People have a need to connect with others and maintain different kinds of intimate connections. Something as natural as that has to be easy, doesn’t it?
Not at all. As humans, we are encountering many difficulties while trying to establish intimacy. Some of those appear when an actual problem or disagreement exists, but sometimes, even when everything seems to be going well, we just cannot let ourselves get completely involved.
If we eliminate all the possible reasons that come from circumstances and other people, the answer to why we are unsuccessful in making a connection can only be within us. That means that we consciously or unconsciously believe that we risk too much by becoming close to someone. Our thoughts and behavior are probably too focused on protecting ourselves from being hurt.
This way of thinking has its’ roots in fear of letting go of control and becoming vulnerable.
Reality shows us that indeed it is possible to get wounded even by good people and in functional relationships. On the other hand, by averting bonding we fail to satisfy our psychological need for being loved and belonging.
Between this fear and need, can we let ourselves be vulnerable in relation to others at the right amount to maintain a connection, but not to burn out?
Not all our fears are rational
Even the people who are securely attached to someone have their fears and doubts. People have developed various mechanisms of protection because of that fact. We learned to fear that others can hurt us, take what is ours, exploit us and endanger our physical or mental well-being in various other ways.
What we have also learned is that it is easier to get by when we unite and cooperate, help and support each other. Simply put – that way our chances of survival are better. We choose with whom to bond by searching for the best match in regard to our values, needs, and goals. From there stakes become a bit more sophisticated. We became afraid of being rejected, ridiculed, taken advantage of, failing to keep the relationship going.
It is hard to have complete trust when there is always a residue of the unpredictable that puts us at risk that something could go wrong.
That is a space for our irrational fears to bloom. We have no evidence of a threat, but we know that it is a possibility and it puts us in a state of anxious anticipation. Because this is an unpleasant feeling that we want to avoid, we develop strategies to protect ourselves and, since we cannot completely avoid contact, the best way to do so is to detach our emotions.
By not letting go, we hold on to that bit of control that makes us believe that even if we get disappointed, we would not suffer. The problem is that by doing so, we also deprive ourselves of experiencing the “good stuff”.
Are we afraid of others or ourselves?
Not everyone feels this need for defensiveness.
Brene Brown, from the University of Houston, is an expert in the field of vulnerability. Her research has shown that people who had a higher sense of worthiness also had a stronger feeling of belonging and experienced greater connectedness with others. She explains this result by their capability of being vulnerable and open to receive love and care from others.
Because they feel worthy, even if their relationship does not end well, they are less likely to get seriously hurt, because they do not blame themselves (1). They accept that some conditions are beyond their control and that it does not affect their self-confidence.
That does not mean that people who have satisfying relationships are fearless, it is just that they are brave enough to trust others with their weaknesses. Building up a “false facade” takes a lot more energy and it locking us out from meaningful connections. Furthermore, several studies have shown that our interpersonal functioning is worse when we are not true to ourselves because others can sense it.
According to Brene Brown, people relate more easily to those who openly admit their weakness. We have an appeal for those who are honest and real. Also, when we express our feelings without suppression we feel better and cope easier with disturbing emotions (2).
But as we know, overcoming our fears is not an easy thing to do.
The benefits of letting ourselves go
Knowing what we gain in contrast to what we are afraid of losing can help us get to a state of mind where we are ready for intentional action.
When we are scared of being vulnerable, the last thing we what to do is to speak about our insecurities. Yet, that is exactly what we must do in order to increase our trust, or restore it. We can inspire others to reveal their own feelings and thoughts by doing so. That helps to set a secure and honest base in a relationship upon which we can further build.
Asking ourselves what is the worst thing that can happen if we get rejected and misunderstood can help us realize that even the worse consequences are not that catastrophic. Actually, we can even benefit from knowing that the other person is not on the same page with us.
It is not only our relationship that develops when we open ourselves up. We also create a safe place to explore our potential and to become the person we want to be with the support of people important to us.
At this point, we turn our vulnerability into our strength, that pulled closer those who make us be our better selves.
By sharing, we tend to overcome painful feelings and we also enable others to relate to our experience and get through difficulties of their own. It makes our bond much more significant and durable, since we would want to nurture relationships that make us feel better and stronger.
Is it worth the risk?
There is no way to predict human behavior with complete accuracy. Others’ reactions to what we do or say, even if they seem trustworthy, are unpredictable.
It is important to note that letting ourselves be vulnerable does not mean that we have to share all the bits and pieces of our thoughts and emotions. In extremes, that can actually have an opposite effect, especially if we decide to do it too soon. That way we are taking an unnecessary risk of getting disappointed. Still, mistakes can help us to learn what works for us and what doesn’t.
Putting our trust in someone is a decision we have to make on our own. It means we get to decide to what extent we are ready to let others really see us and choose for whom we want to “show up”.
It does not guarantee us that our decision is going to be right or wrong, or that its outcome is going to be the desired one. Those kinds of risks are simply a part of life and it is up to us make them.
The good thing is that each time we give ourselves and others an opportunity to bond, we gain an experience, we learn something new and that makes our life a little richer.
It’s wonderful to be vulnerable in the right way. If you need a little nudge to help you experience true vulnerability, sign up for our 30 Days of Brave Challenge. We'll take you to the edge of that fear you have, and gently nudge you to explore what's on the other side. A wonderful world of opportunity awaits. We dare you 🙂