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Embracing Vulnerability

How to foster growth, even when you're afraid to take the risk.

Key points

  • Embracing emotional vulnerability and taking emotional risks can lead to personal growth.
  • Letting your guard down and being fully yourself builds self-acceptance and self-esteem, enhances relationships, and improves quality of life.
  • Being emotionally vulnerable is a skill you can practice. Treat yourself with compassion, learn about yourself, and have new experiences.
Peggy_Marco/9379 images/pixabay
Peggy_Marco/9379 images/pixabay

Emotional vulnerability is the quality or feeling of being exposed to possible emotional attack or harm. Having to face potential criticism or rejection. It is not easy to take emotional risks and open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt. And, embracing emotional vulnerability can lead to personal growth.

I felt very emotionally vulnerable when dating. As a person with an overt physical disability, it seemed like rejection was looming on every date. I felt exposed and anxious and I chose to date, and embrace the vulnerability that came along with it because I wanted the possibility of an accepting and loving romantic partnership. By sitting on the sidelines and avoiding dating, I was cutting myself off from my desires and values. I was limiting the possibilities of my life and boxing myself in.

Ultimately, I decided that the pain of cutting myself off from my wants, of not even trying, was worse than the unease and pain that may come with embracing vulnerability. I decided the risk was worth it. I knew there were no guarantees. I may put myself out there, feel rejected and sad again and again, and not find a compatible partner. It may sound cliché, and I think there is truth in the notion that we often regret the things we didn’t do in life, not the things we did or tried doing, even if we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.

Humans have a strong instinct for self-protection, to avoid pain and hurt. However, being vulnerable is part of being human. Being vulnerable requires us to let our guard down and be seen for who we authentically are. This is difficult, and a key part of enhancing self-acceptance and genuine confidence, building relationships, and strengthening quality of life is allowing ourselves to be seen by ourselves and others.

Vulnerability is an inevitable part of life. So many things require vulnerability: trying something new, sharing a difficult experience, expressing emotions, and if we constantly have a guard up, we often end up living a less fulfilling life. Instead of trying to guard against it, we can practice embracing vulnerability knowing that it often leads to personal growth and will make our lives more meaningful in the long run.

Benefits of practicing embracing vulnerability

  • It allows us to be our authentic selves instead of trying to please others or focusing on avoiding rejection.
  • It helps build empathy. When we let our walls down, it increases our ability to share feelings and create understanding.
  • It helps us acknowledge and express our emotions which enhances personal insight and well-being.
  • It enhances a sense of courage and resiliency.
  • It fosters strong and more effective connections and relationships.

Embracing vulnerability is a skill we can practice

Here are some strategies for how you can practice embracing vulnerability:

  • Give yourself permission to be yourself. Remind yourself that we are all human and we are all imperfect. Repeat helpful statements to yourself that facilitate permission-giving.
    • “I am human.”
    • “No one is perfect.”
    • “I am allowed to be myself.”
    • “I don’t have to apologize for who I am.”
    • “I am a perfectly imperfect and complex person.”
  • Practice letting your values guide you, not your worry or anxiety. Remind yourself of what you value and what is meaningful to you in life. In other words, what is the “why” behind your behavior?
  • Actively seek to learn about yourself.
    • What are your preferences, needs, opinions, and desires?
    • What matters most to you?
    • When do you feel most energized?
    • When do you feel drained?

Thinking about and knowing the answers to these types of questions allows you to have stronger self-awareness and to make informed decisions that help you move forward even when feeling uncertain and/or insecure. If you don’t know yourself well, you may be prone to taking action based on a sense of should vs. your values.

  • Adopt a nonjudgmental and curious stance toward all of your emotions. Instead of using a critical or judgmental tone of voice with yourself, “Why am I anxious again? What is wrong with me? I shouldn’t feel this way.,” practice using a curious and nonjudgmental tone - “Huh, I notice I’m feeling anxious right now.”
  • Practice trying new things and having new experiences. This can be challenging and it is okay to start small. What is something you have wanted to do or try yet haven’t done due to a sense of unease or uncertainty?

See if you can take action on something important to you even if you feel anxious. Developing courage is not about feeling calm and confident. It is about feeling anxious and taking action anyway. Ask yourself, “Can I have the courage to practice showing up to myself and my life and allow myself to be seen by others?”

  • Practice not being as concerned about what other people think. It is normal to be worried about the perception of others. Yet, we assume others are going to be more critical of us than they are, and this worry can hinder helpful behavior. Ask yourself, “What would I do right now if I wasn’t worried about what others think?” and focus on practicing that behavior.
  • Practice self-compassion. To embrace vulnerability, it is helpful to practice being kind and compassionate toward ourselves and recognize our humanness. One way to practice self-compassion is by using self-compassionate coping statements.
    • “I am perfectly imperfect.”
    • “I am okay.”
    • “I am human.”
    • “I am not alone. Other people feel this way too."

I encourage you to lean into vulnerability and see where it may take you. While there are no guarantees, it may just lead to a more fulfilling life.

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