A Guide to Vulnerability by an Introverted Coward

I’m not really good at letting myself be vulnerable. I mean... I still do it, but it makes my skin itchy. It makes me uncomfortable. But I do it anyway! Because I didn't know just how bad I was at being vulnerable until I watched “Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown. In a nutshell, she explained that lack of vulnerability comes from feeling shame. She also pointed out that people who were wholehearted - those who were genuinely happy, healthy, and courageous - saw vulnerability as vital. No, it was never easy, but they were readily vulnerable because they saw it as necessary to living a full life. I listened to this researcher explain all of this to her audience and I thought, “Well, CRAP.” I realized I pride myself on making people think they know me when they have no idea what’s beneath the surface in reality. Like an iceberg. Like a Hemingway novel. Ooh, so mysterious.

What kind of crazy person prides themselves on not letting people in?

An introverted coward.

Brené Brown, why ya gotta do this? Making me get all INTROSPECTIVE? In THIS economy?

I think everyone has a moment of truth like this. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. I personally sit in my discomfort and just repeat, “God this sucks. This sucks so bad. Sucks more than anything has ever sucked ever.” Then I ignore it. I keep busy. I study. I dance. I run. I try every healthy coping mechanism that used to work before, but the realization that I never let myself just feel snuck up on me in the most inconvenient of moments. Like hello, brain, excuse me? Please omit the negative life events I’ve recently experienced from my memory. It’s getting in the way of real life obligations.

Unfortunately, this never works. So what is a person supposed to do about it? If ten Chipotle burritos aren’t supposed to fix it, what is?

Well, turns out it’s not too impossible to beat this discomfort, also known as "shame" by Brené Brown. She defines shame as “the experience or fear of believing we’re not worthy of connection.” It is the root of any time we feel as though we can’t talk about what makes us upset. Identifying our shame and why we feel it is the first step to defeating it. Do you feel the need to be perfect? Are there people you don’t want to disappoint by admitting your struggle? Is there an internal battle of not wanting to ask for help because you’re supposed to be the person who has it “together” all the time? What if people don't like who I am behind my facade? Maybe it’s all of those things wrapped up in a package and tied with a “wow I’m falling apart but I’m not willing to talk about it” bow. You must unravel that package and see what’s in store before you really move forward on your path to overcoming shame.

The next step is to choose who is worth to hear about your shame. There have been times when we think we can trust someone, only to have them make us feel shame for having shame. Meta-shame. Here are a few examples Brené gives of people not to share your shame story with:

  1. People who feel like you should be ashamed of your feelings, thus further inducing you into your shame.
  2. Those who offer sympathy instead of empathy. It’s the difference between “I feel sorry for you” and “I know exactly how you feel.”
  3. The friend who is disappointed that you have imperfections.
  4. Homies who are uncomfortable with vulnerability.
  5. The person who refuses to believe you have flaws.
  6. Oppression Olympics athletes - "Wow, that isn't that bad. My experiences have been way worse."

Once you find a trustworthy shelter for your shame, now it's the real deal. Ya just gotta let it out. That PHAT shame. You must be ~vulnerable~. This can mean crying it out into someone's shoulder. It can be asking for help. Perhaps you just need to talk and talk and talk about all of your struggles. Whatever your vulnerability looks like, you must have the courage to let it out. For me personally, I must listen to music on the floor of my bedroom, cry, and vent to one of my closest friends. It helps best when they validate that what I'm feeling is absolutely normal.

Now see, the hardest part of this all is actually doing it. The steps are simple: identify the shame, choose a shelter, be vulnerable. But to actually talk about your shame? To be vulnerable? That's tricky, especially when you've trusted before and been betrayed. The key is to keep being vulnerable no matter what is thrown your way. If you love someone and they don't love you back, it's okay. If someone hurt you and they feel no remorse, that's okay. If there's just an inexplicably painful circumstance that has absolutely no solution anyone can provide you, that's okay. It happens, but it isn't your fault for being vulnerable.

Part of having the courage to be vulnerable is to know in your heart that it isn't your fault when people abuse your vulnerability.

Once that sets in (and honey, it might take a looong time), vulnerability becomes inviting instead of scary. Vulnerability is freedom from facades of perfection. It allows for you to actually connect to people and feel like your wholehearted self. After all, when was the last time you looked up to someone because they were perfect? Think about those you admire and think about why you admire them. It's most likely because they've been brave enough to express their vulnerability and you related to it. I love Shonda Rhimes because she admitted that she is a workaholic who wants to adhere to this image of being a titan so she doesn't disappoint people. Like... girl. Me too. What? Other people feel this way? Shonda Rhimes - Dartmouth alumna and creator/producer/writer for Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, etc. etc. etc. - feels this way? WILD. Absolutely blew my mind. From then on, I realized it was okay for me to admit that WOW I DO A LOT AND SOMETIMES THAT WEIGHT IS HEAVY ON ME AND I WANT TO EAT AN ENTIRE PINT OF ICE CREAM EVERY DAY. But instead of eating ice cream or any other escapist activity, I face that fear of disappointing people, show my dearest loved ones, and am comforted by the notion that the world will not implode if I mess up. Vulnerability is freedom.

Take my advice - if this scaredy cat introvert can open her heart up to people, you can too. I believe in you.

Image sources: butter face, Prince spittin' wisdom as per