The Power of Vulnerability

What is vulnerability?

When we think of the word vulnerability, a negative connotation and fear may come to mind. This is because we live in a world where strength and resilience are glorified and so vulnerability may be one of the last things we would want to embrace. However, vulnerability has the potential to positively impact the trajectory of one’s life. It is not a weakness, yet a strength to be cultivated.

According to Brené Brown, an American author and researcher who has extensively studied this topic defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” It is the mere act of doing something that forces us to get out of our comfort zone. Doing so, enables us to grow and thrive in both our personal and professional lives. Vulnerability is about allowing ourselves to be genuine, imperfect, and open to uncertainties about our life. It is not about oversharing and trying to negatively seek attention. It is about owning your life story—both the good and the bad.

She suggests that vulnerability is “the birthplace for joy, creativity and belonging, yet at the core of vulnerability is shame, fear and the struggle for worthiness.” In order to experience joy, creativity, and belonging, one must experience the latter feelings. She believes in the relationship between vulnerability and shame. Shame leads one to be private and secretive at times, and is often the root of anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. It is the “fear of disconnection” according to Brené Brown. Vulnerability is the key to connection. Connection is why we are here. It gives purpose to our life. When we embrace vulnerability and talk about our life stories and experiences, we can create deeper and more meaningful relationships with others. This is because vulnerability creates a space for intimacy, understanding, and emotional support.

What do we do in order to avoid vulnerability?

Living in a complex world, insecurity is a major issue for many. Many rather avoid feeling vulnerable and may do so by striving for perfection, numbing their feelings, or by “dress rehearsing tragedy” which refers to thinking of the worst case scenario as a way of protecting yourself from what you fear most. By engaging in one or all of the three, we tend to believe we are in control of our lives. However, the truth is that doing such creates more harm and disadvantage than benefit.  

Does vulnerability look the same in different areas of our life?

While vulnerability means the same thing in every circumstance, it may play out a bit differently in different environments.

  • Vulnerability in our relationships: being vulnerable in your closest relationships can feel scary. You may feel nervous to get rejected or feel judged. Despite these fears, ask for what you need and engage in conversations that may be difficult and uncomfortable. It takes time to get to a place where one can openly discuss difficult topics. Focus on slowly building this trust and closeness.
  • Vulnerability in the workplace: many often feel they don’t belong where they are and may struggle with imposter syndrome, leaving them with self-doubt and confidence issues. Accept the struggle and work on ways to improve and grow. A great leader often forces themselves out of their comfort zone and embrace vulnerability. To become a great leader, you must be willing to experience shame and fear.
  • Vulnerability in the community: many have lost their true selves out of fear of what other people will say and think about them. There is so much pressure to often look so put together and pretending to have it all together externally. When you embrace vulnerability, you give yourself the ability to share a life with only those that actually matter to you.

How do we harness the power of vulnerability in our lives?

1. Practice authenticity: Be true to yourself and embrace your imperfections. Allow yourself to be seen and heard, even when it feels uncomfortable. Everyone comes with a package in life, and so often we tend to believe the other person has it better. Remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

2. Cultivate courage: Recognize that courage is a choice, and it requires vulnerability. Take risks, face your fears, and embrace the unknown. Although this is super difficult for many, try envisioning a more positive future and a better long-term benefit, by making yourself uncomfortable short-term.

3. Build empathy: Foster empathy for yourself and others. Recognize that we’re all imperfect beings, struggling with our own challenges and insecurities.

4. Forge meaningful connections: Invest in authentic relationships built on trust, vulnerability, and empathy. Share your stories and listen with compassion.

5. Embrace vulnerability as a strength: Reframe vulnerability as a source of courage, resilience, and authenticity. Recognize that it’s through our vulnerabilities that we find our greatest strengths. While being vulnerable can feel scary and daunting, it has many positive benefits. The closer you get to your own vulnerability, the more your life is going to change for the better. By embracing vulnerability, we cultivate deeper connections, foster empathy, and unlock our full potential as human beings. Next time you are on the fence of showing up authentically in your relationships, try to challenge your mindset, rethink your perception of vulnerability, and embrace your true self.

Dr. Aryeh Berlin is a New Jersey licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Aspire Psychological Group. Dr. Berlin has vast clinical training experiences including a residential adolescent addiction treatment center in Israel, community mental health centers, and youth detention centers. Dr. Berlin has lectured on parenting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, child development, helping children with school-related challenges and trauma. Audiences included attorneys, mental health professionals, parents, and educators.

The Power of Vulnerability