness and far better relationships. Some examples of asking for what we want in a professional setting may be asking for a raise or volunteering to take on a project we believe we can execute well. If we have a friend whose company we miss we could send them a text saying “Hey, it’s been a while. Let’s meet for coffee”. In intimate relationships it could be initiating sex or sharing with our partners those things which give us sexual gratification.
Vulnerability is the doorway to authenticity. It is just as important to express our point of view as it is to express our emotions, needs and wants. Being authentic means being real, being honest and being comfortable with who you are. That does not mean that we should go through life with no filter or sensitivity towards other’s feelings, but it does mean that if we have something important to say we should say it. Many times people appreciate our honesty more than they appreciate us telling them only what they want to hear.
Firestone explains this by saying “Part of vulnerability is being willing to be in the moment with someone else… looking our partner in the eye, listening to what they have to say, and being willing to give time and attention to the moment are acts of vulnerability”.
These are some great suggestions which show us how to be more vulnerable in relationships. Next we will discuss the desire for connection, an intrinsically human trait. We will also show how vulnerability can be the key to unlocking connection.
In order to build a sustainable relationship, be it a personal or professional relationship, it is essential for two parties to find common ground and it is impossible to do so unless we are willing to share things about ourselves. When we do that, we are able to connect.
One of the foremost experts in the field of vulnerability research is Brene Brown, a research professor from the University of Houston. With over 39 million views her 2010 TED talk titled The Power of Vulnerability is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world.
To quote Brown “connection is why we’re here, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.”
In personal relationships particularly, the ability to be oneself, to be honest and authentic are really important for a relationship to progress through the various stages of intimacy. In this Ted Talk titled Vulnerability is Sexy, Corey Blake, founder and CEO of Round Table Companies, takes us on a journey through the typical phases of a romantic relationship to show us how vulnerability leads us to connection. “We want to be seen by the world as we are seen through the eyes of the ones who love us most” he begins.
Flirting, he says is the first step. It is that initial spark or curiosity we have when we first meet someone.
A coffee date may typically be the next step. A coffee date gives us the opportunity to get to know a little more about one another. If we learn more about one another and like what we’ve learned, we may be curious enough to go out to dinner.
At dinner we get the opportunity to go below the surface. We don’t reveal everything about ourselves but we share more about who we are and the things that are important to us.
Next comes the second date. “The second date is pivotal” he says. On the second date we go beyond all the things we like about ourselves and reveal something we don’t like about ourselves giving the other party the opportunity to reject us. We lean in to vulnerability and this can have one of two reactions. We are either seen and rejected or we are seen and accepted.
If what we have revealed resonates with the other person, it makes them feel something and it may help them let go of some negative emotion they may have been holding onto. This is when a meaningful connection is made. In becoming a safe space for someone, Blake encourages us to do two things; to be present for another person and to lead with vulnerability.
If we have a tendency to stay in our comfort zone and never challenge ourselves to do the things we aren’t good at, to get to know people who are different from us or to travel to new places, we limit our ability to learn and to grow. By putting ourselves in a position of vulnerability we gain access to things we never knew were available to us. “Success is born from the unknown and the basis for success is vulnerability” says Rajiv Nathan, Co-founder of Idea Lemon. “Man’s thoughts and actions only go so far as our ability to challenge them, so the more you place yourself in vulnerability and discomfort the more you challenge and the more you grow.”
Earlier, Corey Blake revealed how vulnerability can be sexy. Other studies show that people know when we aren’t being authentic, they sense our inauthenticity. Conversely when we are being authentic it makes us more trustworthy and increases our magnetism or our ability to attract others.
We fear vulnerability because we are afraid of being rejected. We are afraid that if we allow others to see below the surface, they may not like what they find. We therefore try to project an appearance of perfection, of someone who has everything under control. This pretence however has the opposite effect. According to Emma Seppala, “Research shows that we resonate too deeply with one another not to perceive inauthenticity. We even register inauthenticity in our bodies… when we are inauthentic and try to hide our feelings, others respond physiologically (via a rise in blood pressure). This physiological response may explain our discomfort around inauthentic or “fake” people.” On the other hand she says “we feel an intrinsic comfort in the presence of authenticity. Moreover, someone who is real and vulnerable gives us the space and permission to be the same.”
Psychologist, Elizabeth Hopper says “authenticity appears to be crucial for developing closeness and connection to others—but, paradoxically, a fear of rejection may be what keeps us from expressing our authentic selves.”
According to Brene Brown fear and shame are two of the most significant emotions which keep us from being vulnerable. We are afraid that if someone saw us for who we are, they would judge or reject us.
Fear and shame are uncomfortable emotions. Brown mentions the following unhealthy strategies we use to respond to the fear and shame we feel.
When we develop our love quotient (LQ) and as we love ourselves fully and deeply it creates greater safety within our bodies. As we are doing this, we are able to create a new relationship with uncomfortable emotions such as fear and shame in a way that becomes transformative. Instead of avoiding or suppressing our emotions we feel safe enough to embrace all of our emotions.
The barriers which keep us from being vulnerable fall away. We need not hold on to the certainty of our convictions or use them as a shield. There is no longer a need to blame and we become more open to discourse. Our actions are deliberate and in line with our values so there is no longer any need to pretend that our actions don’t have consequences and in loving all parts of ourselves we move into a space of being whole and complete as we are.
Firestone, quoted earlier, has worked extensively in the field of inner critic research and its effects. In fact, she has co-authored a book on the topic and says “The critical inner voice is a destructive thought process that acts like an internal parent and tends to assess, judge, undermine, and insult us as we move through our lives… This ‘voice’ reinforces old, negative beliefs about ourselves and leaves us feeling anxious or afraid of being an imposition on others. It tells us in a variety of ways that we are not acceptable… Basically, it does everything in its power to prevent us from being vulnerable and forming intimate connections with others.”
The fear of making a mistake gives rise to the inner critic and when we begin to really love ourselves, there is no longer a fear of making a mistake or a need to be perfect and that decreases the need for an inner critic.
What can be kinder than saying ‘I Love You’ to yourself every day? When we make being kind and loving to ourselves a habit, we automatically develop a greater awareness around our inner dialogue and an aversion to unkind and/or critical self-talk.
While this awareness is great and we can find ways to shift into a more positive inner dialogue, there’s still going to be a tendency to be critical and negative because we have not really loved that aspect of self i.e. the critical inner voice.
We don’t want to beat up the inner critic. The worst thing to do is judge the one who is judging because that just continues the cycle. I would therefore say that loving both aspects of self is important. Saying “to the one who is critical I love you” is just as important as saying “to the one who is being criticized, I love you”.
If we were to look at this from the context of the three parts of self, the inner critic would be the active consciousness or the adult self that is criticizing the inner child. It is our higher self that is saying I love you to both. When we love both aspects of self that ties in with what Matt Kahn means when he says “Whatever Arises, Love That”.
Being vulnerable means that your heart stays open to receive what other people have to offer. You are not closed off or putting up a wall. Firestone also asserts that emotional wounds sustained during our formative years drive us to put up protective barriers. These unresolved emotional issues hold us back from fully embracing others. This is probably one of the most powerful ways in which LQ can help us be more vulnerable. By loving our inner child we can heal those emotional wounds.
On the topic of connection Brown discusses her research and explains her findings. She says, “there was only one variable that separated the people who had a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it and that was the people that have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.”
By doing the “I Love You” practice and developing our love quotient we acknowledge that we are worthy and deserving of love. This puts us in the group of those who have a sense of love and belonging and who are more likely to connect with others.
Isn’t it ironic that in this digital age, i.e. the age of greater connectivity we are less connected than ever before? This is because we are also more distracted than we have ever been. Almost every expert on vulnerability and connection has mentioned the importance of being present. Mindfulness practices help us to be more present. While LQ empowers these practices by allowing us to feel more safe and comfortable in our bodies.
Not only does LQ empower vulnerability it also helps us to deal with other people’s reactions to our vulnerability. As we infuse our bodies with love we become less dependent on outside affirmation to know that we are worthy of love. We won’t need to shy away from uncomfortable emotions such as disappointment or rejection. We move into a position to be able to embrace all emotions and love ourselves through feeling them.
Developing our LQ helps us to trust others which in turn reduces the fear of vulnerability. Entering into relationships from a place of trust can be very rewarding and can lead to successful partnerships.
In this article we have discussed the relationship between LQ and vulnerability. As we shift our perception around vulnerability, we can come to see it as a strength and not as a weakness. When we develop our LQ, not only do we shift our perspective on what it means to be vulnerable we will also find that our relationship with vulnerability changes. We develop an open-heartedness which enables us to make more rich connections, live more authentically and create more fulfilling relationships.
We’ve also highlighted the importance of vulnerability and its many benefits. We have examined fear and shame as the reasons we are resistant to being vulnerable and discussed ways in-which LQ helps us process those emotions. We also highlighted the various ways in which LQ empowers vulnerability.