The Power of Emotional Vulnerability in Building Relationships
He looks at me and his expression is unclear, not angry but not easily pinned down. In the back of my head, I can’t help but think he’s mad at me. I have no reason to believe he’s upset but my insecurity tells me that eventually, everyone is going to leave. I easily believe they’re going to see the worst side of me and no longer want to be a part of my life.
This time, instead of allowing these harmful thoughts to circle through my brain and ruin the evening with my partner, I smile. I ask him for a kiss and to remind me that he loves me.
For many people, it’s automatic to attempt to avoid negative or painful emotions. This type of reaction is human nature, we want to avoid things that hurt and that includes our feelings. Although this can be helpful, at times, often it’s important for us to acknowledge and express our feelings. As well as be emotionally vulnerable with ourselves and the people in our lives.
In past relationships, I’ve allowed my insecurity to take hold in a way that resulted in pushing them away. My fear of them leaving became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though over time, and with years of therapy, I was able to acknowledge my feelings and vulnerabilities to myself. Which eventually allowed me to express them to my partner.
Now, even though it’s still hard to admit, I can tell my partner when I am hurt, or sad, or feeling insecure and express how together we can manage those feelings to preserve our relationship.
When some people think about emotional vulnerability, they automatically see it as a bad or scary thing but it doesn’t have to be.
What is emotional vulnerability?
It’s the ability or willingness to acknowledge (and potentially express) one’s emotions. Particularly those emotions that are difficult or painful. Emotions such as shame, sadness, anxiety, insecurity, etc.
Though it’s important to note that acknowledging does not mean wallowing or becoming fixated.
It has been defined by Brene Brown as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
The Benefits of Emotional Vulnerability
One way to convince ourselves to make small changes in our behaviour when it comes to emotional vulnerability is to outline and understand the benefits of doing so.
1 Strengthens Relationships
Vulnerability helps to build trust and intimacy in relationships. Relationships, whether romantic, platonic, or intimate, are built on trust.
Being emotionally vulnerable helps a person to build relationships more quickly.
2 Improves Self-Awareness
When you acknowledge your own emotions and are vulnerable with yourself, you learn things about your own behaviours and defence mechanisms. Acknowledgement and understanding is the first step in making change.
How to Be More Emotionally Vulnerable
Even if you’re convinced that being more emotionally vulnerable is valuable, you may not know where to start or what you can do to become more emotionally vulnerable. And it may feel scary at first.
How do we acknowledge our emotions?
First, we must observe and label our emotions. Observing our emotions is simply labelling the emotion without thinking about how we act, behave or react to our emotions, or how we think about our emotions. This means simply stating I feel sad right now or I feel angry right now – full stop.
Next, we have to validate our emotions. This means reminding ourselves that it’s okay to feel whatever emotion we are feeling even if we don’t want to feel it.
Then we practice. Once we are more comfortable with being more emotionally vulnerable with ourselves, we can be more emotionally vulnerable with others.
What can we do to practice being emotionally vulnerable?
One way to practice being emotionally vulnerable is to write down your feelings (or say them out loud). Writing down your feelings, like in a journaling practice, can help to create a habit of thinking about and articulating your emotions.
Another way to practice emotional vulnerability is going to therapy. For many of us, our habits and defence mechanisms, like emotional avoidance, have become so ingrained that it’s easy to completely miss them. A therapist or counsellor is an objective third party who is able to point out these habits and help you to recognize and make changes in these behaviours.
How I Learned to Be More Emotionally Vulnerable
When I first started seeing a therapist I was even harder on myself than I am now. But I struggled to make any changes in my thinking or behaviour because I failed to notice the bad habits.
One of the habits I used to have was continually saying I feel weird. Weird does not mean anything concrete and does not help me to deal with how I am feeling. My therapist continually pointed out when I did this and forced me to accurately articulate my feelings no matter how uncomfortable it made me. This helped me to not only realize how often I was resorting to this bad habit but encouraged me to more accurately describe my feelings.
Eventually, I was able to make significant changes in my thinking and gained the tools I needed to better manage my feelings. One of those important tools was to be more emotionally vulnerable with myself and with others. Therapy changed my life.
Are you looking to get more support? Check out the counselling services with Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates and sign up for a free consult today. Talking to a professional really can change your life (and it doesn’t have to be scary).
Originally published by Emory Oakley. Emory is a writer and LGBTQ+ educator who regularly discusses the intersections of queer identities and mental health.
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