Vulnerability Understanding Vulnerability Vulnerability Myths Hindrances to Vulnerability Benefits of Vulnerability Vulnerability: The Gist Being 'Enough' Vulnerability Practice & Exercises Vulnerability Resources

When we are vulnerable with others, we are asking for their acceptance. That is what is so scary. We have no control over the outcome. To help us tread into the vulnerability waters, a sense of “being enough” can go a long way.

Navigating the social risk of vulnerability is easier when we have a solid anchor in who we are and what kind of connections we want to foster. This is our idea of “being enough.” Our own sense of self-worth can give us buoyancy through the ups and downs inherent in finding the people we can be vulnerable with. It teaches us to take social, professional, and/or interpersonal criticism as feedback rather than as failure or an attack.

“Being enough” is seeing ourselves in the current moment and accepting ourselves as worthy. Be that as worthy of friendship, love (including self-love), a livelihood, self-care (including self-compassion), or pursuing our dreams.

As humans, we tend to steer one of two extreme directions when it comes to the phrase “I am enough”:

Always Under Any Circumstances Only if I am… Perfect.
-takes away personal responsibility
-frames change as not necessary
-born perfect just as we are
-the world must fit around us
-it’s never our fault
-a kind of unconditional self-love absolved of any self-criticism, accountability, etc.
-enables freeze/overwhelm response
-frames change as impossible
-places too much emphasis on self-punishment rather than self-potential to change
-we have no place in the world
-it’s always our fault rather than a part of the conversation of why something happened
-overly conditional self-love can lead to self-defeating stories

Too much “enoughness” implies we can not help who we are. This approach takes away our agency from what direction our lives are going. This is where “unconditional” self-love gets its bad reputation. We automatically deserve everything. It gives the impression of blind self-acceptance that requires no self-evaluation and paints loving ourselves as a flower-strewn, straightforward path.

Alternatively, too little “enoughness” can freeze us in place. Any bad circumstances we face may seem deserved and thus shouldn’t be changed until we deserve better. This is equally disempowering. It postpones change until we meet a goal (we can’t find love until we look a certain way, or we can’t get a certain type of job until we are qualified for every single requirement). Limiting what we think we can accomplish or how we can actively shape and reshape our lives.

In reality, we need to learn to accept who we are to the degree that we can see our flaws without shutting down AND see the good without just inflating our egos. That is the healthy dose we are looking for when creating our “enoughness.”

  • Being enough helps us feel more confident in our jobs. AND doesn’t mean we will never mess up, or never need to level up our performance, experience competition, or take criticism.
  • Being enough helps us find people who accept us for who we are. AND it doesn’t mean we  require our friends, family, etc. to accept us forever and always as we currently are now. It doesn’t mean we can’t be a better friend, relative, or partner.
  • Being enough  doesn’t mean that if there is difficulty in an area of our lives it CAN ONLY be due to incompatibility rather than a sign we could be developing new habits, learning better communication, or otherwise taking ownership for our part in why there is a problem.

On This Page

We’ll try to answer what ingredients can make up our own “enoughness,” and how it can help us reap the benefits of vulnerability.

Let’s begin!

Being Enough

In Relationship-what is our enoughness baseline?

In Understanding Vulnerability, we touched on the concept of attachment styles, their effects on how we find belonging, and how feeling like we “matter” helps us open up to vulnerability in our relationships. If we have a secure attachment style, we are confident in our abilities to navigate setbacks in life. Secure attachment can be helpful in framing what a healthy sense of enoughness could feel like.

A Secure Attachment

  • Trusts that loved ones value them
  • Won’t ruminate on motives behind actions
  • Will have confidence voicing boundaries AND needs (maybe even wants)
  • Will see relationships as a co partnership-both participants enriching each other’s lives

Someone trying to cultivate a sense of enoughness will find the process familiar if they have a secure attachment style.

Meanwhile…

An Insecure Attachment

  • Will sweat the little things, doubting sincere motivations from people around them
  • Might be prone to blaming rather than investigating their flaws
  • Boundaries will be difficult or nonexistent
  • Might think their partner or friend deserves better than them

If we have an insecure attachment, our journey to a sense of being enough is going to have steeper steps. It will not be impossible! Just different. As Bell Hooks says about love (including self-love):

“When love’s promise has never been fulfilled in our lives it is perhaps the most difficult practice of love to trust that the passage through the painful abyss leads to paradise.”

Whether we’re secure and have a bit of a head start, or insecure and a little more skeptical, we’ll still be able to use the same techniques to cultivate our enoughness.

Finding Our Way to Being Enough

Cultivating Unconditional Self-Worth | Adia Gooden | TEDxDePaulUniversity

Adia Gooden Ph.D., talks about why it is so important to have a sense of self-worth (aka being enough). She goes on to describe 3 steps to finding our own unconditional self-worth:

  1. Self-Forgiveness: reflect on circumstances that led to past mistakes. We can sit with our mistakes and flaws, learn from them, and move on.
  2. Practice self-acceptance: we are surrounded by a culture that insists we must compare ourselves to others. To unravel the negative effect this can have, we can accept ourselves for where we are at. Unconditional self-love can be a starting point for growth and opportunity to look at parts of ourselves we are less proud of. Social Comparison
  3. Connect to supportive people: isolation cuts us off from other’s experiences of self-worth and necessary external reminders of our humanity.

Forgiveness: We aren’t giving ourselves a free pass to never change if we practice a little self-compassion

This can be our biggest hesitance about cultivating a sense of being enough. Self-acceptance and forgiveness can seem like we’re letting ourselves off the hook for “bad” traits like laziness, arrogance, or being self-centered. Even Brene Brown has spoken about how slippery this distinction can seem.

Forgiving ourselves for how we have fallen short for ourselves or for others doesn’t mean we erase our part. One of the pillars of AMOL is remaining mindful of our own agency in our lives. Self-awareness gives way to understanding our influence over our relationship to ourselves and to other people.

But punishing ourselves for what we have failed to do in the past isn’t going to achieve anything. In fact, it’s the easy way out! “I’m a terrible person” marries us to that identity-it is complacency. “I have been a terrible person,” leaves room for a character arc and the work it takes to change. 

Acceptance: Being enough isn’t about being perfect or a wholly good person. It’s about being aware of what we’re working with as we pursue our meaningful life.

This requires self-acceptance. Self-awareness without self-acceptance makes a pity party rather than an environment for growth. Acceptance means we understand where we are in the present moment. It contextualizes our flaws within the broader world. It says, “Well…look at all these terrible-person flaws I have in my toolbox! What have I been using them for? What can I use instead?”

It means we understand our flaws will show up in our lives whether we acknowledge them or not. So, do we take them head on or do we let them control our lives in incognito mode? Letting ourselves be enough, imperfect as we may be, is not a “Get out of jail” card.

Community: It takes a village…

Finding our enoughness relies a lot on our own personal work. However, as Dr. Gooden says, the “connecting with supportive people” part might be as crucial. In studies investigating if we can change attachment patterns from insecure (a sense of not being enough) to secure (having a sense of being enough), long-term couples were asked to journal about each other for three weeks.

The diary entries revealed that when a participant felt heard and supported by their partner, they rated their relationship as higher in quality. It didn’t take more than opening up to each other and having mutual support to soften the guarded reactions of an insecure attachment. Healing came through being in-relationship with others (this doesn’t have to apply to only romantic partners either; it could be friends, community, and even family).

Sarah Stanton, assistant professor at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the paper, explained, “It really can just be as simple as talking to your partner and opening up a little bit.”

In other words, when we are vulnerable with someone and they validate our feelings it strengthens our ability to recognize we are worth that care and consideration. And getting community feedback is a great way to assess if we’re on track to finding a healthy level of enoughness.

“How you take care of yourself is how the world sees you. It’s OK to have a relationship with yourself.” — Jonathan Van Ness

One of the main messages we can take away from the acclaimed show Queer Eye is that there’s a universal power that comes along with feeling enough. The Fab 5 model positive, healthy, adult relationships based on authenticity and self-compassion. And their advice usually includes helping their clients embrace vulnerability.

Examples:

A man named Kenny hasn’t let anyone visit his home in 15 years, despite claiming to be a people person. Talking with Karamo, he admits it’s because he thinks he is a failure compared to his siblings. Karamo and the other Fab Five members gradually help Kenny realize how self-defeating his inner narrative is. By the end of the episode, Kenny has a newfound sense of self worth and opens his home up to friends and family.

In this scene, how does Kenny’s inability to see himself as enough prevent him from opening up to others?
What was the result after having been vulnerable about his isolation?

In another episode, Jonathan gets to visit a former high school teacher. Jonathan confesses how much a teacher accepting them meant to them. Jonathan was able to cultivate a sense of “enoughness” for themselves by receiving no strings attached acceptance from someone during their formative years.

In this scene, Jonathan reveals how much it meant to them to have a role model’s support. They were validated by someone else’s acceptance.
Can you name someone from your past or present who makes you feel accepted for who you are?
Where do you think you could be now if they hadn’t been in your life?

In these two examples, we have two different relationships between vulnerability and being enough.

In Kenny’s example, he needs to be vulnerable to be shown the support that is already around him. He is given external permission to care about himself. Which allows him to be kinder to himself internally and open up to his friends and family.

In Jonathan’s example, they were given the “you’re enough” cue earlier in life which helped them live a life with more vulnerability (being true to themselves).

Both Kenny and Jonathan had to work within themselves to accept they are enough as they are. And both needed to see themselves as enough before they could open up to others.

QUEER EYE BONUS QUESTIONS:

  • How do the Fab 5 show people ways that we can reclaim our sense of self? 
  • How does self-care play a role in self-confidence? 
  • What are some ways that The Fab 5 help guide people to feel “enough?”

Tools for Being Enough

What else can we use to grow our enoughness? Especially if we don’t have a secure attachment style?

And, what can we do to ensure we aren’t being too forgiving about our less favorable traits? At AMOL, we cover a lot of ideas and topics useful to developing a sense of being enough.

This is a wonderful opportunity to embody the creative-brain orientation!

Are we framing our problems or shortcomings as a failure or as a chance to learn? 

What is this bringing up for me? Is there a story about myself I’m resistant to let go of?

How does my body feel when I repeat that pattern I don’t like?

We can shift our perspectives to create more agency in our own story. 

We can BE CURIOUS and open to feedback. Curiosity is a valuable asset in life in general. In terms of enoughness though, it will help us hear when other people think we’re straying into arrogance or otherwise becoming too complacent.

We can integrate 100% Responsibility into our practice of forgiveness and acceptance. Our experience of the world is determined by our subjective beliefs. This includes our perceptions of our own self worth and enoughness. This idea can help us take accountability if we are having trouble forgiving or accepting ourselves.

We can watch for when we’re falling into the social comparison trap. A little comparison can be motivating, but our current world makes it easy to be oversaturated with how our lives are stacking up against others. This will set our enoughness goals and standards to what other people are doing, rather than what we want or need. Instead, we can use these tips from a Psychology Today article:

  • Seek Connection, Not Comparison
  • Look Up, Just a Little
  • Count Our Blessings
  • Compare Ourselves to…Ourself
  • Pursue Upward-Joy

If our sense of enoughness is still evading our grasp, it’s possible we’re being too hard on ourselves and we need to incorporate more self-compassion in our lives.

Self-Compassion

“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” —Kristin Neff

To be compassionate is to find common humanity in what other people are going through. Not to be mistaken with pity or the desire to help someone, compassion is kindness and empathy in place of judgment. We define self-compassion as, “When we are kind and caring to ourselves, as if to a close friend, especially during times of suffering, failure, or perceived inadequacy.”

For more information on how to develop our practice of self-compassion, check out the page by clicking the button below:

It’s easier said than done! In vulnerable situations (like admitting to a mistake, sharing one’s creativity, or sharing a fear) it can be hard to maintain our sense of being enough and instead spiral into negative responses like self-loathing. Research shows we are more overly critical of our own vulnerabilities while being more understanding of the vulnerabilities of others (Bruk 2022). This tendency to have more patience and consideration for why others mess up, but not give ourselves the same grace, is common.

So what can we do? Simply be kind to ourselves? Isn’t that too easy? Well, how easy it is will depend on the individual but at risk of simplifying too much, yes, being kind to ourselves can unlock many doors. Including fortifying our self-worth.

In research, it was found that individuals with a higher propensity for self-compassion were able to close the self/other distinction when making mistakes (Lee 1997). By “treating oneself with kindness, recognizing one’s shared humanity, and being mindful when considering negative aspects of oneself,” the study revealed that participants were more likely to keep their sense of self-worth when faced with negative outcomes (Neff 2011).

In the book Resilient, Dr. Rick Hanson asks, “What would you do if you were on your own side?” What would happen if we approached ourselves with the same kindness that we show our friends?”

Think about that as we explore a few examples in the context of self-compassion. 

What we experience… What we say to ourselves w/ Negative Talk Enoughness w/ Self-Compassion
Our friend’s Instagram account with perfectly curated photos and a perfect life. “I’m never going to have a life like that …” “What draws me to their instagram photos? Why do I think I need to compare myself to them?”
Our partner breaks up with us. “I’m never going to feel this kind of love again. No one will think I’m worth it.” “I am worthy of love. And I can get through this pain and still be open to a new connection.”
We make mistakes at work. “I’m so unreliable and they’ll (rightfully) never trust me again.” “I can forgive myself. We’re all human and we make mistakes daily. I have and will do better.”
We find ourselves yelling at our children. “I’m a bad parent. I’m just like my father and I’m ruining their childhood.” “I don’t know why I’m yelling at my kids, but I’m going to take a step back and get some help so I can show up better for them. ”
Being left out by other children. “Nobody likes me. It must be because something’s wrong with me.” “There’s a group of friends out there for me. Maybe not these kids though.”

Notice that in the Negative Talk column, the responses are to shut down or be closed off to trying again. Meanwhile, in the Enoughness column, the response is to be open to trying again, even after facing disappointment, rejection, or seeing a side of ourselves we don’t like. Our ability to be self-compassionate (or see ourselves as ok as is) gives us permission to be vulnerable in the future.

Compassionate Communication

The sparknotes version of compassionate communication is as follows:

Act from the assumption that we all share essential human needs, and can see that in others.

When speaking or relating to others, we can prioritize empathy and connection by relating with/to those common needs, even in the face of conflict.

Generally, this is a skill we use when talking to others. However, in service of finding our way to being enough, we can turn these skills inwards!

The steps of Compassionate or Nonviolent Communication:

  1. Observation: I didn’t clean my room last night even though I normally do and I had the free time. 
  2. Feeling: This makes me feel like I haven’t used my time well and I’m letting myself down. 
  3. Need: I wanted to do something more enjoyable with my free time after work. I haven’t felt like I’ve gotten any time to relax.
  4. Request: Maybe scheduling in some “veg out” time each week will help me feel less constrained by my day to day responsibilities. 

Need something simpler? Try talking to yourself as you would a friend! Would you be mean to a friend that made the same mistake your inner critic is smirking about? Probably not!

Learn how to release an emotion:

  1. Make a commitment to feel your feelings
  2. Name your feelings
    -5 core feelings: Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Sexual/Creative
  3. Locate the feeling in your body
    Stop thinking thoughts and start feeling sensations – answers like, my jaw, back, solar plexus
  4. What are the sensations doing?
    – Buzzing, Popping, pulsing, heating, swirling, pinching
  5. Welcome the sensation
    -This may seem counterintuitive
    -“What we resist persists”
    -Allow sensation to be there so we can release it from the body
  6. Match the sensation
    -What sound would it be?
    -What movement would it be? (babies do this naturally, they cry, scream, and shake, then it’s gone)
  7. Question the feeling
    -What are you here to show me?
      • Anger – What has changed or ended?
      • Fear – What needs to be learned or faced?
      • Sadness – What or who do I need to grieve so that something can emerge?
      • Joy – What or who do I need to celebrate or appreciate fully?
      • Sexual/Creative – What do I need ot create and bring into the world?

Feelings come and go, usually lasting 90 seconds

Learn more about Compassionate Communication in order to create a more wholesome self-compassion practice as part of Being Enough for ourselves.

Now that we’ve learned HOW to communicate with ourselves through self-compassion, let’s explore another element of developing emotional intelligence. Let’s get into WHO we are by developing authenticity.

Authenticity

Something that can help us develop our enoughness is to have a grasp on what is authentic to us. If we can be comfortable with our authenticity, feeling like we’re enough is going to be a lot easier.

Being authentic isn’t just going around and saying everything on our minds or acting out dark fantasies. 

Rather, authenticity is more closely aligned with integrity, or aligning our values with our behaviors and ways of life. Authenticity can help us connect to people who are drawn to our expression of values and interests. It’s an honest depiction of our vulnerabilities and personality.

Clean communication (a different thing altogether from Compassionate Communication) is specifically about communicating more and striving for authenticity. It aims to simplify and clarify lapses in communication by putting words where there is sometimes only passive aggression, subtle implications, or avoided conversations.

Learn more about the difference between Clean Communication and Compassionate Communication:

Below are a few examples of everyday experiences where authenticity can help us shape how we experience the world in a more meaningful way.

What we experience How we experience this with Inauthenticity With Authenticity and Being Enough
Voting in an election Casting a ballot for candidates we think we should choose because of what who we want to impress. Trusting our own judgment, we decide to learn about each politician’s background and choose a candidate that aligns with our values.
Our children choosing a college Telling our kids that they MUST go to a particular university because only there can you graduate and be successful. We will not trust their decisions otherwise. We disagree with our kids’ choices in college. And we let them know why and our intentions in telling them why we disagree. Perhaps even our fears or concerns about their future. What we think they might be missing.
Going out to a party Staying out later than we want because of peer pressure, and relying on the versions of ourselves we tap into when we are inebriated to act “social enough.” Telling our friends that we are happy to stay out until a particular time, enjoying a drink because we enjoy it rather than relying on it to be fun.
Choosing a television program with our partner We let them decide most of the time because we don’t think they’ll like what we choose. Contributing options for what to watch, understanding that our partner wants to watch what we love sometimes, too.
Getting married Having second thoughts, but holding them inside because we don’t want to end up alone and what if no one else wants us? Going to counseling before getting married to talk about our hesitant feelings with our partner. This hesitancy could be something small or large, but we’re committed to speaking authentically about our feelings.

Can authenticity go too far?

If People Were Honest at the Office

A parody of what a deliberately honest and transparent office environment might look like.

Imagine a group of people who behave authentically all the time. This would deliberately create a psychologically safe environment established on trust. People would strive for sincerity at all times. 

But some specialists, like organizational psychologist Adam Grant, believe that being authentic is actually harmful for our careers. Why? In over 136 studies with over 23,000 people, it seemed that when we self-monitor (base our outward behavior on social cues instead of how we are feeling) rather than act authentic at all times, job performance increases and leadership positions emerge more often.14

In a personal experiment, author A.J. Jacobs spent a few weeks being utterly authentic to everyone he met:

“He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring.”

Is this too authentic? Just the right amount? 

Brene Brown points out that what Jacobs and Grant leave out is authenticity does not mean a confessional free for all without regard for how the honesty affects them or others.

Our values are inherently part of our true selves. Behaving authentically would not cancel out our integrity.

If Jacobs wants to sleep with other women, an authentic expression of that could be to talk to his wife about it and if necessary and agreed upon open up their marriage. It doesn’t have to be expressed in a way that deliberately makes his coworkers and employee (the nanny) uncomfortable or even worried about their job security.

Resilience

In Benefits of Vulnerability, we talked about resilience being something we can build by creating relationships with other people. If our friends have our backs or we have a social safety net to fall back on, challenging experiences are less daunting.

The same can be said for resilience when we are looking at our relationship with ourselves. If we are enough as is, we will be more assured in our ability to weather the storms life occasionally brings our way.

We can define “resilient” as being able to spring back from a deformed shape. In an emotional context, resiliency means being able to spring back emotionally after experiencing painful or difficult times.  If we have confidence in our enoughness, we’re basically signing an inner contract that we’ll make it through something. Although that may not guarantee the situation ends up in our favor every time.

For more on shame resilience and strategies to remove our vulnerability armor, consider taking a look at the exercises located on the Hindrances to Vulnerability page:

Here’s a few examples of what resilience looks like within a practice of being enough:

What we experience Experiencing life without a resilient attitude Experiencing life with a resilient attitude
Our parents get divorced and we no longer get to have family dinners anymore. “It’s like we’re not a family anymore. Nothing lasts forever and I shouldn’t expect anything to.” “My family has shifted, but it is still a family, and though the love between my parents has changed, the love in our family has not.”
We live in a household with unbalanced chore expectations. Our housemate keeps denying they don’t do their part. “I guess this is what I have to deal with. Maybe I’m not noticing it. Maybe it is me.” “I need to trust in what I’m seeing and what I know I have done and not done. If this can’t be resolved to make everyone feel equal then I can move out.”
We keep beginning new hobbies and never feel good enough. “I’m not any good at anything.” “I need to put time into one or a few things. Only consistency will help me grow my skills. ”
Someone close to us died unexpectedly. “Loving people is difficult; better to keep my distance so I don’t get too hurt.” “The world is unpredictable, and we need to cherish what we can while we can.”
We’ve faced a lot of betrayal in our lives (perhaps from childhood). And as an adult, we are working on trusting people again. “Everyone is out for themselves. I know better. It’s not worth letting people in again.” “I have experienced pain in the past. But not every new person I meet is the same as the people who hurt me in the past. There are chances for new beginnings.”

Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro is a famous comedian and more recently a cancer survivor. She became famous for her vulnerability on stage as she improvised a reveal to the audience about her cancer diagnosis during one of her comedy sets. Not only did she get a cancer diagnosis, but her mother passed away at the same time. You can hear a recording of the impromptu set below.

This now-famous line from her routine “I have cancer” turned her into an overnight sensation, all because she was completely vulnerable in the moment with a crowd of strangers.

“Hello, I have Cancer”

Read more about how Notaro revealed her cancer on stage and showed resilience through the act of comedy. Over the years, Notaro beat cancer and remained resilient by continuing to share stories about her experience.

Bringing It All Together

“Being enough” is seeing ourselves in the current moment and accepting ourselves as worthy. Be that as worthy of friendship, love (including self-love), a livelihood, self-care (including self-compassion), or pursuing our dreams. 

Being vulnerable means taking social risks to show our true selves to others. There is a trial and error part of vulnerability that means sometimes we will err, and our sense of enoughness will help us through those probable pitfalls.

Feeling like we are enough for ourselves and for others is not an easy task for everyone. Our attachment style may make things harder or easier for us to identify what our enoughness can feel like.

We first need to be kind to ourselves. Realize (as the Fab 5 may have put it) that liking ourselves is not a crime. Accept our past mistakes and understand that we will make more. We will be embarrassed, we will mess up new relationships. We will catch ourselves being unkind to ourselves again.

Once we’ve forgiven ourselves, we need to practice accepting ourselves! Use self-reflection, mindfulness, and compassionate communication styles to see if we can catch when we are being unkind to ourselves because we don’t think we deserve kindness.

Then (or in tandem with the above steps), we need to find community that will boost our sense of being enough. If we have friends that scoff at our efforts to be kinder to ourselves our efforts to build up our enoughness will melt away like a paper fort in a rainstorm.

Slowly, we’ll develop a certain resilience. Our trust in ourselves and our abilities will get easier and easier.

Once we have learned to accept ourselves, practiced it, and found people who validate us, taking the leap of faith that is vulnerability will seem less scary and more a matter of course for finding meaningful connections.

Vulnerability Understanding Vulnerability Vulnerability Myths Hindrances to Vulnerability Benefits of Vulnerability Vulnerability: The Gist Being 'Enough' Vulnerability Practice & Exercises Vulnerability Resources

References

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