I invite you to notice the feeling you have when I say vulnerability is strength! Does it feel like a pit in your stomach? A lump in your throat? Does the idea of being vulnerable scare you?
I am asking you to think about what’s not working for you in your life. Have you been trying to handle everything yourself? Do you think that is what strong people should do? Are you keeping secrets so that others only know the person you think you’re supposed to be? Are you trying to seem “perfect”? Are you numbing your feelings through drinking or getting high, starving yourself, Self-harm, or another coping mechanism—all of which just results in more trauma, loneliness, shame, pain and lack of connection?
I invite you to consider a new way of presenting yourself to the world—with authentic vulnerability.
Because true vulnerability creates and deepens an authentic connection. Also, it enhances and lightens your load in life. Vulnerability means not having to wear a mask in front of others and not having to “be” someone. Vulnerability feels like a relief. And vulnerability expressed while feeling safe, stable, and present, it feels freeing and exhilarating, and continues safety in your life!
Imagine being able to say or do anything—and still feel loved and accepted.
These feelings of freedom and safety happen when you live from a place within yourself that has experienced secure attachment. These feelings also are what happen your feelings are emotionally held in securely attached relationships. And guess how those relationships are formed? You got it—through vulnerability.
Why should I be vulnerable? It has gotten me hurt in the past.
If you didn’t have safe, secure relationships in childhood, vulnerability is probably really hard for you. Perhaps it even feels dangerous. Perhaps impossible. But as we have spoken about before in prior articles, you can build these healthy relationships in adulthood. SAFELY!
Daily in my office, I hear that vulnerability is weakness. I hear from individuals that problems should be solved independently and if not, they are weak and there is something wrong with them. Because they haven’t been able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and “be strong enough,” they’ve failed. Interestingly the path forward begins with approaching the problem in almost the exact opposite way from before – with self-compassion.
Many think feelings are the f-word and have come to therapy as a last resort. In the past, they often learned that feelings were used, manipulated, or ignored. They didn’t matter. Many feel pretty beaten down before they even consider therapy because they don’t think asking for help or seeking connection will work. Unfortunately, therapy isn’t top on the list for most people—yet—but I’m working towards a future where it is.
You are trying to protect yourself.
I understand. You feel it’s not safe to be vulnerable. It’s scary, and in the past, it could have resulted in abuse, manipulation, and pain. If our past relationships hurt us, we live with that pain in our bodies until it’s healed. When vulnerability has proven to be unsafe, protective parts show up to keep us safe.
But we are wired for connection. As humans, we cannot thrive in a relationship with another person, unless we are sharing our authentic selves. Authentic relationships require us to be there and hold safe space for others, and also to give of ourselves so they can hold safe space for us. By healing ourselves, and our past traumas, we can move forward. We can learn how to move past the protective parts and be vulnerable in secure relationships. Showing our true self to others allows us to live a richer life and heal from past traumas.
“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
Avoiding vulnerability at all costs and, therefore, connection only reinforces living our lives from a place of fear, likely from past trauma. Living in the present, which with work toward healing, can feel less painful, less badly, and safer!
I want you to know:
You can be vulnerable—and safe—at the same time!
Developing and noticing safe relationships (with yourself, and others) will create a place where safety and vulnerability can exist together. Here’s what I mean:
- Unsafe vulnerability: There may have been times in the past when you were vulnerable with people who were supposed to be safe, but weren’t. The relationship and the lack of safety continued because of loyalty (perhaps because they were a caregiver). Perhaps you began to think this is what you must tolerate in life, which resulted in new relationships with unsafe people, and the trauma cycle happens again.
- Safe vulnerability: The goal is to develop and have relationships that provide safety in being authentic and vulnerable, which include empathy and care. This means the other person will hold your feelings, not invalidate or manipulate them, which creates a safe space in a relationship. Remember how Elton John and Freddy Mercury went towards the securely-attached relationships in their lives when they were ready for help and healing. With relationships that provide secure attachment, that person will always be there for you. The helpers are the people with whom it’s safe to be vulnerable.
I’m NOT suggesting you be vulnerable with everyone. You (and they) have to be safe and trusted, in order for vulnerability to improve your life. I’m hoping that you can begin to notice the safe relationships in your life—including the one with yourself! I am hoping we can work to help you build more safe relationships in your life. To believe you deserve safe relationships. To believe you deserve to have your vulnerability compassionately held!
Though they may feel true for you at the moment, these statements are false:
- Vulnerability is weakness
- Being vulnerable is bad
- Relationships are unsafe
- Feelings are bad
- You’re supposed to be able to take care of yourself without help
- You’re supposed to do it perfectly
- Men who have feelings are weak
What is true?
- Vulnerability is not a bad word. It means strength!
- Vulnerability is strength!
- Vulnerability allows you to be present for relationships!
- Vulnerability makes you human
- Vulnerability can lead to rewarding relationships
- Vulnerability heals trauma
Wouldn’t this feel like a relief?
If you could be authentic, own who you are, and admit you don’t always do it perfectly? (No one does!) What if you could compassionately understand you are human? If you could let the walls down and build relationships based on genuine connection? The fact is, it’s really hard to connect to a person who’s not authentic because that relationship would be based on an image or a falsehood, a mask! A great relationship with others and yourself must have authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, compassion, connection, growth, and imperfection. Relationships heal.
Where to start?
Admitting that you need support—that you don’t have all the answers on your own—is an incredible first step toward allowing people to connect with you. Embracing the vulnerability will help you build a brighter, more peaceful, more rewarding future for yourself.
“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”― Roy T. Bennett
The freedom that comes from vulnerability starts with a secure relationship. For many, this first secure relationship begins in therapy, where you can learn how to build safety—and then bring that knowledge and safety inside yourself to other relationships in your life. This is done through the three stages of trauma-informed care.
- John Gottman and Brené Brown on Running Headlong Into Heartbreak
- The Role of the Authentic Self in Trauma-Informed Care
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
- I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am” by Brene Brown
- Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
- Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. By Brene Brown.
- Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships by Sue Johnson
- Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson
- Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin PsyD, MFT
Robyn is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with 20+ years of experience providing psychotherapy, as well as the founder and clinical director of a private practice, Brickel and Associates, LLC in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia. She and her team bring a strengths-based, trauma-informed, systems approach to the treatment of individuals (adolescents and adults), couples and families. She specializes in trauma (including attachment trauma) and the use of dissociative mechanisms; such as: self-harm, eating disorders and addictions. She also approaches treatment of perinatal mental health from a trauma-informed lens.
Robyn also guides clients and clinicians who wish to better understand the impact of trauma on mental health and relationships. She has a wide range of post graduate trauma and addictions education and is trained in numerous relational models of practice, including Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT), and Imago therapy. She is a trained Sensorimotor Psychotherapist and is a Certified EMDRIA therapist and Approved Consultant. Utilizing all of these tools, along with mindfulness and ego state work to provide the best care to her clients. She prides herself in always learning and expanding her knowledge on a daily basis about the intricacies of treating complex trauma and trauma’s impact on perinatal distress.
She frequently shares insights, resources and links to mental health news on Facebook and Twitter as well as in her blog at BrickelandAssociates.com
To contact Robyn directly: