The importance of vulnerability
February 20, 2020 | Connection, Emotions, Society
Is there a feeling quite like vulnerability? It can open us raw and leave us tender, and it can be followed by some of the most powerful experiences of love or rejection. So, what is the importance of vulnerability? Why would we choose to be vulnerable when the stakes are so high? That’s such an important question. The answer, in three words: for authentic connection.
Vulnerability and bonding
I often talk to my clients about the tension between authenticity and relationship. I.e., the way we negotiate how much of our true self we’re willing to sacrifice in order to maintain connection. This is true in all relationships, but I believe it’s specially significant in close ones. As we interact with people, we have to decide how much of our inner self we are willing to show them. This means what we share and what we choose to keep private. Sometimes, this choice will come with risk. What if we show them something and we get rejected for it?
The need to belong is part of what makes us human. Belonging defines who’s in our group and who isn’t. Our sense of it tells us whether we are part of our group, and how strong that association is. Risking it is terrifying. If we can’t count on our group to come to our aid, we know our chances of survival drop significantly. I think that this is what comes at play when we’re making choices about being vulnerable. If we’re rejected for it, we’re risking our belonging. As a counterpoint, though, the hope in being vulnerable is an increase in our bond to the group. If we’re held and accepted in that which makes us unique, there is a coming closer into the relationship. That experience can be magical. Having many of those is what makes us get close to someone else, and the accumulation of that is what makes us feel safe.
Vulnerability and authenticity
Choosing vulnerability can also be a choice of authenticity. Sharing who you truly are, despite the fear of rejection, can make a difference in the quality of the connection. If I believe I can maintain relationships only when sacrificing my needs or who I am, then I set myself up for a life of unfulfilling relationships. Instead, if I can show up with who I truly am, the relationships in my life will be those that can accept me and give me some of what I seek (note: this doesn’t apply to abusive behaviour). I’ve heard this talked about as the difference between fitting in and belonging. There are relationships and situations where fitting in is appropriate, but we all need a handful of relationships where we feel we belong. Without those, no matter how many people we’re surrounded by, we’re always going to feel alone.
Making the choice to be vulnerable
Being vulnerable can be an active choice. I’ve often heard the voice of fear telling me I should not share something tender, something raw. I trust that this voice is trying to protect me; avoid moments when I might face rejection. Rejection feels so bad that, sometimes, fear wins. That’s okay. There are also other times when I hear the voice and I choose trust and courage. It’s thanks to that, I believe, that I have that handful of relationships that nourish my life. It’s in making that choice that I often wield my power to find the type of relationships I seek.
I trust I will survive rejection. Also I trust that there are people who love me. I believe in my right to have quality relationships, and I do what I can to make that happen.
Do you choose to do the same?
I grew up speaking Spanish. English is my second language. When I communicate in English, I make mistakes. I've chosen to let the writing on my blog reflect the kind of mistakes I make when speaking, so that you have an idea of what it might feel like to talk to me. I trust the message is still clear but, if it's not, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification.
The information provided on my blog is a mix of my personal thoughts, professional approach, and articles related to mental health. The purpose of sharing all of this is to communicate the models at the core of my practice, as well as to provide education. I hope this will help to minimize some of the power imbalances related to my profession. The articles on this blog should not be considered as professional advice for any one person or group of people. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this content for you, please contact a qualified mental health professional.