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

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”Madeleine L’Engle

On this page we’ll…

  • we’ll explore what vulnerability is
  • summarize some of its myths and emotional/physiological benefits
  • begin to understand how self-awareness and our need to belong to each other contributes to our ability to be vulnerable
  • introduce a few of the barriers that may hold us back.

After reading this page, we’ll have a clearer sense of the substantial role that vulnerability plays in living a meaningful life.

Fair warning: Vulnerability can be found everywhere, all the time, AND like most of the skills found throughout this site, vulnerability is a concept that enters one’s radar and can be cultivated as a lifelong skill. This page is merely an introductory overview of the concepts around Vulnerability.

If you find yourself intrigued by any of the ideas throughout this page, there are links to practices and exercises that will help you further develop vulnerability in your life.

So saddle up! We’re about to ride into the frontier of vulnerability!

What is Vulnerability?

“(We) need to understand that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It shows that you are in tune with yourself …” — Karamo Brown

Before we dive into definitions, let’s get a baseline understanding of what you think vulnerability actually is, using the following exercise.

Vulnerability is…

If you’re not already taking notes, grab a blank journal and start by writing down the following sentence:

“Vulnerability is __________.”

Complete the sentence by writing down a list of 10 words or phrases that come to mind. While you think about how to complete that sentence, don’t hold anything back. Be as candid as possible and be transparent with your current understanding of vulnerability.

Once you have a list of 10, answer the following questions and write them down:

Were any of the answers a surprise? How so? What surprised you?

Do any of these feel like assumptions? In what way?

By starting to formulate language around vulnerability, we’re taking the first step toward understanding what vulnerability means for our lives and the lives of those around us. Great stuff!

  • Sharing an unpopular opinion
  • Asking for help
  • Initiating sex with a partner
  • Going on a first date after a divorce
  • Falling in love
  • Getting fired
  • Waiting for a biopsy to come back
  • Speaking at a funeral
  • Talking about finances
  • Moving away from home

For a printout of this exercise, click here:

Descending on a Definition

AMOL defines vulnerability as:

An authentic and intentional willingness to be open to uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure in social situations in spite of fears.

What do WE mean?

On this site, we keep many interpretations in mind. We are looking at Vulnerability as a skill, which includes, our emotions, our responses to those emotions, and the choices we make in these situations.

But, where does this definition come from? Did it add or detract from your own definition in the previous exercise?

In the following accordion, we have separated what different thinkers and speakers are saying about what makes up vulnerability. If you’d rather move on to the next step, then move on to the conclusion of this section.

Let’s take a look at how vulnerability is commonly defined:

We’ll start by looking at the best consensus we have—the dictionary definition:


  1. willingness to show emotion or to allow one’s weaknesses to be seen or known; willingness to risk being emotionally hurt.

Notice that the definition starts with “willingness.” Offering that an aspect of vulnerability is choice. The risk is not something put upon us. It is something we are signing up for.

Additionally, Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, claims that vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” (Brown 2021). Brown’s work suggests that vulnerability is an accurate measure of courage: to be vulnerable is to allow ourselves to be seen.

“Vulnerability is typically thought of as the center of emotions such as: grief, shame, fear, disappointment; but it is also the center and birthplace of love, belonging, authenticity, creativity, courage, and accountability. ” – Brené Brown7

Studies show that social relationships are hugely impactful to our health. Brown suggests that vulnerability can offer us a deeper connection to healthier relationships, bolstering a sense of love, intimacy, creativity, and trust in our lives.

“Vulnerability is consciously choosing to NOT hide your emotions or desires from others.” Mark Manson

“It can mean putting yourself in a position where you can be rejected, saying a joke that might not be funny, asserting an opinion that may offend others, joining a table of people you don’t know, telling someone you’re attracted to them.” -Mark Manson

Vulnerability involves intimacy, according to clinical psychologist and author, Carla Marie Manly, PhD. She claims that by sharing our innermost selves with others whom we feel safe with, we can build trust, safety, and deeper connections with ourselves and others.

As we can see, lots of definitions of vulnerability tend to avoid defining it outright. Instead, they focus on two things:

The outcomes of vulnerability:
connection, growth, reflection, rejection, shame, accountability, etc.


What vulnerability requires:
compassion, courage, authenticity, exposure, intimacy, etc.

Vulnerability is Neutral:

Vulnerability itself is not a “negative” or “positive” action or state of being. There are “feel good” emotions and uncomfortable/unpleasant emotions associated with being vulnerable. Let’s take a look at two stories involving someone doing something vulnerable and a couple hypothetical results:

Scenario The Vulnerable Act Results Emotional Impact on the Person Being Vulnerable
Taylor wants to tell their friend Andi they have a crush on them. Telling Andi they have a crush on them, but their friendship is what is most important to them. Andi doesn’t return Taylor’s crush, and stops hanging out with them out of guilt.
Andi doesn’t return Taylor’s crush and their friendship is more open because of the transparency Taylor showed.
Andi does return the crush, and the two go on their first date together.
Taylor feels hurt and misunderstood. Finds new friends that are more understanding of them when they share how they feel.
Taylor is disappointed and maybe even a little wounded their feelings aren’t returned, but grateful to have gotten their confession off their chest.
Taylor is ecstatic!
Elijah moved to a new city where they don’t know anyone. They want to meet new friends. They go to meetups and shows of bands they like in an effort to put themselves out there. Even though talking to strangers scares them. Elijah doesn’t find anyone that wants to have a conversation with them.
Elijah finds new friends with shared interests. The first step to finding their new community has been accomplished!
Elijah decides they have to keep trying. Even if it’s downright daunting sometimes! They won’t find friends staying in their apartment every day. Let downs are bound to happen. Over time though, the disappointment they feel grows.
Elijah can take the next steps to develop new friendships.

What vulnerability looks like will vary depending on our own relationship to being seen. If we have a hard time with revealing our feelings, sharing a story, or learning something new, vulnerability will bring up different feelings and/or require different skills than if we have an easier relationship to being seen (it isn’t framed as “risky” in our minds). We are the only ones who can recognize what is and isn’t an expression of vulnerability for ourselves.

The final requirement of vulnerability is other people. We can’t share with ourselves (well…we can but let’s not get more abstract than we must!). There is no vulnerability without the “being seen” part. We NEED others in order to be vulnerable.

At AMOL, we’re on a journey to unlock our greatest potentials bit by bit to build meaning in our lives. As we have just discussed, authors and researchers have different ideas about what vulnerability is made of. You can see the subfactors we have adopted to measure it and test your vulnerability in the Assessment Center by clicking the button below!


To circle back, here is the definition used throughout this section:

Vulnerability is an authentic and intentional willingness to be open to uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure in social situations in spite of fears.

The more we practice vulnerability, the less scary it will get. We will learn that even if someone reacts in a way that isn’t helpful to us, or even harms us, we can get through it! We have the agency and the resilience to practice vulnerability–discovering how it can add meaning to our lives.

Now that we have a bit more clarity on what we mean by vulnerability, let’s take a look at how it shows up!

Vulnerability Myths

As we begin our journey to explore the concept of vulnerability, consider a few common myths and statements about vulnerability we hear around us (hint — they’re not true!):

The myth … In other words …
Vulnerability is weakness. “I’m weak for feeling this scared about this.”
I don’t do vulnerability. “Nope, I don’t let myself feel vulnerable. That’s that.”
I can be vulnerable without feeling uncomfortable. “If I do X, Y, and Z, then it is guaranteed that the uncertainty and discomfort will disappear.”
Trust always comes before vulnerability. “I don’t trust anyone, and therefore I can’t be vulnerable and share how I really feel about this.”
Vulnerability is crying all the time and sharing ALL your emotions. “People who are vulnerable can’t keep it together.”
Isn’t this like a hippie thing? “Sharing my feelings is something my parents did in the 70’s.”
Vulnerable people get walked all over. “If I allow myself to be vulnerable with my emotions, I’ll get taken advantage of.”

These are all examples of “self-talk” that unfortunately fuel the myths around vulnerability. To investigate the social myths we build around vulnerability check out the Myths of Vulnerability page!

What Can Vulnerability Be To Us?

Even though vulnerability is a broad concept, we know it when we see it. It means sharing ourselves. The risks, effects, and what types of rewards we’ll see may depend entirely on our personal experiences. So, with that in mind, what can vulnerability be to us?

Vulnerability can be Courageous

As we explore the great frontier of vulnerability, what we’re talking about is emotional vulnerability.

Perhaps when filling out the “Vulnerability is________” exercise, one of our answers was “weakness.” Don’t worry. It’s a pretty common answer.

Instead of a weakness, think of vulnerability as “courage.”

Vulnerability Can Be Mysterious

Consider this: In the big ol’ extra large moments of our lives (like falling in love, having a baby, claiming bankruptcy) to the super small moments (like interacting with the coffee shop owner, or waving to a neighbor), vulnerability shows up in mysterious ways.

It’s intertwined with every feeling and action, and deeply rooted within our sense of belonging. It means being ourselves. It means talking to a group of people without knowing if we’ll be accepted by them. It’s showing up, in the truest sense of the phrase, despite our fear of rejection or uncertainty. As a result, we’ll find “our people,” or our community. And community and connection are currently being researched as potential sources of happiness and meaning (Fritz et al., under review, 2022).

Vulnerability Can Seem Undesirable

In some ways, we are sold the idea that we don’t want to be vulnerable. Studies show how adults have a negativity bias when filtering information and understanding their world – i.e. adults have the propensity to learn from negative information far more than positive (Vaish 2008).

As a result, fear can be a bigger motivator than vulnerability. We cling to certain kinds of clothing or music for fear of being rejected from friends or family. We don’t say what we really feel in a partnership for fear of being left. If the potential consequences of being vulnerable could be something like loneliness, why should we want to include it in our lives?

We seek invulnerability outside of the emotional sector of our lives as well (security cameras, putting distance between ourselves and relatives, or denying our own impermanence). However, no matter how many physical barriers we put up, we’re still vulnerable to influence by people and the culture around us. A 2002 study showed that people who thought advertising campaigns didn’t influence them were actually the most susceptible (Sagarin 2002). And other studies have shown it only takes a literal sleight of hand to manipulate someone’s decision-making (Martinize-Conde, Macknik 2017). In the 2002 advertisement study though, they found that teaching media literacy was enough to help someone navigate misleading strategies. Perhaps suggesting that acknowledging where one is vulnerable leads to more empowered decision-making.

In terms of emotional vulnerability, our attempts to avoid it out of fear are less a facade of invulnerability and more a hindrance to finding happiness.

Which are You?

Try this experiment and see if shame or fear-based triggers are prevalent for you. For a worksheet printout click the button below:

In a journal, write down 5 things that are simply dreadful to think about, even if they’re unlikely to happen. Do this before you read on. Then write down why this is dreadful to you in one sentence.

If we’re more oriented to have fear as our primary vulnerability trigger, our statements may include the possibility of harm (physical or emotional), isolation (nobody cares about us), and deprivation (diminished comforts in life). If we’re more shame-avoidant, our statements might include a sense of failure, status loss, or inadequacy. Here are a few examples:

Fear of … Fear-driven harm Fear-driven statement Shame-driven harm Shame-driven statement
Homelessness Isolation, deprivation “I could get hurt.”
“Nobody would care about me.”
“I’d starve or freeze!”
Failure, inadequacy, loss of status “I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up.”
“I failed my family.”
Getting fired Embarrassment “My wife will leave me.” Failure, inadequacy, loss of status “Nobody respects me.”
“I feel defeated and lost.”
“I’ll have to cancel my club membership.”

Eye-opening? Were you surprised by any statements you made?
The point of these exercises is to help us make our core vulnerabilities more visible and accessible to compassion.

Vulnerability Can Be a Double-Edged Sword

As mentioned before by Brene Brown, vulnerability is not always a positive experience and has some core emotions which are unpleasant to experience like fear, rejection, and shame. Sometimes we will avoid vulnerability to evade these emotions. However, in turn, we could close off the possibility of “feel good” emotions like belonging and joy.

To illustrate how a bit of discomfort can unlock beneficial opportunities, let’s take a look at the phenomena of the runner’s high. The physical stress that goes into long-distance running can lead people to experience a type of euphoria, or a “runner’s high.” One study showed how a runner’s physical pain and sense of euphoria was directly linked to the production of their body’s opioids, affecting their moods and emotional states (Boecker 2008). Emotional vulnerability can be accessed in a very similar way. Though, we’re definitely not proposing to seek out painful experiences to find it! More that fear of unpleasant emotions does not always mean we must jump ship when we are seeking to be vulnerable. And if we do jump ship, we might be missing out on some pretty awesome gains.

Here is another example of vulnerability increasing feelings like joy and belonging:
After losing friends, colleagues, and family during the September 11 attacks, volunteers from New York continued to meet. Instead of isolating or being overcome with loss, they shared their feelings to create new bonds and new purposes together. Finding a sense of community spirit every year by volunteering to go to disaster-stricken areas.

A recent study of a ritual known as kavadi in Mauritius showed how those who experienced pain had a higher likelihood of donating money to a community cause over those who merely observed the ritual. In other words, having one’s consentual pain witnessed by community inspired more generosity than simply witnessing others pain (Xygalatas 2013).

To access vulnerability we need to be willing to dive deep into those darker, difficult emotions that we don’t want to experience in order to unlock ALL our emotions. This involves a level of risk and uncertainty. But it also offers us the core of what it means to be human and live a more meaningful, connected life.

Time and Vulnerability

Vulnerability intersects with our lives in multiple contexts. Over different periods of time in our lives, the quality/degree of vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) varies depending on how equipped we are to handle it.

Below is a collection of examples of the above-mentioned qualities of vulnerability. Hover over each picture to reveal the vulnerable scenarios and accompanying statements. Can you think of comparable vulnerable moments in your life? How do you think time changes your relationship to vulnerability?

Quality of Vulnerability:


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Parents forget to pick us up from childcare. “My parents must not love me if they always leave me here.”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Other children can be both unkind and scary. “I wonder why Timmy treats me like that? I feel sad about it.”
“I don’t feel safe around him on the playground.”
“She always pushes me and makes me go higher on the swings than I’m comfortable with. But I still want to be around her.”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
A dog or cat won’t let you pet them. “Am I not kind enough? I just want everything to love me, even animals.”

Quality of Vulnerability


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We realize that our parents can’t protect us or help us with everything. “I want to trust you but I just don’t feel comfortable riding home with you.”
“Climate change is bigger than all of us. I’m worried about how my life will be.”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Standing up for a friend who’s getting bullied at school. “I might get clobbered, but Frankie is my friend and I can’t let that bully keep doing this.”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
After one conversation and prolonged eye contact at a coffee shop, we think we’ll spend the rest of our lives with the barista. “I get attached too soon.”
“They’d never be into me.”
“I’ll scare them off. I’m too clingy.”

Quality of Vulnerability:


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Whenever we walk into a room, someone leaves and we think it’s always because of us. We think that they’re laughing at us. We think everything is about us. “I bet it’s because I didn’t put deodorant on. I’m so stupid, I always forget.”
“They don’t like the clothes I’m wearing.”
“I’ll never be friends with them.”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Saying no to someone asking for sexual intimacy i.e. “no means no.” “They’ll hurt me if I say no.”
“What if they don’t like me anymore.”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Even though everything is going well in our relationship, we have arguments in our heads between us and our partner that make us doubt the entire relationship. “All of my relationships end before they get started.”
“I’m not good enough to have a solid relationship. What’s wrong? There has to be something wrong here.”

Quality of Vulnerability:


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
After 10 years in the same company, we’re making a career change “Will I be good enough?”
“It’s too late to be changing careers at this age. What if I don’t make enough money?”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We’re between jobs and a friend offers to help us pay bills if we can pay them back. “Will it put unnecessary pressure on our friendship?”
“What if I can’t get a job before they think I’m unreliable?”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We ask our partner to marry us, even if we have our own doubts about our future. “I wonder if I’ll be able to take care of them?”
“What if one of us gets sick – am I willing to take care of them for the rest of our lives?”
“Are we truly in love?”

Quality of Vulnerability:


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Our child wants to drop out of college and pursue a career on their own. “I wonder if I taught my child enough about how to take care of themselves on their own.”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We avoid getting a vaccine that would make us safer from a deadly disease. “I’ve been misled by doctors before. What if they are lying?”
“I don’t like needles and I feel too old to ask a friend to come with me.”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We need to be reassured that our loved ones still enjoy having us around. “I know I can be annoying but, don’t they still love me?”
“Are they always mad at me? Is it something I’m doing?”
“I’m going to call them up and clear the air once and for all.”

Quality of Vulnerability:


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Retiring without any financial savings or retirement plan. “I won’t have enough money to live on now.”
“I’ll be a burden to my family.”
“I may die sooner than I thought because I can’t eat.”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
After having a stroke at age 50, we have a hard time with the fact that we can’t walk down the street with our grandchildren. Instead, we have to use a wheelchair. “I’m feeling sad because I don’t have the same ability to function as I used to.”
“I miss who I used to be.”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We’re getting a divorce from our partner. “Our kids won’t ever talk to us again.”
“I’ll never get married again. I’m unlikeable.”

Quality of Vulnerability:


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We’re seeing the effects of climate change and are worried about our grandchildren’s future. “I feel like we could have helped more. We took too many trips in airplanes. I caused this.”
“There’s not enough time to save the planet. We did too much damage. Give up the fight.”


Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
We’re at the doctor’s office and we realize our insurance doesn’t cover the treatment needed to battle cancer. “We’ll take out loans – even if we risk losing our home, it’s worth it because I’m afraid to die.”

Emotional Exposure

Vulnerable Experience Vulnerable Statement
Talking about mortality with our children. “I’m afraid to die.”
“It’s okay. I’ve lived a joyous life.”
“The most important moments are here and now.”

If we start to pay attention to it, we can see degrees of vulnerability all the time. And on top of that, we can see it change over the course of time.

Throughout the Vulnerability section, we’ll be able to pick apart the concept of Time and Vulnerability. Look out for a tiny clock icon for examples of how vulnerability weaves its way in and out of our lives over time.

Benefits Of Vulnerability

We’ve mentioned a couple so far, but there are social, emotional and even physical perks to practicing vulnerability! So many that we’re going to give benefits its own page, but let’s take a moment to take a peak.

Vulnerability Brings:

  • 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 Experiencesopens 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

For a more detailed outline of these perks of vulnerability, check out the Benefits page! 

Understanding The Risks

Now that we’ve gotten grounded in why we would want to be vulnerable. Let’s take a look at the risks and uncertainties which come along with embracing vulnerability.

In the table below, we’ve outlined three examples of risks we may be taking for different types of vulnerable acts. The first column is the act of vulnerability. The “Risk & Fear” column is what we feel is at risk because of the act of vulnerability. The “Results of NOT being vulnerable” column explains what we miss out on if we opt out of the vulnerable act. The final column is the skill necessary to mitigate what was listed in the Risk & Fear column.

Example of Vulnerability Risk & Fear (because of this vulnerability) Results of NOT being vulnerable How to manage/mitigate this risk
Taking a chance Being rejected/emotional exposure We may not develop resilience and courage that leads to a higher self-image. Courage, Resilience
Talking about mistakes Getting shamed/emotional exposure We don’t learn or process our mistakes in a healthy manner.
We continue to shame ourselves.
Nonviolent Communication, accepting shame
Feeling difficult emotions Facing grief, death, dying Holding these emotions inside/isolation Counseling, community support
If vulnerability is difficult for us, it can help to refocus on why we’re seeking it. Brene Brown suggests that vulnerability is an important measure of courage. By developing this capacity, people can be seen and understood by those closest to them. Refer back to the Benefits page for more.

Risk Rubric

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 the 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.

Because vulnerability can be uncomfortable, the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure may seem like too much to bear. According to one study, we’re hard-wired to avoid uncertainty – a byproduct of vulnerability (Compare 2014).

Often we’ll employ certain defense mechanisms that we’ll call “armor.”  This armor can be an unconscious or conscious way we defend ourselves from feeling vulnerable. Wear enough of it over time, and it can become more and more difficult to take off.

In the next segment, we’ll explain a few pieces of armor we put on to fend off vulnerability.

Shame & Vulnerability Shields

Brene Brown claims we do a number of things to circumvent feeling shame, such as numbing those feelings, or “armoring up.” By putting up what she calls “Vulnerability Shields,” we attempt to protect ourselves from uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure which may result in feeling shame.

According to Brown, shame is the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging (Brown 2016).”  

When that feeling of “not being enough” sets in, we often shut down, experience the urge to protect ourselves, and say that “everything is … fine.”

“I’m Fine…”

This is a notoriously useful response for anyone trying to politely evade a deeper conversation (side-stepping vulnerability). What are some fun interpretations of what FINE could stand for? Can you think of a few? Here are a couple we came up with:

Feelings Inside Not Expressed 

Frustrated Insecure Numb Emotional 

Feelings Invoke Non-responsive Ego

Futile Indirect Negative Exit

In “the Court” of vulnerability naysayers, emotional vulnerability carries too high a risk of shame. So, there are a number of “Shields” that we put up in order to avoid it.

Briefly, let’s look at three of these shields: Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism, and Numbing:



Foreboding Joy

This armor comes up when something is going incredibly well, and instead of celebrating or feeling joy, we immediately jump to tragedy.

We guard ourselves because, perhaps in the past, we haven’t completely processed an associated event that ended in tragedy. Instead of experiencing joy, we begin to plan in our minds how it will all eventually go sour. To us, we should have expected the negative outcome. If we can predict the worst, the possible outcomes won’t take us by surprise. We won’t feel foolish for getting comfortable because we are “protecting” ourselves.

Foreboding joy looks like … Foreboding joy sounds like …
Getting a dream job, but constantly worrying we’re an imposter and not good enough for the job. If we fail here, we’ll be unable to recover. “I can’t celebrate this achievement … what if they don’t like me in the first month?”
Having a baby during a pandemic. We feel uneasy, are never present, and refuse to go outside with our child, for fear that a deadly virus will get them. If anything goes wrong it will be our fault. “If I just keep everyone safe, eventually we can be happy because the threat will be gone. But not today. Today I’m worried about inflation and a rise in pandemic deaths.”
Our parents are doing okay, our children are doing okay, and we’re in a good relationship. Surely something will go wrong though? Severe vigilance around maintaining the current balance. “Oh crap, this is too good to be true! What if this is all taken away tomorrow! I can’t be happy, not today!”


This shield is incredibly heavy. We carry it around all day and are constantly polishing it. This shield makes it so the more we do something, the more we feel compelled to do it. There’s no finish line – no celebration. There’s always something more. Perfectionism becomes a never-ending journey to measure our worth.

We strive for perfectionism to avoid shame–we fear that if we aren’t someone else’s ideal vision of who we should be or what our work/body/outfit/art/etc. should look like we will face rejection or humiliation. Our fear gives the impression that we may not get a second chance.



Perfectionism looks like … Perfectionism sounds like …
Spending years editing a book we wrote, but also never letting other people see it. If someone sees that we’re a corny writer or a bad writer, what will they think? “My writing isn’t good enough … not yet, but maybe if I keep at it people will see how much I worked on it.”
After running hundreds of marathons hoping to break a key record, we keep getting injuries. But we don’t stop. Everything else is failure and unworthy of praise. Maybe in the past someone made us feel embarrassed to be proud of second best, and now we carry that shame. “My career is my life. It’s everything that defines me.”
“If I just make this one time, then everyone will know I’m great.”“My body is only worthy of love if it is at peak performance levels. Otherwise it is ugly.”
Curating our Instagram profile to make sure we’re keeping up with the trends. If we’re not up to date, we’ll face rejection and lose relevancy. We find shame in accidentally committing social faux pas. “If I don’t stay on top of the latest trends, people will forget about me. And I don’t want to be yesterday’s news.”


When we find ourselves overwhelmed, this shield works like an anesthetic. Numbing can look like zoning out and cleaning, people-pleasing, overworking, over-planning, measuring up, escaping, denying, analyzing, etc. These are all things we do instead of sitting with ourselves and allowing feelings of anger, sadness or fear to come up so that we can process them.

When we are numb, we are overwhelmed or helpless in the face of complicated emotions. They may be incredibly overstimulating to even acknowledge within ourselves. We don’t know how to tackle them or are ashamed we haven’t already. So, we dissociate in the hope the feelings will resolve themselves without our participation.

Numbing looks like … Numbing sounds like …
We have an immense amount of credit card debt. It’s scary to us, but we don’t know what to do with that feeling. If we avoid it then it won’t exist and no one will find out. “Everyone has debt. It’s how America was built, right?”
“I’ll just take out another credit card. What’s the point anymore, I’ll never pay it back.”
We lost a friend in a car accident. We start drinking twice as much as we used to in an attempt to disassociate from the loss. “Tears are for weak people. I’m not weak. I’ll get through this alone.”
“Talk to some friends? Yeah right. If I let another friend in I might lose them. Not interested.”
Our parents are getting a divorce. We’re quite devastated by the news. Suddenly everything seems unpredictable and we’re grasping at anything that gives us a sense of normalcy. “Driving fast on the road makes me feel like my life is in control. It’s in my hands. Nobody can take this away from me!”“I don’t know how to process what is going on. The only thing that brings me peace is playing video games.”

For more about numbing behaviors, take a look at our Barriers to Self-Love page. There is even a useful practice card for recognizing numbing behavior in our own patterns!

Putting Down the Armor

So, what are some ways to combat feelings of shame so that we don’t have the urge to put up the armor?

#1 – Recognize

  • If we’re able to recognize what armor we put up and when that’s the very first step in the healing process. Ask yourself, “What feelings am I feeling?” (you can see a list of feelings and needs here) Match the feelings and their sources to the armor you are putting up. Doing this in reflection can help you catch yourself in the moment.

#2 – Pause

  • When we feel that urge to put up a shield, take a moment to pause everything. Take a breath or two, and move on to #3.

#3 – Express

  • After taking a moment to Recognize and Pause the action of putting up a shield, express emotions out loud to yourself or others. Be as honest and open as possible at this moment. Over time, more feelings will arise. It doesn’t need to be in one go, and taking off the armor doesn’t happen overnight.

If we are able to connect with ourselves honestly, vulnerability will find a way to open up our hearts. Not sure what emotions we’re feeling as we try to remove the armor? Try using the above-mentioned list of emotions and feelings like a tasting wheel to see if it can help.

Being “Enough”

Have you experienced moments in your life in which you felt invincible to emotional harm without feeling uncaring, aloof, or narcissistic? Maybe you know someone who seems to embody resilience. They arrive on the scene with their heart on their sleeve. As if they are immune to the judgments of others.

Being ‘enough’ is a way of viewing ourselves as fundamentally worthy, despite our flaws.

As we’ve learned, it’s tough stuff to embrace vulnerability. Life is full of vulnerable moments and we rarely feel like we can scrape together any kind of “life lesson.” Whether we lose our jobs due to a global pandemic, experience heartbreak, or lose a loved one, there’s no wonder as to why we develop defense mechanisms.

But rather than collapsing in despair, we’ve learned a few tools thus far toward “being enough.” By recognizing where vulnerability shows up in our lives and how we may be sabotaging it with shields, we have learned how to open the door to feeling like we are “enough.” Vulnerabilities and all. We don’t need to be more perfect, more prepared, or more detached. If we make a mistake or share a weakness, we will still be worthy of connection and love. When we feel like we’re “enough” we no longer fear the darker consequences of being vulnerable.

To put a magnifying glass to the relationship between Vulnerability and Being Enough, check out the Being Enough page by pressing the button below!

For now, let’s sum up the concept so we can carry it with us on our vulnerability journey.

“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”― Haruki Murakami

In Brene Brown’s research, she interviewed thousands of people about their life experiences and put together a number of insights she calls the “Ten Guideposts for Wholehearted Living.” On the Being Enough page, we’ve adapted these insights to expand on her research on shame and vulnerability and tie it with how we can develop our own sense of “being enough.”

Finding our way to a practice of “being enough” can help us learn strategies to work with truly difficult emotions and experiences.

Adapted below are a few behaviors we can cultivate in our lives to find courage, compassion, and connection.

Find connection as a result of authenticity – We’re constantly bombarded with a mob mentality when it comes to fashion, politics, and the culture around us, measuring our value and worth outside of ourselves. When we understand that we are enough, we let go of what we think we should be in order to be who we want to be. Maybe that looks like wearing more comfortable clothes rather than what is trending, being honest about not liking certain foods, or putting up a boundary with a coworker about how much work we have time to complete.

Be compassionate to ourselves and others – People with Enough mentalities are found to have compassion for themselves and understand that nothing in life is going to be perfect. If we continue to punish ourselves by constantly striving toward goals that may or may not exist, we can burn out quickly. Practices like meditation and mindfulness can help to jumpstart higher levels of self-compassion. Did we need to sleep more this morning instead of going to the gym? That is ok. We went to the gym yesterday, today we can sleep so we’re better prepared for that meeting we’re stressing about. Did the barista give us the cold shoulder, perhaps they didn’t get enough sleep. We got our coffee, we can go about our day unfrazzled.

Embrace a resilient spirit– Instead of choosing to numb (one of our Vulnerability Shields), we can choose to cultivate a resilient spirit of self that involves facing some of life’s most difficult situations head on. Rather than coming from a context of powerlessness, people with Enough mentalities shift their perspective to a powerful stance when working with hard events and emotions. Our boss has criticized our last report. We’re going to take the feedback as an opportunity to get better at writing rather than a threat to our position at work or humiliation.

Be ambitious and creative – By letting go of social comparisons, people with an Enough ethos find more brain space to become creative. Playing music, telling stories, or making art simply for the sake of it (and not always monetizing our work!) can lead to a more ambitious creative life.

Carve our moments for calm and stillness – In a culture that preys off people’s anxiety (fear of pandemics, climate change, etc.) it’s no wonder how hard it can be to just do nothing! One step to Being Enough is to put time aside for activities like meditation that help us to become calm instead of anxious.

“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

Want More?

For more of a deep dive around the nuances of vulnerability, read on with “Understanding Vulnerability.”

By the end of the next page, you’ll start to notice how Vulnerability lights up almost every aspect of our lives!

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


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