Written by: Shauna J Harris, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
When we look back at our formative years, many of us were brought up with the belief that showing emotions or exposing our inner self was not our best next move. It was often depicted a sign of weakness or that we struggled to cope and hold ourselves together. We heard phrases such as:
“Put on your big girl panties.”
“Suck it up.”
“Big girls don’t cry!”
“Don’t be weak!”
“Be a tough guy.”
“Real men don’t cry!”
“Take it like a man!”
“Deal with it!”
“Grin and bear it!”
“Grow some balls!”
“You’re too sensitive.”
The list could go on for days but does it really need to? With absolute conviction…NO! We need to toss this list in the trash and re-examine what the meaning of the word “vulnerability” truly means. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vulnerability as 1: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded 2: open to attack or damage. Even these definitions ooze pity and lament. These definitions do not give the whole picture and therefore require more information, more explanation to give vulnerability the respect that it deserves.
Brené Brown, who is the leading American researcher on shame, leadership, and vulnerability, defines the term as follows:
“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
But vulnerability is not weakness; it's our most accurate measure of courage.
When the barrier is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: 'Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can't control the outcome?'
When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: 'Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”
Now, this definition completes the puzzle. This definition gives us clarity on how vulnerability needs to be viewed if we plan on developing healthy, intimate relationships.
When we are in a position to create a safe space for ourselves and our partners to be vulnerable, we are then able to connect on a deeper level. This is where the magic happens. This is when our authentic self can come out to play, where intimacy strengthens, flourishes, and grows.
Yes, we are opening ourselves up to the other and exposing parts of ourselves that are typically not on display for all to see. Yes, we are giving up some of the control but the end result is well worth it. We are choosing to be courageous. We are making the intentional choice to show up and be seen for all of the glorious imperfections and the beautiful idiosyncrasies that make us unique. We become more resilient when we embrace who we truly are and what we are feeling. This is the place where intimacy expands.
When we allow courage to be in the driver’s seat, intimacy has no limit. When we allow fear and insecurities to take over, problems arise. Brown goes on to say that the more we protect ourselves from vulnerability, the more we grow fearful and disconnected. If we do not put down the defensive shield and permit weeds of fear and disconnection to grow, they have the ability to take over. Weeds compete for nutrients, space, water, and sunshine. This is a great analogy for our relationships. Tending to and working through fears and uncertainties with your partner is equivalent to pulling the weeds. When the weeds are eliminated, there is more space to grow and thrive.
This is not a one-and-done exercise either. Just as the days and seasons change, so do our emotions and our relationships. Continuing to communicate, being curious and asking open-ended questions, and having the courage to show up for each other and ourselves are so important.
Being vulnerable means the opposite of what a lot of us accepted as truth many years ago. It is finding the courage to be open and transparent with one another; being vulnerable is having the courage to put our true selves out there. When it comes to relationships, vulnerability is NOT about being weak at all. Yes, you do choose to open yourself up to the possibility of being wounded, if you do not first work towards establishing a safe place to be yourself. The benefits though? They are so worth it. The rewards that you reap from sharing yourself completely, far outweigh the cost.
Vulnerability promotes good emotional and mental health as well. Putting our true selves out there, in a safe space, can also help us to work through our emotions easier. Instead of “sweeping them under the rug,” discussing them with our trusted partner can be invaluable.
If this is the case, then the phrases that a lot of us heard throughout our young lives have not only shaped the way we have made decisions about the meaning of our emotions, they have impacted how we chose to express ourselves. This way of thinking is completely counterproductive and in fact, self-sabotaging. This misguided pathway is often riddled with multiple hurdles that include fear, insecurities, trust issues, pain, and anxiety.
When we can create a safe space in our relationship for each other to reveal ourselves without the fear of rejection or judgement, we open up doors to a higher level of understanding and compassion. Each partner can meet the other with empathy, openness, and solicitude.
Healthy and long-lasting relationships are the results of vulnerability. It takes trust and a sense of safety in order to allow oneself to be vulnerable. The interesting thing here though is that by being vulnerable, you are also building an even greater sense of trust. The more you open up, the higher the level of trust you can attain.
We wouldn’t be human if protecting ourselves from pain or being cautious wasn’t a priority. Our brains are wired for pleasure and we instinctively avoid pain as much as we possibly can.
If we view vulnerability as the ticket to pain and rejection, the likelihood of us being enthusiastic about opening up and bearing our innermost selves isn’t going to be significant.
If we ever expect to reach a deeper level of intimacy and increase the authentic connection that we have with our partner, we must summon the courage to be vulnerable. It is the way to a fuller understanding and profound connection. Vulnerability is the path to intimacy.
Shauna J Harris, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Shauna is a Clinical Sexologist, relationship specialist, and international best selling author. She is the founder of Explore Intimacy, a results-based coaching practice.
Shauna utilizes her private coaching practice to guide couples through their relationship journey. She also helps to empower young adults through human sexuality education, which enables them up to make the most knowledgeable and healthy decisions.
Through private sessions, workshops, articles, videos, and speaking engagements, Shauna is passionate about encouraging and supporting healthy families and intimate relationships.
Shauna grew up in Canada and now lives in the beautiful state of Arizona with her husband and two yorkies.