5 Steps to Becoming More Comfortable with Vulnerability
Deepen your relationships by upping your vulnerability game.
Vulnerability is a common fear for many people. It can be scary to share how you feel, ask for what you want, and be completely authentic. With the risk of rejection lurking, you may feel the urge to silence yourself and hold back from sharing.
At the same time, humans are wired for connection, which means that we need relationships in order to feel whole and fulfilled. And, more than that, we need them to be deep and meaningful.
Vulnerability is a direct path to cultivating nourishing and long-lasting relationships. For this reason, it’s essential that you get comfortable with the discomfort of vulnerability.
Here are five steps to increase your ability to be vulnerable.
Understand your emotions.
In order to be able to effectively share what you are feeling, first you need to understand your own emotions.
Not everyone was taught how to do this during their childhood. Some people received implicit messages, like their parents not talking about family issues (aka, sweeping things under the rug), that emotions aren’t important or valued.
Others learned through explicit messages, like a parent shaming a child for expressing how they felt, that it isn’t safe to experience or show emotions.
If this resonates, you might first need to learn more about what’s happening inside of you before you can think about conveying this to someone you care about.
Understanding your emotions takes time and patience. A great place to start is a daily check in with yourself on how you are feeling. Something as simple as: “What am I feeling right now?”
At first, this may be really challenging, so you might want to print out a list of emotions to help you more readily connect what you are currently experiencing to a specific emotion.
Then, implement a time of day to check in with yourself. The more that you spend time tuning into how you feel, the more easily you’ll be able to understand what you are feeling at any given time, and then be able to take the appropriate action to support yourself or seek support from someone else.
Validate your own experience.
Once you are starting to understand what you are feeling, next it’s important to validate your own experience. This means that you allow your current situation to be, just as it is, without minimizing it or shaming yourself for feeling your feelings.
For example, if your boss yelled at you, you might be feeling disappointed and hurt. Validating your experience in this situation might look like saying to yourself, “It makes sense that you feel that way. Your job is important to you, and a lot is expected of you. You can learn from this and improve.”
See how you are not only allowing yourself to feel your emotions, but also supporting yourself through kind and compassionate language?
That’s the idea with self-validation.
Consider whom to be vulnerable with.
Part of being vulnerable is choosing someone who is safe to be vulnerable with, and not every person in your life might be a good choice.
Here are some qualities of a person who is safe:
- They are not afraid to feel or show emotion.
- They don’t dismiss your feelings when you share.
- They don’t try to provide a solution without your permission.
- They listen without judgment.
- They are encouraging and supportive.
Humans are imperfect, so even safe people won’t get it right every time. It’s important to look at the overall feeling that you have when you share with this person and at the patterns over time.
Another way of knowing whether a person is safe is if you share that you feel hurt in a conversation, they seek to understand how their behavior impacted you, and make an effort not to engage in that specific behavior again.
Determine what to say.
It can be helpful to prepare what you want to say ahead of time. If you are expressing dissatisfaction or a complaint in a relationship, it’s helpful to use “I” statements.
That might look something like this: “I feel frustrated when you are on your phone while we eat dinner. It feels like you don’t value what I’m saying and that hurts. I’d appreciate it if we could reserve dinner time for just us and set our phones on ‘do not disturb.’”
It’s common to think of vulnerability in the context of sharing upsetting or frustrating things, but it’s equally vulnerable to share the joys and exciting things as well.
This may look like: “I just found out I got a promotion at work. I worked really hard for this, so it’s hard to believe it’s actually real.”
Especially when you are just getting started, it can be helpful to rehearse what you want to say ahead of time. As you get more comfortable with vulnerability, you’ll be able to share your experience more easily on the fly.
Being vulnerable invites others to be vulnerable with you. One way to curate this is to invite the person you’re sharing with to respond to what you are saying with their perspective.
If you notice over time that a person isn’t sharing back, it might be worth bringing it up with them and gently pointing out that you are noticing that they aren’t reciprocating your vulnerability. If they acknowledge this, you might ask them how you might support them in feeling more comfortable with sharing with you. When you approach vulnerability as a team, where both people share, it becomes considerably less scary.
Finally, it can be beneficial to thank a person for sharing with you when they do it freely and spontaneously as a way of affirming this behavior. Oftentimes, positive reinforcement is a more effective tool for behavioral change than criticism.
Remember, becoming more comfortable with vulnerability is a process. It will feel uncomfortable at times, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. Vulnerability gets easier in time, especially when you are learning more about whom it’s safe to be vulnerable with, and it can dramatically enhance the quality of your relationships.