In our daily lives, most of us wear a mask to some degree or another.
We show different sides of ourselves depending on the situation and who we’re with.
Sure, it’s a good skill to have sometimes. But is that really how we want to go through life?
Even in our most intimate relationships, it’s easy to get stuck with a mask.
As much as we crave being loved for who we are, the thought of being hurt by the person we love most is too terrifying.
So we’re careful not to let our guard down too much. We try to keep ourselves safe by not revealing too much or giving too much of ourselves. You know, just in case…
I’ve spent most of my life viewing vulnerability as some kind of life-threatening disease, and I know I’m not alone with this.
Why would we invite the feeling of being weak and exposed? And to do it around other people? Thanks, but no thanks!
I had huge issues with showing vulnerability long before I even knew what the word meant. Emotion = weakness. End of discussion.
However, as Brené Brown says in her excellent TED talk, we can’t selectively numb feelings.
By shutting off the feelings I didn’t want to feel, I shut off ALL feelings.
I resisted being vulnerable. I used to always choose the easy way by feeling less and less. When people said I was cold, I took it as a compliment. I felt I had succeeded.
Then I met my partner Mat.
I tried to suppress my feelings and act indifferently towards him. I tried to tell myself that:
- I wasn’t in love with him,
- I had it under control, and
- I didn’t care that much.
Needless to say, that strategy didn’t go over very well.
In my head, whoever loved less was the winner. The person who cared the least could walk away with dignity.
Because there would be walking-away involved. That, I was sure of.
And I didn’t want to be the one in pieces when it happened.
However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of coming home whenever I was with him. Instead of thrilling me, that feeling irritated me. I cursed myself for being so exceptionally weak. “This is BS!” I thought to myself.
It took me a couple of years until I slowly started inviting vulnerability into our relationship. I had to see for myself that showing weakness can be a sign of strength. In the end, I came to realize that playing small and missing out actually felt a whole lot scarier then letting myself be vulnerable.
Whenever I feel vulnerable now, I see it as a chance for me to grow and get closer to my partner. Vulnerability is a doorway into something greater, into feeling free. If you push through the initial discomfort, there’s so much more waiting on the other side.
But how do you actually do it?
How can you be more vulnerable if you’ve trained yourself to shut down that part of yourself over and over again?
Here’s how I’ve learned to push through…
1. Accept Your Vulnerability
That’s right. Accept it.
Accept whatever you’re feeling.
If you don’t, the war will keep going on inside you.
If you’re like me, you probably think you should be stronger, better, get up, get your sh*t together and stop whining.
Instead of embracing what we’re feeling fully, we suppress. We keep our mask on. But suppressing the feeling will only cause more chaos, both immediately and in the long-term.
It’s not always easy to accept what you are feeling, but do your best. Accept where you are in this moment. Admit that you feel weak right now. Admit that you have feelings you’re not comfortable with, feelings that you’re not proud of.
By simply accepting the situation and how you feel, a lot of tension will automatically dissolve.
2. Get Out of Your Head
Once you start considering sharing your vulnerabilities, the mind is quick to hit the alarm button.
- “What if he thinks I’m overreacting and being silly?”
- “She won’t find me sexy if I tell her.”
- “He’s gonna think I’m annoying.”
- “What if she doesn’t take me seriously?”
We’re painting our partner’s possible (but not very likely) reactions in our heads. We’re scared that if we let ourselves be fully seen, we won’t be loved.
To get out of your head, try journalling. Let your thoughts out on paper. It will help you separate from what you’re feeling and observe your feelings instead.
Something else that works is to take a walk or do some exercise, anything that will help you get out of your head and into your body. It will leave you feeling stronger, clearer and less overwhelmed when tackling whatever you’re dealing with.
3. Say What You Need to Say
This is hard, but it gets easier and easier. Here’s how to do it.
If you’re gonna share something you feel very vulnerable around, make sure there’s time for it. Don’t throw it out when your partner is walking out the door.
Open up when you’re both in a stable and loving mood, not during an argument or when you feel hurt or triggered. If you wait until the storm has passed—think an hour or a day, not months—it’s easier to articulate exactly what hurt you or how you feel.
When you share your vulnerabilities, it’s about your experience. Don’t ever start the conversation with blaming or criticizing. Only share what you feel.
What triggered you or the way you feel might not always make much sense, either to you or your partner. That doesn’t matter. If it’s how you feel, it’s how you feel.
Sharing your vulnerabilities doesn’t make you selfish or silly. You are helping your partner to understand you better. In fact, the more transparent you can be, the more you’re giving to your relationship.
Every time you let yourself be fully seen is a gift. See it as a tool to take your relationship to the next level.
Like this topic and want to learn more?
Your Brilliant expert author James Bauer explains why you should never be afraid of being vulnerable.