As a therapist, I have the privilege of experiencing human vulnerability everyday. I see raw, genuine human emotion and hear intimate details about people’s human experiences. Inevitably, this vulnerability leads to a very deep emotional connection in the therapist-client relationship. I have come to recognize how shared so much of the human experience really is. Though everyone’s story is entirely unique, all people share the desire for love and connection and joy and fulfillment and security, as well as fear of losing these things. For many, therapy is the only space that feels truly safe to be totally and authentically you. But what might happen if everyone started to share a little bit more of themselves with other people in their world? How much capacity for connection and empathy might be fostered if everyone began to feel less isolated in their experiences.
This past year has certainly contributed to a feeling of togetherness as the entire world faced a global pandemic together. Suddenly, regardless of one’s job, relationship status, socioeconomic status or any other typically divisive qualifier, everyone was facing a shared challenge. Undeniably, the impact of this virus was different on different groups of people and that is not a reality to ignore, but for the purposes of this blog and shared experiences, we’ll stay focused on the fact that most everyone was facing heightened levels of anxiety and uncertainty as the global community fought against the coronavirus. Perhaps this shared experience has created a foundation for people to practice sharing more. More emotional vulnerability could have tremendous effects on everyone’s mental health.
Emotionally vulnerability is defined by Brené Brown as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. Brené Brown has done incredible work studying vulnerability and her books, Ted Talks, podcasts and Netflix special are all wonderful resources to explore to deepen your understanding of what it means to be vulnerable. Her relatability paired with her extensive research and experience makes her content incredibly digestible. When it comes to emotional vulnerability, people tend to shy away from being open and honest with others about their fears, challenges, passions and intimacies. This is because vulnerability is hard. And it is scary. But research indicates that vulnerability tends to be met with more vulnerability and the connection that comes from this shared vulnerability is so rich.
Below are a few examples of ways that you can practice being vulnerable with others in your life. Consider trying one or more and then make sure to pay attention to how you feel both during and after:
- When somebody asks “how are you?”, try to give an honest answer beyond the typical “good” or “fine”. Try, “I am having a hard time today because my dog is sick and work has been piling up” or “I’m actually doing really well today! I went on a first date last night and felt a stronger connection than I have with someone new in a long time”. By sharing more of how you are really doing, you may find others will respond with support, compassion, a similar experience that relates, and/or by sharing with you how they are doing as well.
- Ask for help. This one can be in small or big ways. Asking for help can be scary because it is admitting that we cannot do everything ourselves, but the reality is, whether we admit that or not, it is simply true. By asking for help, you invite someone in to join you in whatever you are going through.
- Try something new. It can be very scary to be a beginner at something new, and exist in a space where you are not yet your best. Try anyway. Maybe that looks like going to a new workout studio class, learning a new language or taking on a new task at work.
- Apologize. Apologizing can be very vulnerable, and very rewarding. Try to not wait for the other person to come to you first, but instead initiate dialogue and acknowledge how much the relationship means to you despite the argument.
- Make eye contact. Making eye contact can be very vulnerable, and people tend to avoid eye contact for this reason. Especially now with mask-wearing, eye contact can be more important than ever for fostering a feeling of connection between people.
Therapists at GTS are available for both in-person and tele-therapy support and can help you practice vulnerability in a safe space. Visit this blog to learn more about how to begin sessions at our practice!
Brown, Brené (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way
We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Gotham Books. www.ted.com/talks_brene_brown/listening_to_shame