A lot of our fears and anxieties centre on one key fear: that of exposing ourselves. No, I don’t mean literal nakedness – that’s a cinch compared to what I’m talking about, emotional vulnerability. It’s natural to keep our emotions, feelings and thoughts hidden; in many circumstances, revealing them does leave you vulnerable to harm. From an evolutionary viewpoint, revealing fear is dangerous and exposes you to predators. It makes sense for a caveman to pretend he is fearless and act aggressively when faced with a sabre-toothed tiger. It’s a sensible approach in some circumstances nowadays, especially when you can’t trust the people around you. However, in some situations it is better to show your vulnerability.
It’s essential to let your close friends and family see that you can be vulnerable. It’s exhausting to pretend to be confident and self-assured 24/7 and does no favours for the people you care about, who may feel that they can’t show their own vulnerability. It’s natural to feel fear, doubt, shame, sadness, embarrassment, anger, disappointment, etc. By expressing these emotions in an appropriate manner, you teach others that their own feelings are validated and that they can deal with them.
On a wider scale, you are vulnerable whenever you take a risk that exposes you to potential criticism. You aren’t in any physical danger, yet you might get hurt emotionally. However, the alternative is to never take this type of risk; to stagnate. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to your career: success in most fields depends on putting yourself in vulnerable situations, like interviews and submitting work. If you opt out, you don’t progress.
Learning to be vulnerable involves accepting that vulnerability is necessary if you are to grow. It means you start to embrace the benefits of emotionally exposing yourself, such as gaining constructive feedback which you can use to improve. You can start with a few forays into showing your vulnerability and gradually increase the frequency. You will notice a paradox: the more vulnerable you become (or rather, the more you demonstrate your vulnerability), the more your confidence grows.
Vulnerability is linked to confidence because it cultivates self-acceptance. When you come to terms with your vulnerability, you begin to see that your flaws and failings are often mirror images of your strengths. You will also realise that most people accept your vulnerability – and many welcome the opportunity to interact with you on a “real” level, which is only achieved when you show yourself to be vulnerable. You will gain pleasure from situations which depend on exposing yourself to emotional danger, because taking the risk and being human is preferable to the alternative.
Think about dating: if you are to form a real connection, you must open yourself up and be vulnerable. Sure, your date might not like you or they might criticise you, but so what? You aren’t right for each other and need to move on to the next person. The alternatives are to never ask anyone on a date, which might get very lonely, or to put on a false front which will protect your feelings but also prevent you from interacting with others in any way that’s not superficial. The same is true of other situations – if you submit a piece of work which is important to you, for example, it might be rejected but at least there is a chance that it will be accepted. The alternative in this case is to never submit important work, which is pointless.
Being vulnerable can be painful. Criticism hurts more when you care: I can cope with rejections for stories which don’t mean much to me, but every rejection for a story I love cuts me to the core. But the pain is worth it because being vulnerable is the only way you can invite anything meaningful into your life. And it’s less painful than stagnating and never achieving your goals or forming close relationships.
See also: Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway