Vulnerability: Learning to Show the Real You

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One of the more difficult parts of a relationship (especially one of the romantic persuasion) is letting the other person see the real you. And I mean the real you—not the half-real you that you post on Facebook or Instagram; or the first-, second-, third-date you that is on their very best behavior and has everything put together.

I’m talking about the imperfect you—the one with flaws, fears, hopes, dreams, passions, and insecurities. The you that you see, and know all too well. Oftentimes it’s the you that you’re afraid to let the other person see.

Why Let People See the Real You?

Because that’s the person you are. If you want to feel true, lasting connection with another human being, you need to feel that they love you for who you are, not for who you pretend to be, or even for who you’re striving to be.

This doesn’t mean you can’t strive to grow and improve, take care of yourself, dress well, etc. It simply means that none of that matters in a relationship if you don’t feel you are worthy of love and respect exactly as you are. We can have no true, meaningful connection without vulnerability.

As uncomfortable as that may sound, much of the world agrees. Brene Brown’s TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top 10 most-viewed TED talks of all time. “True belonging only happens,” Brown states, “when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.”

What Does Vulnerability Look Like?

We are emotionally vulnerable any time we open ourselves up to opinion, rejection, disagreement, ridicule, etc. For example:

  • Being willing to say “I love you” first
  • Doing something with no guarantees
  • Going “all in” in a relationship, knowing it may not work out
  • Initiating sex with your spouse
  • Asking someone for help
  • Sharing your hopes and dreams
  • Sharing your fears and insecurities
  • Asking someone’s opinion
  • Sharing an unpopular opinion

The key point to remember, though, is this: until we are willing to risk rejection, disagreement, ridicule, etc., we forfeit the opportunity to experience acceptance, agreement, praise, and connection. We can’t close to one and remain open to another. Healthy relationships require a willingness on both sides to risk.

As Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote:

’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

How to Embrace Vulnerability

Okay. So you think there may be something to this, but you struggle to open up. How to you improve? While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, the following tips may help:

1. Strengthen Your Self-Confidence

Make a list of wins and successes in your life—large and small. Make an effort to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Practice positive thinking and consider daily affirmations. Exercise. Do an act of service for someone. The more confident you are in yourself, the easier it becomes to open up to others.

2. Focus on The Reward

As we’ve already discussed, you cannot have the good without risking the bad. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Retrain your brain to focus on the potential upside of a risk, rather than the fear of what might happen. Go after what you want instead of hiding from what you don’t.

3. Practice

At the risk of oversimplifying things, the fact is this: the more you do it, the easier it gets. Find small opportunities to share a less-than-perfect part of yourself with someone. Share an opinion. Ask for something you want. You will have some uncomfortable experiences, but you will also find that you can handle them. You live. Life moves on. And if you can keep yourself centered, you become better because of it.

One important note: embracing vulnerability doesn’t mean sharing everything with everyone. You can—and ought to—be selective in what you share, and with whom. You’ll want to be reasonably confident that the person you’re talking with will be respectful and validating, and you’ll want to keep things appropriate for the relationship, be it romantic, platonic, or professional.

Got it? Try it.

Pick one person you’d like to connect better with today, and share a less-than-perfect part of yourself. Share an embarrassing story. Tell them how you’re feeling. Ask for help. The risk is well worth the reward.

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