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Being Vulnerable: Is it a Sign of Weakness or of Courage?

Updated: Jan 4

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A few years ago when I was disabled due to a bicycle accident, I felt let down when my partner wasn’t supportive of me in the way I had hoped. I felt hurt, and my first reaction was to close off my connection with him and pull into “go it alone.” This only made my resentment and hurt fester and boil inside of me. So I although I was nervous, I talked to him about it. I shared that I felt hurt. I told him I felt vulnerable about having to be dependent on others when I was used to being independent. I asked him to spend more time with me. This felt risky, because I was asking for something and he could say no, and where would that leave me?

As human beings we have competing drives. One drive is for self-protection and survival when we feel threatened or hurt. Another drive is for connection with others. My first response of withdrawing and going it alone was a self-protective response, but then I felt the need to connect and so I chose to be vulnerable.

What is Vulnerability?

Dr. Brené Brown, research professor and author of the book “Daring Greatly” describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” She suggests being vulnerable actually takes courage- the courage to face our fears and discomfort instead of pushing them away. After twelve years of studying vulnerability, she has concluded that what is frightening can be good for us. That if we sit with vulnerability, it can help us find the experiences we crave. She says "Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity."

Vulnerability in Intimate Relationships

In our relationships with our intimate partner, vulnerability can help us build trust with each other. When we are willing to be vulnerable with our partner, we communicate that our relationship is a safe space for them to be vulnerable as well. With deeper trust, we can be ourselves in the relationship without fearing rejection because we feel supported. That kind of trusting bond can help couples have sensitive discussions, and even to work together to heal past hurts. It can help us build the sense of love, belonging, joy and empathy that Brene Brown describes.

Important note: If your partner is verbally, emotionally or physically abusive, this is not a safe relationship to be vulnerable in.

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