Are you experiencing a Vulnerability Hangover? 6 Steps to Deal with a Vulnerability Hangover
You finally mustered up the courage to take that emotional risk. Maybe you revealed something about yourself, or you asked for something that made you feel vulnerable. Whatever the case may be, the underlying conflict is the same: you showed your true self without knowing if it would be accepted.
And now, you feel a ball of anxiety, regret, and frustration about what you did. You wish you could go back in time and not do the thing that you’re worried about now.
This sensation is normal. In fact, there’s even a name for it. It’s called a vulnerability hangover.
Vulnerability hangovers feel unpleasant, and they can hit hard. Sometimes they happen immediately, and sometimes they’re delayed a few days. In either case, the exhilarating high you got from taking an emotional risk comes crashing down into a devastating low.
Don’t worry – you can get through it. In fact, you can come out better for it. Learn more about vulnerability and six steps you can take to overcome your vulnerability hangover. Keep faith – you can go from “coping with a vulnerability hangover” to conquering one.
What is a vulnerability hangover?
Leading shame researcher Brené Brown coined the term “Vulnerability Hangover” in her videos and books on human connection. Wondering what shame has to do with vulnerability? Turns out, just about everything.
Being vulnerable means that we are willing to take emotional risks when we are uncertain of the outcome. It requires a great deal of courage to reveal our true selves, whether through our feelings, dreams, setbacks, or fears. When we do this, we’re taking the risk that we might be rejected.
This act of rejection triggers some of our most primal fears and shame cycles. After all, back in the prehistoric days, humans required social groups to survive. (A bit more life-and-death than our need to go to the bathroom together, amIright?) Because these needs were so deep-rooted, we still feel the effects in the modern-day.
In particular, we feel enormous shame if we feel like we don’t belong. This fear of shame causes many of us to draw back our vulnerability. It can be particularly powerful for social introverts.
But when we withdraw, we lose our chance at a meaningful life.
Vulnerability hangovers happen after we take an emotional risk
When we do summon the courage to be vulnerable, we open ourselves up to uncertainty. Will he text me back? Do they think less of me for saying that? Have I ruined everything? These questions run through our minds in the absence of a reaction. (And if you’re like me, they just keep running and running and running..honestly, you’d think they would get tired.)
Living with this uncertainty is when the vulnerability hangover unleashes. While waiting for the fallout of our emotional risk (or dealing with the actual result), we undergo a wave of emotional backlash.
The more significant the investment, the bigger the backlash.
Consider a cooking analogy. If you spend a few minutes popping something in the microwave, you’re probably not going to be super phased if it doesn’t turn out exactly as you wanted. But if you spend hours carefully crafting a meal, you’re going to be pretty upset if it doesn’t taste good.
The more vulnerable you are, the heavier the outcome will weigh on you.
Fortunately, there are steps to overcome your vulnerability hangover.
6 Steps to Overcome Your Vulnerability Hangover
1. Identify and name your emotions
It might seem odd, during an extremely emotional reaction, for you to want to focus on these negative emotions. However, it’s actually the most important step. In all of our miswired, biased glory, it can be pretty easy to get lost in our emotional reactions.
Think about a time when your emotions took over your behavior. Did you become paralyzed with anxiety? Maybe you switched into an over-productive, hyper-active mode to shelter yourself. Whatever the reaction, I’d guess that you weren’t consciously aware of all of your actions.
That’s why, during a vulnerability hangover, you must identify and name what you’re feeling. Rather than being lost in a tailspin, you can reclaim the driver’s seat. This won’t immediately end your vulnerability hangover, but it will help you see pathways out of it.
So next time you find yourself curled up with regret, pause. What are you feeling? Whether it’s fear or shame (or both), you can survive these feelings. You can also begin to control your behavior again once you name them.
2. Talk it out with your confidants
Once you name your emotions, you can better express them with others. And I don’t just mean anyone – I mean going to your most trusted confidants. These are the people that you know have already accepted you.
While this is still an act of vulnerability, it shouldn’t feel like an emotional risk.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable… If we cultivate enough awareness about shame, to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.”
Talking to your confidants won’t alter the outcome of your emotional risk. It will, however, help you push through your vulnerability hangover and limit the shame you feel. Even talking about it with one other person can completely change your mood – so keep sharing with others to push away the bad feelings.
All a sudden, you’re not alone in your spiral of uncertainty. You have a partner or team to brave the vulnerability hangover with together.
3. Remind yourself why you took the risk in the first place
The first time I published this blog on my social media, I threw my phone on the couch and refused to look at it for hours. I was reeling that I had just shared my dream in the world, open for judgment. Rather than deal with my emotions, I wanted to completely forget what I had just done.
When you’re in the middle of a vulnerability hangover, the last thing you want to do is think about it. We build mental walls longer than the Great Wall of China and taller than the Empire State Building. (Don’t say I don’t make geographical references in my blog posts…). This reaction is our fool-hearted attempt to rid ourselves of the emotional backlash.
Unfortunately, this strategy does nothing but prolong our anguish. To get over our vulnerability hangover, we need to think about our act of vulnerability. Instead of focusing on the uncertain outcome, we need to concentrate on why we did it in the first place.
When I was deep in my vulnerability hangover about my blog’s release, I had to remind myself why I was doing it. I wanted to be a writer, and a blog could help me achieve my goals. The ultimate dream made the discomfort worth it.
Remind yourself of the reason behind your initial action. Something made it worth it for you to take a risk. Even if the risk doesn’t pan out exactly as you hoped, the act of doing it is critical.
4. Zoom out and reframe your perspective
Not only does a vulnerability hangover feel awful, but it also feels like it’ll never end. (Much like an actual hangover, if anyone has *ahem* ever had one of those). We get locked in our thoughts and can’t see a way out.
Realistically, you know that you’ll survive – whatever the circumstance might be. You’ll eventually have to go back to work, or face your friends, or see your crush again, much as you want to hide from these people forever. And yes, the next few interactions might still feel uncomfortable.
But you know what makes it less uncomfortable? Doing it.
I know it’s easy to say this and much harder to accomplish. This is why it’s so important for you to zoom out and reframe your view. Whatever vulnerability hangover you’re experiencing, remind yourself that it will end. Life will carry on, and you will have to go along with it.
If this sounds dramatic, that’s because it is. Being vulnerable stirs up all sorts of dramatic, seemingly-impossible emotions that you feel right now. But, if you can step back, you can take a broader perspective on your life and see that you will, in fact, make it out alive. Changing your self-talk can do wonders for your mood.
5. Embrace that we grow from discomfort
Here’s the little known secret we all pretend not to know. We want to improve ourselves, but we want it to be easy. And the truth is, genuine growth doesn’t come from “easy.”
When I first started dating my now-fiancé, I hated feeling vulnerable. I’m talking, “If I hug him before he hugs me I might get rejected, so I’m not going to hug him” level of avoidance. Yes, I wanted to become a better partner and allow our relationship to grow. However, I wanted to just think my way through it without all the scary emotions.
I hate to break it to you, but we can’t merely think our way through growth. That’d be like trying to get from Station A to Station B without riding on the train. (Unless you’ve figured out how to teleport, in which case, you’ve ruined my metaphor).
We need to ride the train, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, to change our lives for the better. Part of this ride will involve vulnerability hangovers from time to time. That’s okay. Try to remind yourself that a vulnerability hangover means that you are opening yourself up for self-growth. Be compassionate with yourself and understand that you desire connection just like everyone else. In the end, you’ll come out better for it.
6. Do something that restores your confidence
No matter how positive your self-talk and reframing is, sometimes a vulnerability hangover can be tough to kick. In these situations, it can be helpful to do something that restores your confidence.
Let’s say you finally proposed the idea you’ve been working on for months to your colleagues. Did they not accept it right away? Did they give you negative feedback? Now, you’re reeling with fear and uncertainty. And you’ve already done all the other steps – talked to a confidant, reminded yourself why it was worth it, embraced the self-growth – but you still feel emotionally distraught.
Sometimes the best way to get over a negative emotion is to introduce an entirely separate, positive one. Choose something that gives you a lot of meaning and joy. Maybe you go to a yoga class, or perhaps you tap into your strengths through work or volunteering. Tap into the feelings of confidence.
It’s crucial during a vulnerability hangover to remind yourself that you’ve got a lot of positives in your life, too; even if you don’t feel like it in the moment.
7. Celebrate your courage and growth
Vulnerability hangovers don’t make us feel like we should celebrate; instead, they make us feel like we should put a brown paper bags over our head. But taking the time to celebrate ourselves – even privately – helps us focus on what’s important. It also helps us keep the faith in ourselves.
While you don’t need to throw yourself a party (although that would be fun, right?!), make sure you acknowledge the step you took. Consider writing in a journal, telling a friend, or merely telling yourself, “I’m proud of myself for putting myself out there.” Your body might be yelling, “Fear and shame!” but these celebratory statements can help shift your emotions in the right direction.
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Why is it so hard to be vulnerable?
If vulnerability is so essential for growth and connection, then why is it so hard to be vulnerable? Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons.
First, our sense of shame is deeply wired in our biological makeup. While it manifests itself in different ways, the common thread is the same: we’re terrified of being rejected by others. Shame can be triggered by gendered expectations, previous experiences and traumas, and societal myths.
Additionally, we humans are wired to naturally compare ourselves to others. (Think of shame and social comparison as a fun one-two punch.) These comparisons inevitably open the door to shame and lack of self-worth.
Second, there are a lot of myths about vulnerability that make us think being vulnerable is bad. At the forefront is the myth that vulnerability is a weakness. (Heck, professional fields use the word “vulnerable” to imply that something is unstable!). Our culture tricked us into thinking that “going at it alone” represents courage.
The real courage is to open ourselves up when we don’t know the outcome.
Finally, it’s hard to be vulnerable when we’re not self-aware. I bet some of you are reading this thinking that this doesn’t apply to you, because you’re chock full of self-awareness. I hate to break it to you, but almost 90% of humans lack self-awareness. Don’t believe me? Take this free self-awareness test and check out 6 signs that you lack self-awareness.
Because it’s so hard to be vulnerable, the aftermath of these emotional risks can result in a powerful vulnerability hangover.
Why is a vulnerability hangover worth it?
So why risk a vulnerability hangover? Your life is fine the way it is. Heck, you might even be pretty happy with how things are going. Why take the chance at feeling like you got slapped with a wet, emotional fish? (How’s that for a visual).
Bottom line: vulnerability is worth it. Not only is it worth it, but it’s necessary to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.
You can try to disagree if you want, but deep down, we all know it to be true. At our core, we need to feel a strong sense of belonging to be happy. We can only really experience true belonging if we are presenting our authentic selves.
One of my favorite Brené Brown vulnerability quotes is, “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.”
If you want to learn more about vulnerability and shame, I highly recommend any of Brené Brown’s books. I’ve read them all and they have completely changed my outlook on life. I can honestly say that the love and meaning I’ve found in my relationships and work are the result of reading her books.
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The Benefits of Being Vulnerable Are Worth It
Next time you shy away from being vulnerable, remind yourself the benefits of being vulnerable. You can find the people in life who fully accept you. As a result, your relationships will flourish.
Furthermore, you’ll actually be able to accept your own self-worth. While it might not feel like it in the middle of a vulnerability hangover, you’ll experience a boost of self-confidence in the long run.
The Importance of Self-Awareness in Being Vulnerable
If vulnerability is the key to unlocking a meaningful life, then self-awareness is the hand that slides the key into the lock. You need to be self-aware to experience the benefits of genuine vulnerability in your life.
Consider this. You feel some sort of way about a person, but you don’t know exactly what it is. Maybe the person gives you butterflies, or turns you on, or makes you rethink your own values. Either way, the emotions are strong. But what do you do about them?
It’s impossible for you to communicate your feelings if you don’t know what they are. furthermore, it’s hard for you to know what to do if you don’t know what you need as a person.
Vulnerability is not a haphazard reveal of unsure, confusing emotions. (Although, let’s be honest, we’ve all done that as well). Instead, vulnerability is standing up and saying, This is who I am and what I want.
Just like surviving vulnerability hangovers is a journey, so is improving your self-awareness. Fortunately, there are ways you can be more self-aware in your everyday life. There are also tons of activities for self-awareness.
If you’ve ever felt a wave of regret and anxiety after taking a risk, you’re probably experiencing a vulnerability hangover. Don’t worry, you’re not alone – nor is it an entirely bad thing. Still, it can feel pretty bad in the moment.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome your vulnerability hangover. They include:
- Identify and name your emotions
- Talk it out with your confidants
- Remind yourself why you took the risk in the first place
- Zoom out and reframe your view
- Embrace that we grow from discomfort
- Do something that restores your confidence
- Celebrate yourself and your growth
Feeling a vulnerability hangover is not fun. However, it’s a necessary part of your self-growth journey on your way to creating a happy, meaningful life.
Have you ever felt a vulnerability hangover? Dare to be vulnerable now? Learn how you can be more self-aware or more vulnerable in your life.