We’ve gone through the reasons we may not be drawn to incorporate vulnerability in our lives on the Hindrances page. We also conceded it’s natural to idealize being wholly invulnerable, considering the Myths surrounding vulnerability in our modern world.
On this page, let’s dispel these fears and anxieties with concrete evidence for why Vulnerability can be a positive and transformational force in our lives!
How? Where do we even begin?!
Let’s summarize what we’re going to cover:
- A Sense of Belonging-finding community, companionship, and solidarity
- Stronger Relationships-fosters trust and love
- Improved Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion-via strong relationships and community, we are encouraged to trust and love ourselves
- Personal Growth-giving us opportunities to be self-aware
- Creativity and Having New Experiences–opens doors to create, take professional risks, and learn for the sake of learning
- Greater Emotional Resilience-where we get that “bounce back” attitude when life gives us lemons
- Improved Physical and Mental Health-strong interpersonal relationships help us live longer and happier lives
“It’s very hard to have ideas. It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers, and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.” — Amy Poehler
For more on unpacking hindrances to vulnerability and it’s many benefits, check out the Being Enough page, the Practice and Exercise page, as well as the practice and exercises sprinkled throughout the Overcoming Hindrances to Vulnerability section.
A Sense of Belonging
Being vulnerable is about sharing who we are with others even if we are risking rejection. We know we’ve found where we belong when we’ve created a community wherein that feeling of risk has dissipated. It’s the web of relationships which people often describe as “home.”
We’ve touched briefly on how the desire to feel like we belong somewhere is an inherited evolutionary trait. According to neuroscientist Max Leiberman, our brains are designed to want connection with others (Lieberman, 2013). There is evidence that finding belonging correlates with finding meaning in life because there is a sense of being part of something greater than ourselves (Firestone 2021). Vulnerability is the bridge that gets us to a healthy sense of belonging.
“We all need people to love and respect, and we all need people who love and respect us. We do not always recognize these needs, and we may not see them influencing those around us, but they are still there nonetheless.” – Max Leiberman
“Love comes when manipulation stops; when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you. When you dare to reveal yourself fully. When you dare to be vulnerable.”— Joyce Brothers
When we practice being vulnerable with people we care about, our relationships automatically grow. Being vulnerable with someone says we trust them, and the relationship is a space in which they can respond in kind (if they want). And just like that, a deeper level of intimacy has been unlocked. (Friendship is one of the most important things in life)
Relationships that support our identities and vulnerabilities provide a plethora of elements that can contribute to a happier, more meaningful life.
“Positive relationships are the single most reliable predictor of well-being, across life domains and life stages.”
– Martin Selgman, Flourish
And it’s been shown that having quality relationships creates better life satisfaction than a higher number of shallow connections. Particularly as we get older (Vitelli, 2019).The bottom line is, having relationships based on mutual vulnerability enriches our lives more than the ones that stay on a surface level.
The bottom line is, having relationships based on mutual vulnerability enriches our lives more than the ones that stay on a surface level.
Having strong relationships creates social safety nets:
- They’re there when we need advice about interpersonal conflict-especially if we need to hold ourselves accountable.
- They’re there when we’ve lost our job and need to borrow money to cover bills for a month.
- They’re there when we need a ride to and from a sensitive medical procedure.
Relationships that are with us through thick and thin are also the people we want around for the more fun parts of life:
- Someone we know will give a speech that makes everyone cry at our wedding.
- They’re there to celebrate with us when we aced a test we were stressed about.
- They’re our chosen family with whom to welcome the new year.
And how to we find these friends, lovers, and family? We have to be ourselves. As mentioned previously, being ourselves opens up our hearts to others. And it’s the first advice any dating column, friend-finding coach, or relationship podcast worth its salt will tell us. The sooner we can be most like ourselves around others, the more likely it is to find the people who want more of us in their lives. And the sooner we’ll find the people we want in our lives (Gould, 2023).
“Our deeper relationships help us feel loved for who we truly are rather than who we are telling everybody that we are.”
—Dr. Andrea Bonior
Self-Worth via Improved Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion
“Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset.”
Self-esteem and self-compassion are two separate psychological concepts pertaining to how we view our self-worth. Both involve seeking internal value via our “natural” or “authentic” outward expression–e.i. Vulnerability (Neff, 2010).
When we share our quirks, our opinions, our likes and dislikes, and all those little facets of our personalities with others and get positive feedback, we boost our self-esteem.
Self-esteem is our perception of how we are valued. Typically by others. It’s propped up by accomplishments, social capital, being needed by others, etc.
A healthy level of self-esteem is tied to:
- reduction of anxiety/depression
- reduction of suicide ideation
- increase in the sense of self-worth and self-respect
- increase in motivation
- increase in confidence
(Baumeister, Leary, 2000)
However, if our relationship to vulnerability is still fragile, self-esteem’s reliance on outside feedback can work against us. We can start to see the rejection of who we are or what we have to offer everywhere.
|Feedback We Receive:||Our Take Away:||Is Internalized as:|
|Our project wasn’t chosen by our boss||Our project wasn’t good enough for our boss||We are not good enough for our boss|
To counter this, we can incorporate self-compassion. According to researcher Kristin Neff, self-compassion has three main components: self-kindness, a belief in common humanity, and mindfulness. All of which are basically practicing being vulnerable with ourselves:
- Unconditional acceptance of where we are at,
- recognizing and gaining solidarity in our shared struggles with others
- a critical lens that encourages growth for growth’s sake rather than because of shame or fear of rejection
With self-compassion, our self-worth comes from how we can relate to others rather than how we compare with others. And self-improvement is achieved by a desire to care for our own well-being and that of our community (Neff, 2010).
|Feedback We Receive:||Our Take Away:||Is Internalized As:|
|Our project wasn’t chosen by our boss.||We weren’t the only ones not chosen. There must be room for improvement.||This is a new opportunity to expand our skills/approach.|
This instills fertile ground for:
- greater emotional resilience
- a more constructive inner critic
- greater self-awareness
- increase in humility
- better emotional self-regulation
- increased confidence
- increased self-worth and self-respect
- growing empathy (Neff, 2010)
Both self-compassion and self-esteem are related to topics we cover in our Self-Love section.
“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” — Haruki Murakami
As we saw with self-compassion, having a more vulnerable approach to our personal flaws or mistakes helps us have a more holistic approach to personal growth.
On the Hindrances page, we discussed that giving in to shame and fear to judge ourselves and others only leads to avoidance and identifying too much with our flaws (we are bad rather than we did something bad).
But if we can listen to what comes up (shame, fear of rejection, guilt), we may see where we have room to improve (Seppälä, 2012). Self-awareness will enable us to question our feelings with curiosity.
By harnessing the gifts of vulnerability instead, we can see more constructive results.
- Instead of freezing or deflecting, we can acknowledge where we’re misstepping, or hear others when they point it out.
- Next, we can analyze where the misstep is coming from. What is causing us to act in that way? What are we feeling? It enables us to sit in our discomfort without judgement.
When we have a community of relationships with mutual trust, we feel supported to change. We become willing to make mistakes knowing forgiveness is in the air. Sometimes all it takes is someone believing in us to help us believe in ourselves.
For more on taking accountability for our part in our own growth, check out the following sections:
Creativity and Having New Experiences
“How can you teach creativity?” they want to know.
“I can’t,” I tell them.
“I teach people to let themselves be creative.”
On a lighter note, vulnerability can apply to pursuits outside of the psychological concept of self-improvement, such as creativity, innovation, learning, and pursuing our hobbies and special interests.
Taking risks in the way we approach things (work, relationships, hobbies, etc.) is how we find progression. For many, it can be a vulnerable experience to be imperfect. We might shrink at the thought of being a beginner or exposing ourselves to judgment from others. And, if we can find a harmonious relationship to that discomfort, we open the doors to all kinds of enrichment in our lives:
-take that workshop on a niche interest we were teased about
-discover a new approach to a problem at work even though it’s a little unorthodox
-deciding to go back to school even though we were bad at taking tests in grade school
-finally rolling up our sleeves and trying ceramics for the first time
Finding a way to be comfortable with vulnerability is a core tenant of one of the foundational books about developing a creative habit, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. And, while not science-based, the book’s guidance focuses on finding acceptance of our creative pursuits as they are rather than what outside influences (friends, family, society, teachers, etc.) think they should be.
In research, there is some merit to this:
The Neuroscience of Genius, Creativity, and Improvisation | Heather Berlin
When observing jazz artists and rappers improvising, it was noticed that the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (sort of the inner critic or filtering part of our brain) slows. At the same time, the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (the part of our brain that harbors ideas) speeds up. The activity suggests that in order to create, our brains have to stop hand wringing.
Fear of being considered bad, “cringe,” or “mid” can work in the same way approaching our flaws with judgment does. It can be paralyzing rather than motivating. And whether we’re writing a paper in school, playing charades with our friends, or practicing a new language with a fluent speaker, fear of being vulnerable (messing up and expressing our ideas and opinions) will hold us back.
|Shutting Down to Avoid Vulnerability||Opening Up by Embracing Vulnerability|
|“My art is bad” or “No one will like this idea.”||“I have room to improve” or “someone might find it relatable like I do”|
|I wasn’t good at this before. I probably won’t have improved.||My goal is to create/learn/explore rather than to reach a certain target.|
|My curiosity in _______ is embarrassing. My friends are people who agree so it’s hard to openly learn more.||My curiosity in _________ makes me happy. My friends are people who agree and we can swap info and resources to delve into it more.|
|I’ve never traveled alone before. What if I get tricked into a scam? It would be so embarrassing!||I wonder what traveling alone will be like. I’m probably going to learn a few lessons!|
However, if we can get comfy with our vulnerability and pursue what we want to learn, draw what we want to draw, or do something we’ve never tried, we’ll enhance our lives with new knowledge, experiences, and skill sets.
Greater Emotional Resilience
“Let your heart crumble into an infinite amount of tiny, precious seeds. Then plant love everywhere you go.” — Anita Krizzan
Emotional resilience is best explained as:
– the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences
– the ability to adapt in the present moment to changing demands/stressful situations
Emotional resilience is incredibly useful! It’s the fortitude that helps us make lemonade when life gives us lemons. Big or small.
“Emotional resilience doesn’t mean that stress won’t affect us or losses won’t depress us, it only implies that we still have the vision to stand right back up and keep moving ahead.” —Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA
How does vulnerability come into play?
According to the American Psychological Association, everyone starts with different levels of emotional resilience. However, it’s not a static trait. We can grow it with proper support and intentional steps. Several elements make up emotional resilience. However, the strength of our relationships with others is a core building block.
Elements of Vulnerability Required for Emotional Resilience (APA, 2012):
Connection: as we navigate unexpected twists and turns in our lives, it is pivotal to have people in our lives who we trust and can provide empathy and compassion.
Admitting Mistakes and Comfort Asking for Help: these connections aren’t going to be very useful if we’re not letting them in on what we’re struggling with. This can take the form of both interpersonal relationships (friends, lovers, family) or professional help (therapists, psychologists).
Reminders We Aren’t Alone: as we have learned when talking about shame and vulnerability, sometimes the best cure to shame is to share it. We’ll often find there are others who relate to our problems.
These elements—along with a sense of purpose, emotional intelligence, and taking care of our bodies—can give us springs with which to “bounce back.”
Research shows there was evidence that using emotional resilience skills for small problems made us more likely to cope when facing heavier situations (Scott, 2020).
Emotional Resilience can help us:
- improve our general outlook on life
- encourage us to adopt mindfulness practices
- empower us to find a sense of agency when facing problems
- give us tools to be supportive of our loved ones when they are having a hard time
Improved Physical and Mental Health
“Social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk.”
— Umberson, et al, 2010
Cumulative empirical evidence across 148 independent studies indicates that individuals’ experiences within social relationships significantly predict mortality. The overall effect size corresponds with a 50% increase in odds of survival as a function of social relationships.
Our psychological well-being and physical health are interconnected systems. If we are not well psychologically, we may see physical symptoms appear. If we have physical stress, we may cause ourselves emotional stress.
In that vein, vulnerability gives us many avenues to manage our emotional well-being. And repeatedly studies have shown emotional well-being has many physical payoffs.
As this page shows us, when we are vulnerable, we make friends, we belong, and we have support. We’ll likely feel less shame around being ourselves and an ability to see the bigger picture when we’re having a hard time. The key takeaway is we will be less alone.
Supportive social networks can benefit immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions and reduce the cumulative burden of stress, creating less wear and tear on our physiological systems (Umberson 2010).
We can borrow from our Benefits of Friendship page to explore a bit more:
For more on Friendship’s benefits to our well-being, check out the entire section!
Hopefully, after reading this page, we’ve learned a little bit about the many bounties of being vulnerable!
Vulnerability gives us:
- The instruments we need to fashion ourselves a community, lifelong trusted relationships, and a sense of self-worth.
- It fortifies our ability to pursue our curiosities and creative drives.
- It props up our mental health with greater elasticity and peace of mind.
- It provides the freedom to improve ourselves.
So, with all these wonderful additions vulnerability can bring into our lives, aren’t we curious to try it out for ourselves?
If you are new to vulnerability on this site, take a look at what vulnerabiltiy is all about on the Gist page, or explore the section using the navigation guide below.
If you found your way here after already traveling through the other pages and are eager to know what you can do for next steps, the Practice and Exercises page, the Being “Enough” page, and the Resouces page will provide an angle of practical implementation.
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Is quality better than quantity in social relationships? (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201911/is-quality-better-quantity-in-social-relationships
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Scott, E. (2007, June 11). 8 traits that can make you more emotionally resilient. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/emotional-resilience-is-a-trait-you-can-develop-3145235
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