Vulnerability is a universal experience and can be an integral force for finding meaning in our lives.
Considering this influence, there are many tools outside of the vulnerability section that will help us unlock its potential.
Relating to Others
Vulnerability is one part of an incredible puzzle of relating to others. Check out the other pages under the Love Cornerstone for more guidance, inspiration, and opportunities to explore the role of building relationships with ourselves and others.
Check out these quizzes from the Friendship page which might illuminate the role of intimacy in our close relationships.
All of these pages will have exercises relevant to handling difficult emotions or reconciling with parts of ourselves we aren’t as proud of. Vulnerability can make us feel like we aren’t in the driver’s seat of our lives. These enablers will help us take back our emotional agency.
Vulnerability is a team sport
We are in charge of our own role, but how the social spheres we’re in can aid or dishearten our attempts to embrace vulnerability is crucial. The Social & Communication branch is a treasure trove of techniques to be mindful and intentional in how we talk to ourselves and others! Social Comparison is especially relevant to vulnerability and how to find our way to being enough.
Vulnerability Practice and Exercises
Contextualizing Vulnerability in Our Lives
Try these to get a better idea of your individual relationship to vulnerability:
Map out your life chapters. Can you spot when vulnerability had a hand in what direction you turned?
Naming Our Armor, and Methods to Take it Off
When we commit to incorporating vulnerability into our lives, we have to unpack what we’ve been using to deflect it:
A short index of possible emotions and feelings that may accompany shame to help us recognize how it manifests in our bodies.
How can we confront an emotion without letting it take over?
What shields do you use to deflect being vulnerable?
It’s Not All Toilsome…
Part of what is wonderful about vulnerability is it requires us to accept ourselves and live with integrity. To do that, we have to have a handle on what makes us great!
Vulnerability work can be difficult. The two exercises above (Positive Traits List and Operation Affirmation) can help us keep sight of why we’re doing it. Because we are awesome. And awesome people take accountability for their ability to change.
For more on self-worth and finding our way to feeling like we’re “enough” check out:
How can we tell when the emotional exposure and possible risks to being vulnerable are worth it? Interpersonal drama is just the start of what could get complicated. For example, is there a threat to our health or personhood if we are vulnerable with those around us? Could we lose a job? Safety? Has our avoidance of vulnerability been a way of protecting ourselves? Certain demographics may face more dire consequences than others when being their authentic selves in public or private contexts. This website cannot make those calls for us. We know our lives best, and know what it means to be living our most authentic self around others to our best ability. Risk assessment is very subjective.
But, risk can also stay in the interpersonal side of things. Will we lose our best friend if we admit we have a crush on them? If we share a story that doesn’t reflect our behavior in a good light will we lose the trust of our community? And even if we do, is the relationship as irreparable as our fears paint it?
|Worth the Risk||Maybe Worth the Risk||Not Worth the Risk|
|No physical or emotional harm||Might cause emotional discomfort for self or those around||Will be emotionally or physically harmed/abused|
|Won’t lose material access to basic living needs||Might be mortified to be vulnerable about something at work, but outcome won’t affect job performance or position in a negative way||Could be fired or harassed at work, lose access to housing, receive harassment|
|Won’t lose social/familial connections-high likelihood will even improve them or at least make you feel better about them||Might complicate familial/social relationships, but reparable/the possible complications are worth it to you||Will lose/be cut off from social/familial connections in a manner that is unacceptable to well-being|
Maybe Just Not Right Now?Not in a stable place and need to wait? Maybe someone recently passed away, we’re going through a breakup, we got evicted, etc. Then we may not have the emotional spoons to take risks.
How Do You Feel?
For this activity we’re going to experiment with different types of body language and see how it makes us feel. With a friend or someone you want to get to know. It’s best to be somewhere quiet where you can sit in the same space.
- Start sitting or standing back to back with your partner. Without touching, words, signals, objects (no phones!), or looking at each other, try to connect for about a minute. Stop.
- For the next part, face each other. However, try to make your bodies as tense as you can–examples include crossing legs, crossing arms and looking down. If you’re sitting you can try curling up in a ball or hugging your knees to your chest. In the tense position, take 1 minute (or as long as you can hold it) to try to connect. This time you can use signals, but still no words.
- Next, take on a more relaxed stance. Look up naturally, uncross your arms and place them at your sides or behind you, uncross your legs and stand with them about shoulder-width apart, and face your partner squarely. Take 1 minute to connect without words.
- For the last experiment, we’re going to take a minute to focus on our breathing. While closing our eyes, start breathing into your belly. Breathe in for at least three counts and out for at least three counts through your nose. Then place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Continue breathing until your breath is back to its natural cadence. Now, open your eyes, face your partner slowly and connect in a way that feels natural. This time you can talk to each other.
Debrief with your partner for 8-10 minutes:
- How was that?
- What does this remind you of?
- How have you responded to this feeling in the past?
Did any of the connection attempts feel better than the others? Were you surprised by which one? Which one caused the most emotional discomfort? Which one made you feel more at ease?
Sitting in the open body stance can feel scary or unsafe at times and we are the best judge of what feels good to us.
Ever find that we’re more or less intimate in certain situations, at specific times, or around particular people? It’s not too uncommon!
Let’s do a little audit. Rank the following life situations from 1-5: put a 1 for less intimate, and a 5 for feeling like you can be the most vulnerable in these kinds of situations.
Intimate partner/spouse – having a conversation about the future
Family – talking about the past
Extended family – talking at Thanksgiving dinner
Workplace – Talking by the water cooler
School – Participating in a class discussion
On the street – talking to someone at the bus stop
Doctor – Talking about our health
Faith group – Talking about spirituality
Therapist / counselor / mentor – Talking about our challenges
Looking at our scale here. Notice anything different about where or when we’re more likely to be vulnerable? Is it an either/or? Meaning, are we all in, or all out in some situations?
For example, someone could be very vulnerable with their friends and therapist, yet struggle to ask for what they really want with their spouse regarding sex. They could talk about health readily with their doctor or family, yet not at the workplace, even if they wanted to. Someone might be uncomfortable revealing their status with some groups or in certain places, and fine with it elsewhere (e.g., religion, financial status/ability, divorce, health diagnosis, gender, confronting gossip, etc.).
Here’s a question: What will actually happen if we allow the feeling of shame to come up?
PSA: it may benefit from having a support system here, such as:
~ therapist (if you don’t have one this article offers tips on how to look for one)
~ wise friend
~ other support network, like a faith community
Step One: Let the feeling come up and tap on all the worst case scenarios in our heads about allowing this feeling.
For example, we might feel that if we allowed ourselves to feel shame, we would feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with it.
Step Two: Diffuse the shameful thought by offering this: even though we might be overwhelmed if we allow this feeling to come up, we deeply and completely accept ourselves and how we feel.
The following exercise can help us work through some emotions and programming.
First, watch this part of a conversation between Karamo Brown and Russell Brand.
#1: Grab your journal and write down at least one aspect of your life where you could honestly acknowledge your past.
#2: Read your journal entry out loud and do a body scan. Try to attach a feeling to that experience and write that down, as well.
- How does talking about an experience out loud change your perception of that experience?
- What are some other ways we can acknowledge our journey with mental health?
BONUS: Take about an hour to work through that experience with someone in your trusted circle. Then write about how they experienced you in those moments (and maybe differently!) in your journal.