Making This Change Won't Be Easy, But It Can Transform Your World For the Better

For many the word vulnerable has become synonymous with weakness.

The thought of being truly vulnerable to others leaves many of us filled with anxiety and shame at the thought of what we might reveal about ourselves. Certainly, being vulnerable can open you up to disappointment, heart break and emotional pain--but at the same time, the potential for the true joy, belonging, creativity, closeness and intimacy that we all crave is only possible by allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable to others and to yourself.

What does it mean to be vulnerable?

Vulnerability is the capacity to let others see our true selves. As a pioneer of the study of vulnerability, fear and shame, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work research professor Brené Brown has spent a lot of time investigating the power of vulnerability for improving an individual's emotional wellbeing. As Brown notes, so many of us are fearful of what others will think about what they see in us. We become afraid of feeling shame in the face of this exposure, and so we try to avoid admitting weakness, doubt or the potential that we may need help.

Unfortunately, as Brown points out, "you cannot selectively numb emotion." By attempting to avoid feeling fear, shame and embarrassment, we prevent ourselves from feeling joy, happiness and triumph. But revealing your fears, mistakes and concerns to others can increase your tolerance for uncertainty about yourself. In turn, this increasing comfort with uncertainty can allow you to be courageous and experience many of life's emotions and feelings that require unpredictability: joy, trust, creativity, belonging and love.

The impact of staying open and vulnerable in relationships

Indeed, vulnerability lies at the core of every successful relationship. Connecting with others and creating intimacy requires that we can reveal our imperfections and fears to each other and accept the same from our partners in return. Being honest about what you feel, what you are afraid of and what you need is required to forge a truly intimate emotional and spiritual connection with another person. Even physical intimacy, which is at the core of almost all romantic relationships, demands that you be open and vulnerable about what you want, need and desire.

Even at work, being vulnerable is important for building the professional relationships that can propel your career forward. Indeed, requesting a raise or asking for a promotion requires that you be vulnerable. After all, you may be turned down, and disappointment can happen when you don't get what you've opened yourself up to ask for. Like the rest of life, however, you cannot succeed at work if you don't allow yourself to be vulnerable and reveal what you want to others.

Got it. So what next?

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable won't happen all at once, particularly if you've spent years guarding away any imperfections out of fear and shame. But taking steps to open yourself up to those you care about can pay dividends in happiness, intimacy and love. Sometimes the first step is as simple as not seeking to avoid uncomfortable feelings and instead allowing yourself to be open to feeling uncertainty, discomfort and--yes--vulnerability.