How to be vulnerable in your everyday life.
Recently, I applied for a leadership program led by a new director at my school. The application required us to write an essay about why we wanted to learn more about leadership. After some thought, I gave a detailed explanation of how my goals and personality inspired me to lead.
Fast forward one month. I’d been accepted along with thirteen other adults. To kick things off, our program director sends us an email with copies of all our application essays. He writes, “In an effort to encourage vulnerability in our new group.”
I paused when I read the email. Something didn’t sit right about having others read my application essay, but I didn’t know why. Hadn’t I been honest in my essay? If so, why did I not want others to read it?
Was I merely shying away from vulnerability?
I silenced the questions and turned my attention away from the whole ordeal. Discomfort is necessary for growth, I told myself, and this is just part of the leadership journey.
One hour later, I noticed that he removed the essays from the shared doc. He would apologize for the overexposure in our next meeting. Apparently, a few other individuals replied to his email and asked him to remove the essays.
His attempt for team-building was entirely well-intentioned. His actions showed a genuine belief in the power of vulnerability that would no doubt yield bigger growth for our group in the long run.
But being vulnerable is messy.
As I sat there contemplating the exchange, I began to see the true vulnerability shine through the confusion. Being vulnerable isn’t being forced to share a personal essay – no matter how truthful – with an unintended audience. Nor is it shutting down discomfort to blindly “grow” on the journey.
Being vulnerable is sending an email to your leadership director and stating, “I’m not comfortable with this, even if you are. Here’s why I think what you did was wrong.”
Now that takes courage.
Table of Contents:
- Misconception #1: Acts of vulnerability are not the same for everyone
- Misconception #2: How to be vulnerable evolves as we do
- Misconception #3: Vulnerable acts are not always sharing.
- Misconception #4: Words are not the only method for how to be vulnerable.
- Misconception #5: Being vulnerable should never be forced for the sake of being vulnerable.
- 3 Questions: How to know if you’re choosing to be vulnerable for genuine connection
- What is Vulnerability: Examples of How to Be Vulnerable
- 8 Tips: How to Be More Vulnerable
The Concept of Vulnerability as a Buzzword
Sparked by a viral video of Brené Brown, vulnerability has gained popularity over the last decade. As it becomes a more common word, our mindsets are (slowly) starting to shift.
Namely, we’re beginning to dispel the myths about vulnerability and understand its importance.
We’re moving away from the notion that vulnerability is a weakness. Workplaces are trying to build community, schools are teaching emotional intelligence, and relationship advice focuses on “opening up” as a means of a healthy love life.
“Be vulnerable!” has become the new slogan on cultural initiatives. (I think it replaced, “Face your fears!” and before that, “Don’t do drugs!”).
We realize that being vulnerable is actually a good thing for us in the long run. Even if we get all sorts of nervous sweats beforehand and emotional backlash after.
But with any new initiative, we don’t always know how to achieve it. We don’t know how to be vulnerable.
It’s kind of like the push for climate change. Thanks to research and political leaders, people have become more aware of our actions’ impact on the Earth. If you buy into climate change (a.k.a. you understand logic), you begin to parrot these environmental leaders. “We need to protect the Earth! Everyone needs to care about the Earth more!”
Yet we don’t fully understand what comes next. So we buy a reusable water bottle and try to recycle plastic bags, even though they can’t be recycled in the standard recycle bins. We want to protect the Earth, butttt we don’t really know how.
Our attempts at being vulnerable are similar. We commit a “reusable water bottle” act of being vulnerable and then try to force vulnerability where it doesn’t belong.
Basically, we don’t know how to be vulnerable. Unfortunately, this lack of clarity leads to a lot of harmful and incorrect attempts.
Misconceptions About How to Be Vulnerable
Let’s go back to my story about the leadership program and focus on the actual act of sharing (rather than the forced exposure). The program leader loves deep conversation. For him, sharing a personal essay might not be nerve-racking at all. In fact, he probably would say that he enjoys the chance to connect on self-reflection.
For others, sharing such a personal essay is incredibly vulnerable. For me, talking about why I want to be a leader – when I have minimal leadership experience and don’t know if I’d be any good? Yeah… that feels pretty vulnerable to me.
You can list a hundred reasons why this essay-sharing experience was different for the director and me – situation, age, position, gender, etc. Still, the take-away is the same. What is vulnerable for me is not necessarily vulnerable to him, and vice versa. I’m sure there are tons of things that I find incredibly easy for me that would feel extremely vulnerable for him.
That’s because how to be vulnerable is not the same for everyone. There’s not a universal list of actions that get a “vulnerability stamp.”
Being vulnerable is choosing to be your authentic self in situations when you don’t know the outcome. Vulnerability, in its definition, requires an emotional risk.
For some people, talking about their hopes and dreams doesn’t feel vulnerable. For others, it’s terrifying. I have friends that can talk about their sex life with ease, while others cringe at the mention of the word. We all have different topics that trigger our vulnerability.
In my life, I felt vulnerable every time I called my fiancé first in our early few months of dating. It brought up a slew of deeply-rooted fears, forcing me to fight an inner voice screaming, “Don’t give up your independence and give in to commitment!”
Meanwhile, my fiancé had no problem demonstrating that he liked me. While showing his care did require him to be vulnerable, it wasn’t as hard for him as it was for me.
Three years later, I no longer am afraid to call my fiancé first. (We probably wouldn’t be where we are now if I was…) Which leads me to my next point about vulnerability. The guide on how to be vulnerable changes for each of us.
Let’s examine a very fictional (but strikingly handsome) character named Ron to understand this next misconception on how to be vulnerable.
Three years ago, Ron watched The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown and was inspired to live a more vulnerable life. He immediately set out to be vulnerable with three goals: reconnect with his parents, open up to his girlfriend, and share more of his personal life at work.
Ron summoned his courage and went after his goals with the ferocity of a handsome alpha tiger. He called his parents, which was awkward at first, and then established the routine of a weekly call. Next, he began to be more vulnerable with his girlfriend, allowing himself to be honest about his feelings. And finally, he began to talk more about his hobbies in the break room at work.
Now, Ron has a flourishing relationship with his parents, he’s engaged to his girlfriend, and he developed a couple of close buddies at work.
So is it still vulnerable for him to call home, talk about feelings, or share hobbies?
Yes… and no.
Yes, choosing to show up as your most authentic self will always be a little vulnerable. It’s still a moment when we must say, “Please accept me for who I am.”shame And humans are complicated, emotional beings with some deeply-rooted fears that come up time and again.
But, the emotional risk of vulnerability diminishes if we aren’t afraid of rejection.
When Ron has authentic conversations with these people in his life, it no longer scares him. He’s used to being vulnerable with them and has established trust and vulnerability in his relationships.
I used to have a terribly difficult time talking about my blog. It made me feel so vulnerable to share such a powerful, unlikely dream with the world. (The fact that I have to qualify it with “unlikely” proves that it still feels a bit vulnerable.) But, over time, I began to develop some resilience to the shame holding me back. Now, I can do it much easier than before.
The more confident we are in ourselves and our self-worth, the less “risky” vulnerable acts feel. So, just like you can’t assume things that make you feel vulnerable are universal, you also can’t think that they’ll never change.
Vulnerability has become synonymous with “sharing” in many people’s minds. That’s why we ask deep questions at dinner parties as a “fun” vulnerability exercise. We think the sharing of information is how to be vulnerable.
Yes, being vulnerable requires us to share our true selves. However, sharing doesn’t always mean an active dump of personal insight. Sometimes, sharing might be inaction.
Think about it with this hypothetical. Early in your relationship, your partner opens up to you about a past trauma he experienced. He admits that he still needs a lot of support to move past the ordeal. “I want to be with you,” he says, “but I know this is a lot to swallow. I won’t blame you if you want out.”
You want to be with him and see a future together. But his reveal definitely catches you off-guard and brings up a lot of your own past experiences and fears. How long will he deal with this? Will this make him think his issues are more important than yours?
What is the vulnerable thing for you to do?
Sharing your own experiences in an attempt to compare your stories certainly isn’t vulnerability. You’re also not being vulnerable if you attack him with all my fear-driven questions (even if they’re buzzing around in your head).
There will be a time and place for these acts later. Right now, you are choosing to be vulnerable if you quietly accept his confession and promise to support him through it.
Vulnerability is not always sharing. In fact, many opportunities to be vulnerable require you to be quiet, pause doubts, or “take the high road.”
When we think of being vulnerable, our mind usually goes to words. A conversation or discussion in which we tell someone something else.
In many cases, it is. Revealing our authentic selves often requires us to tell our thoughts and feelings. But, for any inspiring writers out there (or anyone who took an entry-level English course in college), you probably have heard of the valuable distinction between showing versus telling.
When we assume being vulnerable only falls under the Telling label, we’re missing out on a world of opportunity to be more vulnerable. Furthermore, we’re creating room for misconceptions and forced sharing.
Showing our authentic selves is just as important with how to be vulnerable, if not more so.
Imagine that you and I are in the early stages of our friendship. When we hang out, I tell you how important quality time is to me. Then, I tell you that I want to spend more quality time with you. Heck, I might even talk about a whole list of shared interests we could do together.
It sounds like I’m being vulnerable by prioritizing our new friendship.
However, if I don’t follow through on my statements, am I really being vulnerable? I need to show you that I can show up, rather than just say I will. Building vulnerability in a relationship is a cycle predicated on building trust.
Every action we take tells something about ourselves. If I attend a friend’s event, that shows that I support them. By giving someone a hug, I’m revealing my care for them.
What’s more, showing vulnerability doesn’t even need to involve other people. Whenever I try to learn something about myself or develop my self-awareness, I’m being vulnerable with who I want to be.
As you try to learn how to be vulnerable, keep your mind open to actions as well as words.
I attended a bachelorette party a few months ago with a small group of girls I had never met before. This unifying cause (the bridge) made it much easier to connect with each other during our fun, silly galavanting.
At one point in the weekend, the conversation shifted from surface-level fun to more profound, relationship-oriented questions. (We were celebrating an upcoming marriage, after all). Suddenly, everyone was sharing intimate details about their past and present relationships.
When it became my turn, I hesitated. I didn’t mind talking about my relationship. After all, I loved my fiancé and felt really confident about his role in my life. Still, the topics being discussed that night were sacred to me – details I only shared with my closest friends.
I didn’t know these girls well, and in my eyes, they hadn’t earned the right to know such vulnerable details.
If you don’t want to be vulnerable, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to. Genuine vulnerability isn’t forced for the sake of being vulnerable.
That’d be like reading a book you don’t like for the purpose of reading, or wearing a dress in the middle of the winter for the sake of appearing feminine. (Which many of us ladies have done, and then felt the pains of the cold legs long afterward).
I didn’t know the other girls well at that bachelorette party. For some of them, maybe sharing such details about their dating lives didn’t feel vulnerable. Others might have assumed, “Heck, it doesn’t matter what I say, because I’m never going to see these people again anyway.”
And still, others might have shared because they wrongly assumed, “This is what vulnerability is.”
Neither option is what vulnerability looks like. Being vulnerable should always be a choice that you want to make, in an effort to make a genuine connection.
Okay, you want to be vulnerable. You understand its benefits and how it can completely transform your life. You also understand that, in this blind pursuit of being vulnerable, there are many misconceptions about how to be vulnerable.
So what should you do to be more vulnerable?
First and foremost, you need to make sure that you want to be vulnerable in a given situation. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to make sure this is the case.
1. Do I want to reveal my true self in this situation?
Remember, vulnerability is a choice, not a force. It’s always good to be authentic, but real vulnerability is when you want to reveal that authentic self to the world. It shouldn’t happen with just anybody.
2. What am I hoping to gain from this act?
It’s crucial to check your motives before attempting vulnerability. If you’re hoping to gain trust, closeness, and a deeper appreciation for authenticity, you’re on the right track. However, if you’re attempting to gain some sort of control or bargaining power, you need to stop yourself.
3. What is the most vulnerable thing to do in this situation?
As you’ve read, there are many misconceptions about what vulnerability actually looks like. Even if you have the best of intentions, you still might be off in what being vulnerable is in a given situation. Pause and consider what the emotional risk really is and decide if that is something you want to do.
Real vulnerability is showing up
At the base of it all, real vulnerability is showing up. It’s choosing to say (literally or figuratively): “This is who I am, how I feel, and what I want.”
You can only do this when you understand that “who you are” is just as worthy as anyone else. And, the more vulnerable you can be, the more you can prove to yourself this self-worth.
Here’s the other tricky part with how to be vulnerable. Even if you want to be vulnerable, you still need to know “who you are” in the first place. And humans are wired to lack self-awareness. A whole slew of brain biases and overpowering emotions get in the way.
That’s why self-awareness and vulnerability are intertwined. You can’t show up as your authentic self if you don’t know who your authentic self is. Read more about why self-awareness and vulnerability can’t exist without each other.
Fortunately, there are ways you can become more self-aware. You can start by taking a free self-awareness test to see where you might be lacking self-awareness. Read examples of self-awareness to see if you experience them in your life. Additionally, I’ve created a lengthy resource of 20 Self-Awareness Activities that will unlock your understanding and help you be more vulnerable.
Vulnerability is our willingness to take risks and expose ourselves emotionally to others, even if we don’t know the outcome. You need to open yourself up, even if you don’t know if you’ll be rejected or accepted. Acts of vulnerability don’t need to be grandiose. In fact, being vulnerable can be as simple as saying one comment to someone else.
To be more vulnerable, we need to be willing to present our inner thoughts and feelings to others.
Vulnerability can look like a lot of things. How to be vulnerable can include:
- A thank you text to a friend expressing your appreciation of them
- A phone call to your sibling who you haven’t talked to in awhile
- A supportive comment to your coworker, even if they haven’t been favorable to you
- A confession of how you feel about something
- An apology for something you could’ve done better
- An admission of a mistake you made
- An expression of a hope or dream you have
- A genuine attempt to connect with someone, even if you’re afraid they might not reciprocate
- A willingness to say, “This is who I am/This is what I care about/This is what I believe” even if you know it might not be accepted
You may be thinking, Why would I do any of these things if I know it could end badly for me? Great question. Because if you be more vulnerable, you will open your life up to numerous benefits.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Learn how to be vulnerable in your relationships and in your life.
Why is it important to be vulnerable?
Being vulnerable is necessary for living a happy, fulfilled life. First, vulnerability is necessary for improving our self-awareness. We need to be vulnerable to understand ourselves and dive into our self-discovery journey.
Second, we need to be vulnerable in our relationships. Without vulnerability, we can’t create the trusting, meaningful relationships that we need in life. A real sense of belonging requires us to present our authentic selves.
Finally, we need to be vulnerable to create a life of purpose and growth. Read more about the benefits of vulnerability if you want to know why it’s important to be vulnerable. But right now, read below to learn how to be vulnerable in your life.
Everyone knows that it’s challenging to be more vulnerable. These strategies are meant to help you overcome these challenges. They are different in nature; some might work for you, others might now. As you read them, consider how it could help you be more vulnerable in your everyday life.
1. Remind yourself why it’s important to be more vulnerable
With anything challenging, it’s always critical that we remind ourselves why it’s important in the first place. When you’re feeling all sorts of [insert unpleasant emotion here] and [insert unpleasant bodily reaction here], you need to motivate yourself to push through.
Being vulnerable is not just a passing fad; it’s a necessary ingredient to a happy, healthy, and confident life.
You need to know how to be vulnerable to experience trusting and empathetic relationships. Only when you are willing to open yourself up can you experience real connection with others. (Which, by the way, is at the essence of all human existence… no big deal).
Being vulnerable is also crucial if you want to overcome your negative emotions quicker. Vulnerability allows us to work together, increase our personal accountability, and grow more as individuals. If that’s not enough, you also need to be more vulnerable if you want to feel self-worth.
Only when you can be more vulnerable and say, “accept me as I am” can you fully accept yourself. Feeling self-worth is the first step in how to be vulnerable.
2. Reflect on when it benefited you to be more vulnerable
It can be motivating to remind yourself of why it’s important to be more vulnerable. It can be even more motivating to reflect on when it personally benefited you.
Think of when you were vulnerable in your life, and it paid off. Reflect on all of the positive effects of your courage.
Real quick: at this moment, it can be easy to think of all the times when it didn’t pay off. Our brains naturally focus more on the negative than the positive. Try to fight these urges. Did being vulnerable lead to a positive moment? Did it help you develop a deeper connection? Did it encourage you to grow more as a person?
Revel in the positive experiences you’ve had after being vulnerable. Use these times as motivation for how to be vulnerable again. (Side note: authentic vulnerability is always worth it in the long run).
3. Know your shame triggers
Shame is the main reason we hold back from being vulnerable, as it makes us feel like we’ll be rejected for who we are. It’s a powerful motivator for our behavior. (Apparently, the universe decided that shame would be an excellent fundamental human emotion… because that’s super helpful).
The first step in fighting this is knowing what triggers your feelings of shame.
For example, I can be a bit of a perfectionist. This desire to be perfect is rooted in my feelings of shame; I don’t feel good enough unless I earn approval for my performances. As a result, it can be difficult for me to be more vulnerable when I’m feeling bad about my work.
By understanding what triggers my shame, I can be more aware of when I draw back from vulnerability. Once identified, I can take steps for how to be vulnerable to fight these urges.
4. Imagine if the other person tried to be more vulnerable
We’ve probably all heard some variation of, “Talk to yourself like you’d talk to your friend.” Because, in general, we’re kinder to other people than we are to ourselves.
When it comes to vulnerability, we’re much more accepting of others trying to be more vulnerable.
Society makes us think vulnerability is a weakness. We buy into this myth, and then we’re afraid that other people will judge us if we open up. When you feel this fear, imagine if the other person (whether they be a friend, family member, coworker, etc.) opened up to you. Would you judge them? Or would you think their act of vulnerability was brave?
You will most likely be more vulnerable with people that we trust and care about. If you imagine a reversal of roles in your mind, I would guess that you’d be supportive and happy for the person to have shared.
5. Consider the worst-case scenario
The whole point of vulnerability is that it requires an emotional risk. Subsequently, we’re terrified of the uncertainty that comes with it. It’s challenging to be more vulnerable because a buttload of fears is running through our brains.
As scary as it might seem, consider the worst case scenario if you be more vulnerable. Can you live with it? Overcoming these fears is necessary for how to be vulnerable.
Let’s say you want to tell someone that you love them. What’s the worst case scenario if you do it?
- Worst case number one: They don’t say it back
- Maybe they’re not ready yet, or perhaps they don’t love you – both truths that you’ll want to know.
- Worst case number two: They laugh in your face
- Sounds like they’re emotionally immature – and someone you might want to distance yourself from
- Worst case number three: They tell their friends later about how embarrassing it was for you
- Studies have shown that people actually respect when someone else is vulnerable. I imagine their friends would be on your side. And if not, do you want to spend time with these awful friends anyway.
- Worst case number four: They throw a cup of soda in your face, rip off their shirt, and run away screaming bloody murder.
- I mean, that’s a story you’ll have to tell your grandkids.
Usually, the benefits of an act to be more vulnerable outweigh the worst case scenario. Sometimes identifying what you can live with will help you build the courage to take the first step.
6. Accept what you can and can’t control
You can think of all the worst-case and best-case scenarios in your mind. But the bottom line that you’ll need to accept is this: you can’t control the reaction of others. This is perhaps the biggest roadblock with how to be vulnerable – the uncertainty of the outcome.
The sooner you can accept what you can and can’t control, the easier it will be for you to be more vulnerable.
As someone who loves control, I understand how difficult this is. I like to plan everything; sometimes, I even begin to think my predictions are the truth. As a result, when something doesn’t go the way I plan, I feel all sorts of negative emotions.
In these moments, I need to accept what I can control: my thoughts, behaviors, and reactions. I also need to let go of what I can’t control: other people, outside circumstances, life events. (I mean, who would want to live in a pre-designed world anyway?)
To be more vulnerable, try to let go – and even appreciate – that there are things outside of your control.
7. Allow room for failure and discomfort
Life is not perfect, and neither are you. You have to allow yourself room for failure and discomfort. Rather than run away from these two unpleasantries, embrace how important they are for life.
Opening yourself up to failure and leaning into discomfort is the only way to truly grow as a person. This growth, while uncomfortable, is necessary in how to be vulnerable.
If you want to be more vulnerable, you have to accept that you will make mistakes. Perhaps you’ll share too much to the wrong person, or say something that you didn’t intend to say. Or maybe an act of vulnerability will bring about a particularly uncomfortable situation.
Try to view these moments as learning opportunities. They will ultimately benefit you in the long haul, despite the discomfort you might feel initially.
8. Seek inspiration and vulnerability refueling when necessary
Despite societal myths, it is never easy or comfortable to be more vulnerable. No matter how much you think you’ve “mastered vulnerability,” it will be just as difficult the next time. (Although the more you come back to these strategies, the quicker you can embrace the process.)
At times, being more vulnerable might kick your butt. When this happens, seek inspiration where necessary to refuel your drive and courage. Inspiration is a necessary element for how to be vulnerable.
This “vulnerability refueling” will look different for everyone. For most of us, it might mean that we have a conversation with our go-to confidant (or, in my case, multiple conversations). We all derive energy from connections. Tapping into your relationships for courage and strength is crucial when we’re feeling a bit depleted.
It can also help to reread some articles, quotes, or books about vulnerability. Brené Brown is the queen of vulnerability, and she has numerous resources to help you refind your courage.
Using These Strategies: How to Be More Vulnerable
These 8 ways to be more vulnerable are not one-time transformational tricks; reading them will not magically unlock a world of vulnerability. Instead, you will need to come back to them every day.
However, if you embrace them in your life, you will be able to be more vulnerable, little by little, every day.
You can also learn how to be vulnerable by educating yourself on what vulnerability is and why vulnerability is important.
Learn from Brené Brown, the vulnerability expert
Brené Brown is the leading research on what vulnerability means and how to be vulnerable. She started a revolution when her first Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, went viral. Since then, she has helped educate people on the importance of being vulnerable.
Popular Brené Brown vulnerability quotes include:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
“Judging has become such a part of our thinking patterns that we are rarely even aware of why and how we do it. It takes a great deal of conscious thinking or mindfulness to even bring the habit of judging into our awareness.”
If you want to increase your understanding of what vulnerability means, and how to be vulnerable in your life, Brené Brown is 100% the expert you want to turn to. Her books Braving the Wilderness, The Gifts of Imperfections, and Daring Greatly have literally transformed my perspective on life, self-love, and relationships. If you want to increase your vulnerability in leadership, you’ll want to check out Dare to Lead.
Vulnerability Collection: Learn How to Be Vulnerable
Don’t want to commit to a whole book? Check out more blog posts to teach yourself all about vulnerability and why it’s the missing key to a meaningful, purpose-driven life. This post is one of four in my “Vulnerability Collection.”
Learn more about the myths of vulnerability, the benefits of vulnerability, how to be more vulnerable in your everyday life, and why vulnerability is necessary to improve your self-awareness:
- 6 Steps to Overcome a Vulnerability Hangover
- How to Cultivate Vulnerability in a Relationship
- Myths of Vulnerability
- Obstacles to Vulnerability
- Benefits of Vulnerability
- Why Vulnerability and Self-Awareness are Necessary for Self-Growth
No matter how much you value vulnerability, it is still difficult to be more vulnerable in our everyday lives. Many obstacles are working against us that make it hard to be vulnerable. We also need to fight the myths about vulnerability that our society has created.
Some of the common misconceptions about how to be vulnerable are:
- Acts of vulnerability are not the same for everyone
- How to be vulnerable evolves as we do
- Vulnerable acts are not always sharing.
- Words are not the only method for how to be vulnerable.
- Being vulnerable should never be forced for the sake of being vulnerable.
To combat these obstacles and myths, you can use these 8 strategies to be more vulnerable:
- Remind yourself why it’s important to be more vulnerable
- Reflect on when it benefited you to be more vulnerable
- Know your shame triggers
- Imagine if the other person tried to be more vulnerable
- Consider the worst case scenario
- Accept what you can and can’t control
- Allow room for failure and discomfort
- Seek inspiration and vulnerability refueling when necessary
Ready to take on the fight? Check out the questions below and consider how these 8 strategies can help you. Be brave, be kind, and be vulnerable.