How come we feel so drawn to these individuals who dare to show up authentically, flaws and all, yet when it comes to us, it’s a totally different story?

Welcome to the paradox of emotional vulnerability! Even though it’s the secret sauce to bonding with others and supporting our emotional well-being, we’re often too afraid to walk the walk and be vulnerable with others.

In a culture that glorifies the picture-perfect lifestyle with photoshopped, edited, and carefully curated content shared on social media, people who bare their emotions and open up about their struggles are increasingly rare and precious. Naturally, we are starved for emotional vulnerability from other people and want to form authentic connections with them.

At the same time, emotional vulnerability has a bad rep. It’s still widely associated with being weak, helpless, or pathetic. And who wants to risk being seen this way? So, we tend to avoid the discomfort that comes with being emotionally vulnerable by putting on masks, wearing heavy armor, and engaging in unhealthy coping behaviors – anything to hide that we’re rough around the edges and somehow “not good enough”. While we want to protect ourselves, we only end up hurting more and struggling with relationship issues, loneliness, perfectionism, anxiety, or depression.

In this article, we take a closer look at the topic of emotional vulnerability and common mental blocks. Then, we share with you ways to overcome them and embrace emotional vulnerability in your daily life.

Let’s get started!

What Is Emotional Vulnerability?

Oprah once said, “Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”

In my opinion, that’s what emotional vulnerability is all about. What do I mean by that?

Contrary to popular beliefs, emotional vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, a shameful imperfection to hide, or hysterical behavior that only makes things worse. It is actually an amazing act of bravery, an admirable choice to show up authentically and address intimate issues head-on with compassion rather than sweep them under the carpet.

This keystone of emotional maturity, while challenging to execute in daily life, can contribute to our growth and mental well-being through:

emotional vulnerability cultivation

Common Obstacles to Emotional Vulnerability & Their Antidotes

If you find it challenging to cultivate emotional vulnerability in your relationships, you’re not alone. Something that many of us have in common is our coping strategies and ways to avoid opening up:

  • Perhaps you were raised in a family with emotionally immature parents, where you were ridiculed for crying.
  • Maybe you decided in the past to share something very intimate with a person who betrayed your trust, and you burned yourself.
  • Not to mention that we’re all raised in a world that glorifies strength and perfection. There’s not much space for being human, making mistakes, failing, struggling, and being in pain.

Brene Brown, an amazing researcher on shame and guilt, explores this topic in her best-selling book “Daring Greatly”. She refers to our unhelpful behaviors and thinking patterns as “vulnerability armors”, dividing them into 3 groups:

Armor 1: Foreboding Joy

characteristics examples
  • not allowing yourself to let go and fully enjoy the present moment,
  • feeling as if something bad is about to happen whenever experiencing joyful moments,
  • feeling unsafe, suspicious, restless,
  • expecting the worst-case scenario & catastrophizing,
  • being chronically disappointed to not be caught off-guard by pain,
  • always playing it safe, not trying new things, and not taking any risks.
  • Understanding you’re falling in love with someone and immediately being scared of losing them.
  • Not wanting to go on a road trip with friends not to tempt fate.

The Antidote: Expressing Gratitude

If you struggle with foreboding joy, just imagine how different your various experiences would look if you decided to shift your perspective and focus on appreciating the present moment.

Take a moment each day to list 5 things you’re thankful for. Try to:

  • go into as many details as you can (i.e., the aroma of your morning coffee, the feeling of sunshine on your face, the lovely hug from your child)
  • see the beauty in the mundane tasks like washing the dishes or taking the trash out
  • share your gratitude with your loved ones.

Instead of fixating on dangers, scarcity, or imperfections, make a choice to actively appreciate your life—daily. The thing about gratitude is that the more you practice it, the easier and more effortless it will become, enriching your emotions and attitude.

Armor 2: Perfectionism

characteristics examples
  • self-destructive behavioral pattern rooted in shame,
  • an unhealthy belief that achieving perfection will make you lovable,
  • basing your self-esteem on your ability to win the approval of others,
  • feeling not good enough & inadequate,
  • a vicious cycle of self-blame, shame, and striving to be perceived as perfect,
  • higher risk of struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and addiction.
  • “If I organize the perfect date, he’ll finally be happy with me.”
  • People-pleasing and pushing your needs to the back burner.
  • Feeling intense shame when making a mistake or disappointing someone else.

nurturing emotional openness

The Antidote: Cultivating Self-Compassion

Overcoming a complex issue like perfectionism boils down to directing your attention inward. Rather than looking for approval from others and judging yourself constantly, set an intention to appreciate your efforts and cultivate self-compassion. It starts with the understanding that nothing and no one will ever be perfect, and that’s what makes life beautiful, unpredictable, so versatile, and fascinating.

Whenever you catch yourself ruminating over your past mistakes or talking down on yourself, imagine how you’d treat your close friends if they were in your shoes. Try to become your biggest ally, embracing yourself and embodying the belief that you are enough.

Armor 3: Numbing

characteristics examples
  • Numbing the pain of difficult experiences and uncomfortable emotions with behaviors and resources, i.e., alcohol, watching TV.
  • “Taking the edge off” whenever experiencing discomfort, shame, or anxiety.
  • Tendencies triggered by social discomfort, a sense of inadequacy, and loneliness.
  • Blocking not only negative emotions but also positive ones.
  • Higher risk of struggling with mental health issues like:
  • Attempts to dampen or escape your emotional pain by engaging in numbing behaviors like:
    • substance abuse,
    • overeating,
    • doom scrolling,
    • staying chronically busy.

Setting Boundaries

We engage in numbing behaviors most commonly to run away and avoid anxiety rather than learn how to cope with it healthily. So, it’s helpful to ask yourself:

  • Where does my anxiety come from?
  • What am I trying not to think about?
  • What could be a source of stress in my life?

Self-awareness is the first step. The second step is drawing conclusions and setting some limits that will allow you to protect your well-being better:

  • If it’s hanging out with that one friend who keeps complaining about everything that drains your energy, either cut down on your meetings or inform them that you won’t engage in that discussion with them anymore.
  • Perhaps your anxiety is a consequence of having too many responsibilities. Consider different ways to solve that issue, i.e., talk to your partner, delegate some tasks to your coworker, hire an assistant or a dog walker.

Get Professional Help with Harbor Psychiatry

Treat this blog post as a gentle reminder that mental well-being is not only about dealing with your issues but also about building psychological skills, like emotional vulnerability, to navigate through life’s challenges with greater ease.

Learn how to cultivate emotional vulnerability with one of the experienced psychologists from our team.

While challenging, practicing your ability to open up and show your authentic self rather than grit your teeth and power through can be extremely beneficial.

Click here to contact us and enjoy a rich emotional life!