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Even though I've been writing online for years, I still care what people think about me.
Even though I've been talking about my own mental health struggles for years, I still worry others might judge me and hate me for who I am.
It's in the back of my mind, and it eats away at me at times.
Feeling vulnerable is a human emotion, and I have it.
If you've ever felt exposed, if you've ever felt like your world might crumble if others see the real you that you see, then you need to read this.
Because feeling vulnerable is one of the greatest strengths you can have, especially when it comes to relationships.
It's time to learn not only how to feel vulnerable--but to be vulnerable. To use your emotions in a way that reveals how strong and beautiful you actually are.
The Relationship You Have With Yourself Starts With Vulnerability
I've been working at my current job for a year and a half now.
When I joined this company, I took a major pay cut because I believed in the culture.
I loved how the company lived and made decisions by the core values set by the founder, a caring and hard-working entrepreneur who turned a carpet cleaning business into a digital marketing business that helped other carpet cleaners--and later, HVAC contractors, electricians, pressure washers, restoration businesses, and other "small guys" as one of the core values state we champion on a daily basis.
This was the first company that allowed me to be myself and bring my love of processes and systems to the table to improve the way things were currently being done.
But I brought a lot of emotional baggage to the job as well.
You see, I'm the kind of person that can't stop. I'm always looking to make things better.
And it has a tendency to come across as intense and arrogant.
But I truly mean well.
I am curious about almost everything, and once I spot a new pattern, I want to grab onto it and use it to improve what's around me.
This has sometimes caused problems in my work relationships. It's left people feeling intimidated or angry that I'm upsetting the normal ways that work gets done.
Because each work relationship goes two ways, and each work relationship requires emotional vulnerability.
When I'm putting myself out there and proposing ideas, or when I'm offering to help make something better, I really mean it. I believe in it with all my heart.
But others don't always see it that way.
So at the start of this new job, I was sometimes viewed as the New Yorker who moved back to Montana and didn't really understand how people live in this place.
It took vulnerability to change all that.
Because our lives are wrapped up with one another.
Everything occurs within the context of relationships.
I guarantee your life and my life would have a lot less meaning if we couldn't live them in relation to others.
In fact, it probably would have no meaning at all.
We operate in a shared environment, and being open to the range of positive and negative emotions is the key to creating meaning in our relationships and happiness in our lives.
Let's do a check-in to see if any of this holds true for you based on my life.
I feel anxiety in my relationships because:
- I worry I'm not good enough
- I think if people learned about the real me, they might not want to spend time with me
- I fear being authentic means that I'll be "too much" for other people
- I think some of my habits, thoughts, and behaviors make me an oddball
- I don't want others to see that I deal with uncomfortable feelings
- I worry that my feeling of vulnerability will be seen as a feeling of weakness
How'd you do?
Did you win the Vulnerability Olympics?
Are you human like I am?
Some of those were still hard to write. I felt a twinge of panic as I typed the words.
So why did I do it then?
For the same reason that I decided to continue to be myself at work.
What happened over the next 3, 6, and 9 months of work tested my resolve and belief in the power of vulnerability.
Because going first with your emotions does not always mean that it will be reciprocated right away.
That's at the heart of vulnerability after all: you put yourself and your difficult emotions out there and hope that someone sees you for who you are and, in turn, sees themselves in you.
This is the most likely outcome.
Nine times out of ten, when I share my difficult emotions that have emerge from my difficulties and failures, at least one person says, "Me too."
This is what happens.
The more open I was, the more came to me in a good way.
A coworker asked me if I wanted to be the general manager instead of her.
She saw my courage and knew I could handle the role better than her.
She went first by saying that.
Her admitting that and offering me the position was one of the most courageous actions I've ever witnessed.
How You Can Overcome Your Anxiety Around Feeling Vulnerable
Feeling vulnerable from time to time is something that might not ever go away.
Actually, I hope that it doesn't.
Because it means that you're feeling human.
“Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” - Fred Rogers
Ideas for you to open up to your negative emotions and share your uncertainty about yourself with others, in your everyday life:
1. Spend some to think about vulnerability as a process.
It's not a one-time thing. Just like you are not set in stone and have grown and changed in your life, vulnerability is an evolving thing as well. How you're vulnerable today may not be how you're vulnerable a year from now. I just led a retreat for my colleagues, and I got up and spoke in front of groups in a way I never could years ago.
2. Name your strong emotions.
Make a list of all the emotions that are strongest for you. They are that way for a reason. They're trying to tell you something. Go through them all and pluck out the ones that are hardest for you to deal with. Why is that? What makes them so difficult? Do the work beforehand so that you can do the work with others later on.
3. Identify your most painful emotion, the one that brings you the most shame.
Believe it or not, this is most likely the source of your power and the one thing that will connect you with others. I've learned that I'm at my most relatable when I'm most vulnerable. For me, shame was that emotion. I thought that, if only people learn about some of the mistakes I've made, they won't love me anymore. And then I'll be alone.
Brene Brown helped me deal with this with her fantastic TED Talk on conquering your shame.
4. First, be vulnerable in a safe space.
Open up to someone you've known for a while. You'll be amazed by what happens. Note the response you get and if the person also shares something meaningful about their own lives.
5. Then, work your way through your social environment to be vulnerable within a group.
Share something about yourself that has bothered you in your life. Mention your strong emotions in an honest, heartfelt way. Like Mr. Rogers said, if it's human it's mentionable--and if it's mentionable it's manageable.
Being vulnerable is not easy.
It's not natural to share your strong emotions with others in an intentional way.
But I guarantee you that there are others who've felt the exact same way you have.
You just need to find them.
You just need to let others have the opportunity to see you. To know you.
A painful emotion becomes less painful when exposed to the light of day.
You can be vulnerable.
You can be the one who goes first.
And when you do that, you create safety for others to do the same.