How to Be Vulnerable: The #1 Thing You Need that Most Don’t Do
Understanding how to be vulnerable requires us to know what vulnerability is and what it requires. Let’s start with exploring what vulnerability is. Vulnerability simply means that we are willing to open ourselves up to be seen, to be known. Vulnerability and authenticity go hand in hand. If we pretend to be something we are not, there is no vulnerability. Yet, inherently, when we are vulnerable, when we are who we are, without protection, the other person may not like what they see. In true vulnerability we open ourselves to the possibility of judgment or rejection.
Hence, because vulnerability has inherent risks, we must understand how to mitigate those risks. Vulnerability requires care, care of ourselves in particular. Yet while not being vulnerable might seem like a good way to care for ourselves and protect our hearts from those risks, when we do that we create pain and problems in love and relationships. To be happy, to be loved, to love, to be alive requires vulnerability.
In order to be vulnerable, we must know how to be safe in the face of its inherent risks.
How to be more vulnerable in a relationship
Since relationships – intimate, deep, loving relationships – depend on the presence of genuine vulnerability, we must learn how to be vulnerable and safe in the face of that vulnerability.
What most people believe is that in order for vulnerability, and the intimacy it creates, to exist, we must trust that the other person won’t hurt us. This belief ends up creating significant long term and unnecessary pain. Unfortunately, no matter how much that other person loves us, no matter how committed they are to not hurting us, sometimes they will. In order to choose vulnerability, we must accept the truth that another person may respond to us in a way that feels hurtful, yet choose to be vulnerable anyway. But how do we do that?
“For vulnerability to be possible, we have to have our own back.”
“For vulnerability to be possible, we have to have our own back.”
If our survival, our well being, our “ok-ness” depends on the response of another to our vulnerable opening, to our revealing, to our allowing ourselves to be seen, then it is impossible to be vulnerable in a relationship. The stakes are too high. Their response means too much.
If we need the other person to validate us, if we need them to affirm our goodness and our enoughness, then our externalized sense of self crumbles in the face of their non-acceptance or of their misunderstanding, both of which are altogether possible in a relationship.
We must be ourselves and accept ourselves
If we want to know how to be vulnerable, we must realize that our capacity to be vulnerable, our safety to be vulnerable, depends entirely on our acceptance of self, not just our acceptance of self, but our willingness to be ourselves. Vulnerability doesn’t have anything to do with the projected persona, the projected strength, the projected qualities that we think the other person will love, appreciate, or honor. It is the very opposite. It is the revealing of ourselves consciously knowing that they may not love, appreciate, or honor us in return.
The good news is that when we have a strong relationship with ourselves, we have the courage to be ourselves. With that courage we discover the true potential for love that exists in a relationship. If we open ourselves up and the other person receives us and embraces us, we can begin to trust the potential of love. If we open up and we are not seen, honored, and appreciated, especially repeatedly, then we know it is not a sustainable relationship for us.
Vulnerability requires realness. It requires authenticity, authentic self love. It requires us to know who we are, the “good, the bad, and the ugly,” and to allow ourselves to be seen in that.
Yet another thing that most people don’t realize is that our willingness to be seen in our greatness and not-so-greatness has another prerequisite – a willingness to reveal, a willingness to expose ourselves, a willingness to stand in naked and unadorned with the scars, the cellulite, the belly, with the insecurities and the brilliance. Yes, revealing our greatness and our brilliance can feel as vulnerable as revealing our weaknesses and imperfections.
It’s allowing ourselves to be seen with the sexy curves and the droopy boobs, with ripped muscles and the scars of our stumbles, or with the weakened muscles and the strength of our spirit.
How to be vulnerable and safe
In being vulnerable, it doesn’t matter where our weaknesses and strengths lie. What matters, what makes vulnerability safe, is our appreciation of our entire selves. To be genuinely vulnerable, we need to embrace and accept everything that we’ve perceived as flaws. We must be willing to own the places where we’ve stumbled in life and not hide them, but own them. We must also claim and reveal all that we feel to be our greatest strength and our greatest beauty.
We need to be able to say, “I stumbled. I fell down and I learned. I got back up and I’m still here. I have inner strength and my inner strength makes my vulnerability more possible today. It makes it not just possible, but absolute because I’m done pretending. I’m done judging myself. I’m done hiding from myself and from the world the things that I thought weren’t lovable.”
We also need to be able to say, “I’ve done amazing things and I’m proud of them.”
If we think a part of ourselves isn’t lovable or acceptable, we can’t be vulnerable, we can’t reveal. If we reject ourselves, we are not safe with ourselves and therefore can’t be safe with another.
Vulnerability, the heart of true intimacy, the heart of true ecstasy, requires us to know ourselves, be ourselves, reveal ourselves, allow ourselves in all of our wonder and all of our mess.
Our own acceptance of all of who we are creates the safety we need.
A vulnerability mistake
Here’s another mistake too many people make when they are learning how to be vulnerable. They overshare. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that when we meet a new person, or explore a new romantic interest, that we project and present our “vulnerability” saying, “Oh, look at all of my bad stuff. Will you still love me?” This displays yet another form of protection, expressed in a slightly backwards way. If we “dump” all of our not-so-greatness – most of the time at the exclusion of our greatness – by putting it all on the table up front, we give them the chance to reject us before it feels too risky. This isn’t true vulnerability, because at the heart of this expression lies the attempt to protect ourselves, to mitigate the risk of opening.
Alternatively, in authentic vulnerability can we simply allow ourselves to be revealed moment by moment in the truth. We can allow a divine flow of revealing. Said another way, we do not drop all of our clothes on the first date. We do not drop all of our problems, all of our weaknesses. We instead allow a gentle unfolding and blossoming as a relationship deepens over time, revealing more and more.
How to be vulnerable without being needy
Another of our greatest misperceptions of vulnerability says that vulnerability represents weakness. As you can see from everything we have explored above, nothing could be further from the truth. True vulnerability requires incredible strength, incredible inner strength. As you now know, that inner strength comes from having your own back.
In contrast, outer strength, when it comes to knowing how to be vulnerable, offers us nothing. If anything, our externalized projected strength or bravado makes it harder, if not impossible, to be vulnerable. The projection of strength on the outside requires walls of protection that prevent us from softening and opening – core ingredients of genuine vulnerability. The walls of protection stop us from revealing who we are – again an essential component of real vulnerability. But how does this relationship to strength relate to being vulnerable without being needy?
Seeking strength on the outside, through another person makes us needy. Although it never truly works, when we can’t find our inner strength, when we don’t have our own backs, we’ll attempt to find strength on the outside. We’ll either try to exude a strength we don’t actually feel or we’ll desperately seek someone, or some way to get someone to give us what we think we need. That desperation for someone else to meet our needs, someone else to have our backs, makes us needy.
So the answer to the question, how to be vulnerable without being needy, couldn’t have a simpler answer. If you know, embody, and offer true vulnerability, neediness can’t possibly arise. The experience of neediness relies on an externalized and embedded dependence that says, “I am not ok without you.” That means, by definition, that you don’t have your own back.
It means that you’ve come to believe that your well being depends on another’s presence or actions. Yet, in today’s world, while we all absolutely need others, none of us needs any one specific person. While this might be hard to hear, the energy of neediness confuses vulnerability and victimhood. If we make ourselves dependent on another person’s actions or inactions, we are at the effect of them. Without having our own back, we become powerless against their choices, we become needy, and this is not vulnerability.
Our revealing – emotionally, physically, and spiritually – allows us to walk the most exquisite path of ecstasy. When our vulnerability unfolds slowly, when there’s a deep presence to the moment, it becomes the sweetest joy, the most profound love.
Whether you undress yourself or another consciously undresses you in vulnerability, you may find yourself moved to tears, moved by a love that stops you in your tracks. In the deep offering of vulnerability combined with true love, the power is often so compelling that we nearly can’t move. We are pierced by love’s arrow.
All of the greatest moments of peace, joy, love, and ecstasy happen because we were willing to be vulnerable. All become possible because we are willing to be real, with that willingness rooted in deep self-acceptance, rooted in deep self trust, rooted in the strongest relationship we could ever have with ourselves. Fear of intimacy dissolves. Then, and only then, does true love reveal itself.
*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.