Once when I was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed, my sister said to me, “Just fall back and let the universe catch you.”
When she said that, a feeling of peace washed over me. How lovely it would be to simply let go and feel completely safe, knowing that everything would be OK. That I was OK. The thought gave me a few moments of respite from my worries. I was free from the pain and pretense of trying to control everything.
Imagine if you heard those words from someone you love — “Just fall back and let me catch you. Just fall back and tell me everything. Just fall back and be yourself, flaws and all. I will still love you. I will be there for you.”
Imagine the peace of not holding it all in, of being completely authentic and open, sharing your most intimate dreams and fears, perfectly secure in the knowledge you won't be ridiculed or rejected. Instead you'll be embraced.
Imagine being completely vulnerable and exposed, and rather than it pushing someone away, it brings you closer together.
Unfortunately, most of us have been trained from a very early age not to be vulnerable. We've learned the painful lesson of opening our hearts, telling our truths, and showing our frailties, only to have our hearts broken and our weaknesses disparaged. We've learned to hold back, to pretend to be someone else, to protect our hearts.
We've learned that the best defense against pain is a good offense. So we build brick walls. We hold ourselves at arm's length. We offer the smiling, jolly facade lest others think we aren't pulled together and perfect.
Of course it's exhausting and stressful maintaining this pretense. It takes a lot of energy to be something you're not. It does protect you from emotional pain in the short term. But in the long run it wreaks havoc on your close relationships. Without being vulnerable, intimacy will wither and die, like a flower that never develops deep roots.
Vulnerability is an essential ingredient in any intimate relationships. Here's why:
Vulnerability reveals reality
When you are able to show yourself fully to another person, you experience the joy of being fully yourself. And they benefit from knowing all of you, not just the glossed-over, flaw-free parts of you. You both enjoy the depths and intricacies of all aspects of each other — the good, bad, and the ugly. There is beauty in being known so completely.
Vulnerability fosters trust
As you reveal yourself to another person, and they treat you with respect, love, and dignity, your trust in that person expands. And as you reveal more of yourself, you invite the other person to be vulnerable as well. You give them the courage to show the hidden or shameful parts of themselves. Both people experience the security and peace of having the other's back and knowing they are still loved and respected.
Vulnerability invites growth
Vulnerability allows you to honestly reflect on your true self within the safe harbor of a trusting relationship. You can assess changes you need to make and the person you want to become without taking a blow to your self-esteem. Self-honesty is critical to living authentically which in turn opens doors to untapped potential.
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Vulnerability builds confidence
As you practiced expressing your feelings, revealing your flaws, and admitting your fears, you see that the art of vulnerability actually strengthens you. You realize you can expose yourself without dying or becoming less of a person. You are bolstered by your ability to stand firm in your own truth.
Vulnerability heals wounds
All healing begins with acknowledgement, acceptance, and awareness. When you are real about your pain or fear, rather than trying to run from it or hide it, you purge yourself of the blocked feelings and stress of trying to pretend or ignore. By putting things out in the open, you allow the light of truth to ignite the healing process.
Vulnerability creates bonds
All of us have areas of ourselves we fear revealing or sharing with another. We all have pain, shameful feelings, and self-doubt. When you're able to open up about these with another person, you connect with their humanness. You allow them to see that you are just like them, that you share common feelings and concerns. This bonds you closer to each other.
Vulnerability deepens love
Vulnerability means you are able to express your deepest feelings for another person and share love on a more profound level. You can be completely open emotionally, mentally, and physically and embrace that same openness from your loved one.
Vulnerability makes us more attractive
Nothing is more attractive than authenticity. By being fully yourself, and confidently accepting your good and bad qualities, you become more interesting and appealing. Your ability to express yourself openly, share with others, and acknowledge your flaws makes others feel safe and confident around you.
Vulnerability teaches us comfort with uncertainty
When we are vulnerable, we don't know how others will respond to us. We take a huge risk by putting ourselves out there. This uncertainty causes discomfort and tension. But by practicing vulnerability, we grow accustomed to uncertainty and can tolerate the unpleasant feelings it causes. We can use this new toughness to cope with other areas of risk in our lives that can stretch us and expand opportunities.
As bestselling author and vulnerability expert Brene Brown reminds,“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
How have you practiced vulnerability in your life and how has it served you? Has being vulnerable caused you pain or strengthened you? Or both? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.
photo: Getty images