Vulnerability is like a durian fruit. Though it may not seem particularly appealing, once you get past the prickly shell (and potent smell) you find tons of nutritious goodness inside.
So what are some examples of vulnerability? How can you embrace vulnerability? Being vulnerable leads to many benefits that are big factors of your happiness. If we could find a way to embrace it in our lives, we would be much healthier and happier for it. And that’s exactly the aim of this article.
By the end, you’ll know about some examples of vulnerability, why it’s good for you, and specific ways you can bring it into your life.
- What does it mean to be vulnerable?
- The right way to be vulnerable
- 11 examples of vulnerability
- Why is it good to be vulnerable?
- Examples of when not to be vulnerable
- 6 mindset tweaks for healthy vulnerability
- 6 ways to practice being vulnerable
- Wrapping up
What does it mean to be vulnerable?
The standard dictionary definition of vulnerability is “able to be easily hurt”.
But in our context, being vulnerable means opening yourself up and putting yourself out there with no guarantee of how people will react. You might think of a deeply emotional conversation where someone shares feelings like:
But vulnerability applies to so much more, from making a joke to starting up your own business. After all, practically everything in life entails a certain level of risk, uncertainty, and leaps of faith.
The right way to be vulnerable
So far, vulnerability seems pretty straightforward. But unfortunately, it’s often confused or misused. Let’s have a look at two more principles that help refine what true vulnerability is.
Vulnerability is not a manipulative tactic
Further below you will find out why vulnerability is great for relationships. For example, opening up to someone and sharing more about yourself can help people trust and like you more.
But if you are only doing it for that purpose, that’s not being vulnerable — it’s being manipulative.
Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, explains this idea well:
Genuine vulnerability is not about what you do, it’s all about why you’re doing it. It’s the intention behind your behavior that makes it truly vulnerable (or not). […] The goal of real vulnerability is not to look more vulnerable, it’s simply to express yourself as genuinely as possible.Mark Manson
Let’s compare a few examples:
- Dressing a certain way because it expresses who you are = vulnerability.
- Dressing a certain way because you’re trying to impress others = manipulation.
- Telling a colleague about your family issues because you trust them and want to share your difficulties with them = vulnerability.
- Telling them about your family issues because you want them to feel bad for you and let you get away with slacking off at work = manipulation.
- Saying sorry for something you’ve done because you genuinely regret your actions = vulnerability.
- Saying sorry because you need that person’s help = manipulation.
Vulnerability should be appropriate to the relationship
Even when vulnerability is genuine, you may run into a second issue. Some people try to give too much of it.
This is always relative. Sharing your fear of abandonment can be completely natural to a partner of 10 years — and utterly horrifying to someone you’ve just met.
Mark Manson calls this sort of vulnerability “emotional vomit”. As he explains, it does have some benefits:
The mistake people make with emotional vomit is that they expect the simple act of vomiting it out to suddenly fix their issues. But the point of emotional vomit is to make you aware of your issues, so you can fix them.
If you need to offload emotions in order to process them, it’s best to do it with someone you trust and won’t feel uncomfortable with the conversation.
Or, see a professional who can give you guidance on how to process your emotions in a healthy way.
11 examples of vulnerability
To illustrate the principles above, here are 11 specific examples of vulnerability:
- Telling someone when they’ve upset you, respectfully but honestly.
- Sharing something personal about yourself that you normally wouldn’t.
- Admitting to mistakes you have made in the past.
- Being willing to feel difficult emotions like shame, grief, or fear.
- Reaching out to reconnect or reconcile with someone.
- Setting healthy boundaries with love and compassion rather than with blame.
- Confessing romantic feelings for someone.
- Trying something you’re not good at.
- Breaking the status quo and trying to do things differently.
- Asking for help when you’re struggling with something.
- Saying no to a request when it doesn’t fit within your time, energy, and values.
Why is it good to be vulnerable?
By definition, vulnerability entails uncertainty, risk, and potential pain. So why would anyone want to be vulnerable?
Though it sounds scary, vulnerability leads to many amazing benefits.
Brené Brown, a researcher on vulnerability, highlights a few:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.Brené Brown
Let’s break it down and look at the research backing these benefits.
1. Vulnerability helps you build deeper connections
Research has shown vulnerability helps enhance closeness.
There is also a clear relationship between self-disclosure and likability. When you share more about yourself with others, they tend to like you more. Also, you will like people more if you have shared more about yourself with them.
This is probably because we tend to open up to those we like. So when you disclose something about yourself, it triggers feelings of liking in a reverse process.
As such, being vulnerable with someone helps you build a deeper bond.
2. It improves your self-image
Vulnerability helps you break free from constantly worrying, “What will others think?”
As such, you’ll gain more confidence and belief in your ability to handle challenging situations and over time become more resilient.
Moreover, opening up can directly improve your perception of yourself and your own self-worth.
3. It helps you go after your goals
Once you let go of what others may think of you, you’ll be much more willing to put yourself out there in all the ways you can do that:
- Art and creativity.
- Helping others.
- Personal development.
4. It’s better for your wellbeing
Being vulnerable with a supportive person:
- Reduces stress from negative experiences.
- Reduces anxiety.
- Increases negative emotions in the short term.
Though the last effect sounds negative, researchers note that it ultimately improves psychological well-being in the long term.
5. It’s intrinsically rewarding
Did you know that 30-40% of our speech is spent on telling others about our subjective experiences?
Five studies show why. Communicating your thoughts and feelings to others activates the brain’s dopamine system. This means vulnerability is intrinsically rewarding.
In fact, the impulse is so strong that people are even willing to pay money to talk about themselves to others!
Examples of when not to be vulnerable
There are two sides to every coin, and in some situations, vulnerability does more harm than good.
Especially in the digital age, it’s clear that revealing too much personal information can have drastic consequences.
Researchers found that sharing a lot on social media is associated with a tendency to neglect long-term risks. In this case, those risks can include:
- Identity theft.
- Bullying / negative judgment from others.
- Sexual harassment.
- Commercial exploitation.
This is especially problematic because it’s super easy to share information online in just a few clicks — and impossible to guarantee it’s been erased.
But even in real life, sharing personal details with the wrong people can lead to terrible consequences.
So how do we reap the benefits of vulnerability without risking too much?
Researchers found that people tend to regret sharing their feelings if they do it in a highly emotional state. So the best protective measure might be to let yourself cool down before you share something.
Be vulnerable consciously, not impulsively.
6 mindset tweaks for healthy vulnerability
Now we get to the nitty-gritty. How would someone go about learning to be more vulnerable?
It all starts with your mindset. Here are 6 essential principles to approach vulnerability in a healthy way.
1. Identify why you’re afraid of being vulnerable
As children, we tend to be open and free, sharing all of ourselves with others. But as we grow up, we learn that the world can be a very painful place. Not everyone is on our side, and not everything will go our way.
We start associating vulnerability with a host of negative feelings:
So we learn to “protect ourselves” by putting up walls, denying our feelings, and trying to be different.
If we want to break through these barriers and reach back down into our vulnerability, we have to identify why we put them into place. Why are you scared of being vulnerable?
You might find the answer in one of the emotions above, an unpleasant past event, or impossible expectations for yourself.
2. Be aware of your avoidance tendencies
It’s clear by now that being vulnerable is healthy — but difficult.
Even when we set the intention to be vulnerable, the experience can feel so uncomfortable that we instinctively shut down, escape, or lash out. Our discomfort is so strong that we don’t even realize we’re avoiding vulnerability.
But later, you can think back and analyze the situation:
- What feelings did you feel?
- What triggered your reaction?
- What events led up to it?
The Greatist writer Katherine Schreiber suggests keeping a journal of the emotions you felt throughout the day and how you acted on them. Soon, you’ll probably realize there’s a certain pattern you tend to fall into.
Some examples include:
- Push and pull relationships.
- Disappearing at the first sign of intimacy.
With this awareness, you can recognize the next time you start using them and break the pattern. Instead, be there with your feelings and don’t let them take control of you.
3. Trust that you can deal with the outcome
You might think that closing yourself up is a way to protect yourself. Share nothing, and nobody can use your fears and feelings against you, right?
But actually, it’s quite the opposite.
When you let yourself be vulnerable, it’s like affirming that that part of you is worthy of being shared. You act on the belief that when you extend yourself to others, they’ll accept you.
On the other hand, keeping everything to yourself is based on fear — that people will judge you, hurt you, or reject you. In doing so, you’re giving away the power to hurt you.
This is why vulnerability is the true way to protect yourself. Though you don’t have a guaranteed outcome, you trust that you will be able to deal with it.
4. Accept your own feelings
Vulnerability cannot happen if we don't first have awareness.
Imagine trying to share feelings while simultaneously trying to stuff them down. This kind of emotional tug of war is not only exhausting, but it also doesn’t lead anywhere.
So a key step in being vulnerable is to be mindful. This means paying attention to your feelings and being honest with yourself about what they are. Notice or write down what you feel, when you feel it, and what triggers it.
If you struggle with accepting feelings you consider “negative”, remember that this exercise is not about judging whether your feelings are good or bad. It’s simply about acknowledging them, the same way you would acknowledge that you have fingers and toes.
5. Don’t overfocus on what other people think
Here’s a truth that’s hard to embrace — people think about us a lot less than we think. The spotlight effect has us believe that we're constantly in the spotlight of some musical play, where we are not.
This isn’t anything mean. The fact is, all of us spend most of our day worrying about our own life — from what we should have said to that rude customer to how many slices of pizza we can fit into our diet.
And at the end of the day, this is a huge relief. People are not watching you nearly as close as you think — which really takes the pressure off you for always being put together.
6. Stop trying to be perfect
Vulnerability and perfectionism are complete opposites.
Vulnerability is about being honest about your feelings, flaws, and identity. Perfectionism is about glossing over or hiding it.
So to be vulnerable, you have to give up the idea of being perfect.
If you struggle with this, take some time to consider why perfection is so important to you:
- What fears are hiding behind this desire?
- What are you afraid people will think if you make a mistake?
- What feelings are you trying to bottle up?
6 ways to practice being vulnerable
When you’re in the right mindset, it’s time to start taking action. Use these 6 steps to practice being more vulnerable.
1. Be present
Mindfulness is crucial to practically any component of a happy and healthy life. Including vulnerability.
There are three main ways to use mindfulness for vulnerability:
- Name and describe to yourself what emotions you’re feeling.
- Notice what events trigger those emotions and how you react to them.
- Be present with other people while you or they are being vulnerable.
Be present with your own emotions
First, being vulnerable means you need to be present with your emotions. Both the good and the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy ones. Can you name and describe to yourself what you are feeling? You can’t embrace your feelings, let alone share them with others, without this awareness.
Notice your triggers
We mentioned this already in the second mindset tweak, in the section above. This is not so much about helping you deepen the experience of vulnerability itself. But it sets the foundation to let you understand and share yourself.
Be present with others while sharing
When you open up to others, you need to be mindful to be truly vulnerable. This means putting away your phone and worries (just temporarily, they will still be there at the end of the conversation). Look them in the eye, listen to what they have to say, and give them your full attention.
This is how you can understand both your feelings and create emotional intimacy.
2. Be honest about your needs, feelings, and desires
Imagine how much easier relationships would be if everybody was honest about what they expected, needed, and wanted.
This could mean:
- Telling a family member you’re sad that you don’t talk more often.
- Telling a friend you’re struggling to give up smoking and need their support.
- Telling a mentor you’re scared you won’t make it with your new business and need their help.
Yet why are these things so difficult to do?
Telling others what you need and want is revealing a vulnerable side of you. It’s showing emotions, weaknesses, or flaws you might wish you didn’t have.
These are difficult realities to face — but doing so is necessary to fulfill our needs and bring us closer to those we trust.
3. Admit you suck at something
Admitting you’re not very good at something is a simple way to be vulnerable.
This is not about self-deprecating yourself to put up the appearance of modesty.
It’s about being authentic. It’s about admitting genuine weaknesses to others, but really, it’s about accepting them yourself.
And once you do, you can:
- Earn trust and respect by showing people you’re confident in what your strengths are — and aren’t.
- Avoid mistakes that arise when people rely on you to have skills that you don’t really have.
- Start to improve on those weaknesses by asking for help and guidance from those who are better.
4. Take responsibility instead of blaming others
Most of us have got 99 problems, but admitting we have any ain’t one of them.
And that’s too bad because it happens to be a fantastic way to harness vulnerability.
And we have countless opportunities to do so:
- Instead of blaming your ex for your current relationship problems, try to work on yourself to become a better partner.
- Instead of blaming the economy for your business performing poorly, try to improve the quality of your products and use smarter marketing.
- Instead of blaming the weather, the screaming child, or your shoes for losing a sports match, try to practice more and increase your skills.
Taking responsibility for a problem is hard because it’s implicitly admitting that you have a part to play in its existence. But the truth is, the very fact that something is a part of our lives means we have a role to play in it, however small it is.
And this is also why this kind of vulnerability is so powerful. You’re taking back the power to change something you don’t like. You’re saying “I have this problem, but that’s okay because I can do something about it and come up with a solution.”
It’s important to keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you’re shouldering all the blame. A situation could have gone south because someone else messed up. But if you can do something but don’t, in a way you’re a part of the problem too. Even if you aren’t, you can still choose to step up and do something about it.
5. Tell someone they’re being hurtful
This is possibly one of the hardest ways to be vulnerable, but if done correctly, it can bring amazing gains.
It applies to both big and small situations:
- Someone said a joke that went too far.
- Someone constantly arrives late to meet up with you.
- A coworker makes changes to your project without consulting you.
Of course, giving criticism must be done with moderation and sound judgment. There are times you might feel annoyed, but the incident is so small that it’s not worth picking apart. A large part of relating to others is being tolerant and aware that we all make mistakes — and just like others forgive us for ours, we must be able to let certain things go.
But if something is a pattern rather than a one-time thing, affects your relationship with that person, or keeps bothering you, it’s time to speak up.
This is an act of vulnerability because it means opening up about our pain. We reveal triggers that get the better of us or sources of pain we haven’t fully processed. There’s also an element of risk as bringing these things up could make a situation escalate or shift your relationship dynamic.
So there’s a careful balance at play here. The best way to navigate it is to set healthy boundaries. You’re not starting up a conflict, but drawing a clear line for someone to know what they can do to keep the relationship positive.
6. Tell someone you love, respect, or appreciate them
Many ways to be vulnerable relate to weaknesses, pain, or problems. But sometimes the most difficult emotions to unpack and share our feelings of love, respect, and appreciation.
This can be anything from:
- Telling someone you find them attractive.
- Telling a colleague you respect the work they do.
- Expressing respect and love to your parents.
- Confessing deep feelings of love.
The reason this is so scary is that you don’t know if the other person will reciprocate your feelings.
And sadly, there’s nothing that can 100% eliminate this risk. So we must approach this kind of vulnerability with the right mindset. As explained above, you must trust that you’ll be able to deal with the outcome.
If you're looking for more tips on how to be vulnerable, here's an entire article with tips on how to be more vulnerable.
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Now you have a full understanding of what vulnerability means, how it improves your life, and specific ways you can begin to embrace it. Though it may feel uncomfortable at first, remember that practice makes perfect, and don’t give up! There will undoubtedly be some awkward instances where things don’t go as planned. But the life improvements you’ll have are one hundred percent worth it.
What are some of your favorite examples of vulnerability? And how has vulnerability helped you connect with others and thrive? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!