The Importance of Vulnerability

Opening up and being vulnerable can be terrifying. It requires us to find a voice for our needs and desires, thereby revealing our authentic selves. Doing so puts us at risk of rejection, hurt, and shame. But it also gives us the opportunity to make healthy changes to our lives, foster better relationships with others, and improve our feelings of self–worth. 

Given all of this, it’s crazy to think that vulnerability is still commonly associated with weakness. Just think about the last time you were truly vulnerable. Were you having a hard conversation with a partner? Suggesting an idea in class? Crying in front of a friend? In all of these situations, it would've been easier to not engage with the problem or to stay quiet or numb. Instead, you gathered up strength to voice your thoughts and emotions. Read that again: it took strength, not weakness!

In fact, Professor Brené Brown conducted a qualitative experiment in which she asked her participants to finish the following sentence: “Vulnerability is ___”. Some of the answers she received included: “starting my own business; calling a friend whose child just passed away; trying something new; getting pregnant after having three miscarriages; admitting I’m afraid; having faith.” After hearing all of the responses, Brown concluded, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage." 

As stated above, vulnerability also enables us to make positive changes to our lives. For example, let’s say you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, like eating large amounts of junk food. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t stop eating junk food past the point of fullness. Before you can change this habit, you need to look at the root cause and doing so requires vulnerability. Are you just eating because you're bored? Do you feel emotionally drained, or “empty,” and food helps “fill” you? Are you comforting yourself because you're overly stressed with schoolwork?

Finding the root cause means you have to be honest with yourself and comfortable with exploring your darker thoughts and feelings. Then, once you identify the true drive behind your bad habits or weaknesses, you can begin to make sustainable changes. 

Additionally, vulnerability helps foster more meaningful and intimate relationships. Developing these kinds of relationships requires you to be your authentic self — and doing so is scary! Our authentic selves are often needy, emotional, moody, and messy — but these aren’t necessarily negative things. 

For example, think about the last time you felt sincerely connected to someone. When they were sharing their vulnerable self, did you judge them or see them as needy? I’m betting the answer to that is no. Rather, you were probably happy you were part of their support system. You were happy they trusted you enough to expose their real self. So, why wouldn’t the same hold true for when you’re the one who shows vulnerability?

Researcher John Bowlby also found that romantic partners have a mutual need to nurture each other to form a strong and healthy relationship. Bowlby found that healthy partners consistently switch roles between caregiver and caretaker — something that can’t happen if neither partner is vulnerable enough to express their wants and needs. Thus, it’s imperative that you share your inner, sometimes darker, emotions and thoughts to foster positive relationships with others. 

Lastly, vulnerability enhances feelings of self-worth. Being vulnerable and admitting that you’re struggling or revealing just how you’re feeling allows you to accept your true self. It prevents you from comparing yourself to others and can result in a support network that accepts your authentic self and normalizes your experiences. Moreover, admitting your vulnerabilities in front of friends or loved ones creates a safe space for others to be vulnerable with you. When we all open up, it lets us know that others feel the same way we do, confirming that our vulnerable feelings are real and valid. 

Next time you’re on the precipice of opening up to someone, go for it. As perfectly stated by Brown, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” In the end, we could all use those.