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7 Things You Can Do to Approach Vulnerability

Use moments of vulnerability to become more authentic, resilient, and connected.

Key points

  • People's habitual neglect of inner experience when they are vulnerable is driven by many forces.
  • One's relationship to oneself in moments of vulnerability determines the quality of one's life.
  • There are several things individuals can do to help themselves face vulnerability to grow.
Source: Jason Thompson/Unsplash
Vulnerability can stir emotion.
Source: Jason Thompson/Unsplash

Moments of vulnerability stir emotion, and our relationship with ourselves in those moments determines the quality of our lives. We may feel unrest as our sympathetic nervous system signals rising emotion, agitating us and making our muscles tighten. Typically we have one of two exits. We may tell ourselves the lie that we can and must get ultimate control over what we long for, making us worry over catastrophic possibilities that we feel we must avert. Or we may tell the other lie that says, “It doesn’t matter,” making us disconnect from the enlivening energy of desire and flattening our emotional experience.

But if we pause in moments of vulnerability and face our emotions, we are free to face the truth, painful as it may be, of our limits. We can slow down and let it matter. Let ourselves matter.

In facing what we feel when things are not as we long for, we show ourselves we can bear the pain of life. We don’t need to reject ourselves or the reality of our limits. We grow capacities to live our biggest lives. We become more authentic, resilient, and connected to others.

7 Things You Can Do Now

Vulnerability is hard, and shiny objects are everywhere to distract us away from this precious growth opportunity. So what can we do?

1. Approach What Doesn’t Feel Good.

Facing what we have been avoiding is one of the most powerful factors in therapeutic success. Approach the discomfort or unrest. Tune in to your body and experience the physical sensations of discomfort with warm interest and non-judgment until you can feel a shift.

2. Learn Your Ringtone.

Think of something you long for (perhaps a good night’s sleep, passing an exam, quieter neighbors, your loved ones being happy or healthy, your dog not peeing on the carpet), then list some factors not in your control that play a role in the outcome. Let yourself feel how your body signals you. That is your ringtone, the way your body tries to get your attention. Learn it and listen for it!

3. Mind the Gap.

Look for moments of vulnerability in your daily life. We tend to either fret about our limits to control the environment around us or deny them. Simply begin to look for this human truth. You are not the 100 percent boss of much at all, and it is important to make space for that.

4. Differentiate Unrest From Fear.

Experiencing sensations of unrest when you are vulnerable is evidence to your body that you are not in danger. Since unrest is physiologically indistinguishable from fear, you need to assure your body that what has activated it is emotion (i.e., vulnerability), not an immediate threat to life and limb. If you do not assure your body with warm attention, it will default to survival mode and hijack your brain into fight-or-flight mode.

5. Block Untrue or Harmful Stories.

If we do not recognize unrest as a call to tune in and face vulnerability, we will unconsciously misread the sensations as danger and make up scary stories to help explain why we feel this way. We must block those stories and be present in the moment with the sensations, or our nervous system will jack up to a higher level from all the threatening things we tell ourselves.

6. Tune In, Soothe, Repeat.

Understand that approaching and utilizing vulnerability to grow is a physical thing. It involves experiencing in the body. So that means we need to do it again and again.

This is not like a cognitive insight that we get once, and it’s done. Like other physical needs—thirst, hunger, sleep, breathing, for example—we cannot just do it once and say, “OK, that’s done!” We need to soothe our nervous system daily for life.

7. Acknowledge Success.

Even a 20 percent reduction in sympathetic nervous system activation when you tune in and pay attention to unrest is a success. You won’t get to totally chill. You will be activated because emotions (often sadness, sometimes anger) are rising to help you come to terms with your human limits. If we don’t acknowledge success, the part of us that took the risk to approach discomfort will just give up, as though nothing it does is good enough. Feel the success (pride, joy) in your body!

Jan Candy/Unsplash
You are worthy of kindness.
Source: Jan Candy/Unsplash

Most of All, Be Kind.

To benefit from the growth-promoting opportunity of experiencing vulnerability, you’ll need to do the opposite of how you are wired. This is simple but not easy. Our habitual neglect of inner experience when we are vulnerable is driven by many forces. We may have been taught in our family that to be vulnerable is to be weak. We may have absorbed stoic cultural values of “can do” that say accepting limits is a failure. And we all have biological wiring that unconsciously perceives sympathetic nervous system activation as a threat. We need to be patient with ourselves as we learn this new way of being in the face of our limits to what we long for.

When we can soothe unrest and stay with ourselves in the emotions that accompany vulnerability, we grow confidence that we can cope, and we can feel worthy of love without conditions. We can become all we are meant to be, limits and all.


Hu, T., Zhang, D., Wang, J., Mistry, R., Ran, G., & Wang, X. (2014). Relation between Emotion Regulation and Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis Review. Psychological Reports, 114(2), 341–362.

Parker, S. (2022). Embracing Unrest: Harness Vulnerability to Tame Anxiety and Spark Growth. Vancouver: Page Two Press.

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