(Photo: David Vilanova)
I recently read the book Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown.
For those who have never heard of Brené, her famous TED talk has garnered a staggering 25 million views, and she’s lectured around the world on the virtues of being more vulnerable in every area of our lives.
I agree with Brene that the people who get the most joy from their relationships are able to approach love “Wholeheartedly”, that is, without fear, by complete surrender to whatever pain love might bring with it.
The hardened cynic in me wants to take offence at any word like Wholeheartedness (particularly with that troublesome capitalised “W”) – so warm, gooey, fuzzy, just plain un-British. As a native of the land of “Keep Calm and Carry On”, this is exactly the kind of terminology that ought to bounce right off my tough skin, thickened from a lifetime of stiff upper lippishness.
Yet if I’m honest, I know every relationship I’ve ever had, from my first real girlfriend at 16, has been hindered in some way from my inability to truly expose myself.
Having begun my romantic life with a few teenage heartbreaks (translation: being mercilessly dumped), I learnt quickly to keep my guard up every time I felt myself on the verge of falling for someone new. I always wanted to be in control of my emotions to avoid getting knocked out by an unexpected sucker punch, never wanting to be the one who leaned in first again.
The idea of being over-exposed was death to me: if I never gave too much to a girlfriend, I could never be hurt when her feelings changed for the worse.
My twenties have since been one long lean into vulnerability. I found as I got better at allowing myself to show my feelings, I enjoyed more love, experienced greater closeness, and felt more connected to girlfriends than I ever felt in my early relationships.
Part of that is getting older and having more serious partners. But I know I screwed up a lot of those early relationships by trying so hard to keep myself protected, scared to death that the real me might get rejected if ever too much of my true self got revealed.
I would cover up my sensitivity with cocky or loud personas that didn’t really suit me. Girlfriends would sense this falseness and gradually distance themselves as a result. What I saw as their lack of affection was maybe just their way of responding to my own form of avoidance: trying to evade a real connection by hiding my easily bruised underside. I would say the right things when under pressure, but if I’m honest, I was only ever exposing just as much as I could get away with, never really wanting to ‘throw all in’ and risk what might happen with my heart on the line.
Enough time has passed since and I’ve now realised an obvious truth: it takes incredible strength to be vulnerable. Only strong people are able to expose themselves to criticism, put their heart on the line, and take risks for love.
There’s a scene in the movie Boyhood where Ethan Hawke’s character tells his son after a devastating heartbreak “At least you’re feeling stuff, that’s important. As you get older you feel things less. Your skin gets tougher”.
I think my evolution went the opposite direction. I began with being tough (or desperately pretending to be) and only came full circle following my realisation that I was totally going about love the wrong way. Great relationships aren’t about which partner is stronger. Great relationships are so naked that it frightens you how exposed you are.
As you get older, you realise that vulnerable actions are where life happens.
Vulnerable actions are:
- Sharing your deepest fears, toughest moments, and biggest insecurities with the person you love.
- Telling your boyfriend exactly how he upset you the other day.
- Telling your boyfriend how much better your life is for having him in it.
- Flying to South Africa to surprise your girlfriend with no clue how she’ll react.
- Opening up about a geeky hobby you have even if someone will make fun of you.
- Approaching someone at a party who might shoot you down.
- Asking your partner about his concerns and fears about your future together.
- Doing that flirty action that scares you but might just break you out of your shell.
- Your first attempt to dance in front of that person you fancy.
- Trying to talk dirty for the first time to turn your partner on.
- Saying “I love you” without knowing what you’ll hear back.
- Writing your true feelings in a letter or card and sending it.
- Calling to say you’re sorry and admitting your girlfriend is right about your flaws.
- Asking for help from your partner to change your ugly personality traits.
- Telling her you miss her so much it hurts.
Vulnerability is initially terrifying, but quickly addictive in its own way.
You hold your breath, do the risky thing, realise you didn’t die, and more often than not you notice how much richer all your relationships become (friendships included).
The price is that you’re also always exposed, to the best and worst that can happen to you.
But was life in that shell really so great anyway?
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67 Replies to “Vulnerability is…”
The best thing is to love your partner, like you love your parents! Hope you love them! ;) If you akt like a child, running in your Papa´s arms, huging him like within true love… wahhhh…(there i cry) ;) Same to Mama… if you complitly feel good as you are, beeing brrr lovely you, always with this lovely base feeling… Some of us, do not have this Family feelings, but you learn this feelings from them, by every day secure action! If there is a crack, you have to fill it, or you will bring this in your realtionship! If there is no own Papa… find one.. to heal, what you´ve been missing! Papaaaaaaa….hihi I only can be my own mother in this case.. ;) healing the bits, letting my child grow up again inside with love! That´s where she gets stronger and secure… she is the answer to the base, to the ground! Litlle Theresa wants to give a loooooooooot of love!! ;) And she doesn´t judge… like dogs don´t judge.. hihi… She just loves! But if your dog comes runnig and beeing sooooooooo nice, and you don not care, or hit him… his openly hearted nature will die, more and more! And so i think, when you are searching for a relationship, that maybe once leads you to the same act, your parents went through… you got a new challenge…. CAUSE THESE LITTLE THINGS ARE NOT INDEPENDENd…. and that is what they will teach you the most! I THINK REAL LOVE IS SOMETIMES LIKE THIS! it´s the tiny first little step, you really have to take care of, it´s like a thought, when you do not write him down, give him attention and give him the power, to get a big vision right away… it just fuuuup, is gone! Careful…. ;)
Thanks for your great work Stephen! I love to read the things you write! Same to Matthew, i really got stuck on this things you working on! I think it is the best thing to do! Sozial Planet, solzial relationsships! It´s the most important thing, for everyone to learn on this planet! Like eating, planting, and building a house… ;)
Thanks so much Theresa! x
I completely agree with this article! I’ve spent many years creating “myself” to more independent more self sufficient and more desirable. However with that came an unobtainable Unemotional person.
It was only when I truly opened up and loved and took these vulnerability “risks”I have been truly happy. It has created so much more intimacy and self confidence in my relationships and a sense of being free and more importantly – happiness!
So thrilled to hear that Vicki, you nailed it! Being closed off makes you unobtainable to anyone else and sucks out your charisma and warmth. Showing your true self is so much stronger and more magnetic.
I totally agree with you about your article. I think we all have experienced heart break at sometime in our lifetime. I have done exactly what you did and I am not British, lol I also didn’t want anybody to see how hurt I was. But I finally realized that I had to be vulnerable and show my true feelings. It was very scary but I realized that the more I opened up the me they did. And now I can’t help but show my feelings. I also learned that the whole time I was trying to protect my heart from getting hurt, I wasnt allowing someone to love me and missed out on some really good guys. I also learned that if I don’t allow myself to be vulnerable I will miss out on the bad but I will also miss out on the good.So, thanks so much for the article! It was great! I love the work that you and Matt do.
Thank Ya’ll so much!
Yep, hiding away in life really does make you miss out on all the good.
Thanks for the lovely comment Debbie :)
This was my favourite article that I’ve ever read. I had to copy some of it down on my phone because of how powerful and perfect some bits are but I think I might just have to print it and stick it into my journal.
I agree with you 300% and it really made me smile to read this! Thank you Stephen! x
Wow, incredibly kind of you to say Lily. Really appreciate it! x
It is an addictive feeling as you realise the depth and richness of the relationships are like nothing experienced before. It’s initially terrifying as you think, I’ve blown it here. I’ve spoken about a tough moment or expressed a deep emotion and thought they would be running for the hills. But it’s not happened and then you feel quite elated. Then the feeling of living on the edge, being more vulnerable, is actually better than before.
I’d like to read the book you mentioned now, I like the idea of her approach. It is difficult to throw off British reserve. But to be able to write, and receive love in a letter is one of the most beautiful things to deepen a bond and remember even years later. As the relationship changes and evolves you can look back at that with fondness and to the future with great communication skills. Each communicating your needs coming from a place of honest and true love.
Thank you for being vulnerable with us, for writing this piece with such honesty. Have a great week Stephen, Kathryn : )
Thank you Kathryn, very glad I took the risk now. I nearly filed it away in my hard drive in the “article I’ll never actually publish” folder!
I’m glad you took the risk. Reading ‘The Conversation’ in the paper and Karl Ove Knausgard is talking about writing being about taking risks and ‘about being in uncertain territory’. Your writing is so good it really needs to be out there.
Kathryn, it’s so funny that you mentioned Knausgaard here! I was thinking about him as I read this post, as an example of a man who explores his own vulnerability–both directly as subject matter and as a byproduct of putting himself out there, all parts laid excruciatingly bare. He opened himself up to personal criticism from all quarters (which he got) and it made him a rock star in Norway.
I was also thinking an interview I heard recently with (actor and former football player) Terry Crews–the opposite of Karl Ove in some ways and about as Alpha as they come, physically–in which he talked about discovering that the macho shell he’d worn for a long time was keeping him from experiencing life and love to the fullest. I almost wanted to mention this to the couple of people commenting negatively here. But if they could read a post as articulate, thoughtful and sensitively written as this and come out with the reaction “u suck” then there’s little point in arguing with them, because they clearly aren’t listening! (Probably didn’t actually read it, my guess.) It reminds me of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s video on BigThink explaining exactly why he’s an agnostic, not an atheist, and the comments below are full of “he’s totally an atheist.” Seriously!! BUT I digress.
Stephen, I’m so glad you didn’t file-bin this article. It’s probably my favourite thing I’ve read on this blog; reading it brought tears to my eyes. Brené Brown is amazing, but it’s important to hear this stuff from guys too. (And not just guys who live in ashrams or teach tantric sex.)
Stephan, I’m captivated by your vulnerability. DON’T MOVE! I don’t want it to leave us because it’s beautiful/Sexy.
I haven’t moved for 4 hours after reading this, am I still sexy?
:) impressive LOL
I need a Like button for this conversation. :)
I love how this article speaks to living life in fear, as it is just that which keeps people from being vulnerable. I have always said that it is both a blessing and a curse to feel emotions as deeply as I do. I am very sensitive, and I love that being that way gives me the opportunity to open up to others, as well as empathize with them, on a deeper level. This also means that I am left open for others to hurt me. That being said, I have experienced love, been hurt, and then chosen to use those experiences to grow. Love and relationships are such a driving force in my life, and I would rather feel all of the emotions that come with the ups and downs, than feel isolated and alone, disconnected from myself and others. That sounds like a terribly lonely way to exist. Without experiencing the lows, and the uncomfortable aspects in life, we are not able to appreciate the wonderful and precious moments to the same extent.
Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this article, Stephen! Even saying as much as you did is putting yourself out there. It is lovely to see how far you have come in terms of trying to open yourself up to experience life on a deeper level. :)
Cheers Arianna, it’s bloody frightening at times but I think inch by inch you realise that it only benefits you to show of yourself. It’s a constant battle. Doesn’t mean you of course have to show weakness around others, it’s about being more of yourself and being strong *in spite* of any flaws or vulnerability you have. Like I said, only weak people are scared of being imperfect and open to hurt/joy.
Arianna, have you seen the movie Strictly Ballroom? (It was big in the ’90s, but I have no idea if people still watch it.) Your comment made me think of that movie because it centres around the theme of a proverb which translates as “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” It’s all about dancing and relationships and taking risks and being brave–and being vulnerable! :)
i can’t imagine my life without reading this Stephen…this is the sexiest thing i ever read in my entire reading moments in and out my shell;) you could lay millions of women just by allowing your thoughts to flow- this is the replica of your own vulnerability…no wonder! i must say you’ve mastered the art of writing… never hold your generation in-the world must be filled with Husseys.lol and make the world a better place to live in #breakingshells
I knew that writing would get me laid more eventually ;) lol, thanks so much for the kind words x
Totally agree. When people didn’t know what it meant by ‘be yourself’ the idea of being vulnerable covers that…
Thanks David, agreed! ;)
Honestly, I’m just glad to have been able to read this right now. It’s what I’ve been just wondering about (Vulnerability) and trying to figure out. So thank you, thank you for being able to share this with us and for helping so many people :)
Anytime Lily – thank YOU! x
Thank you for the meaningful article this week. Your article got me thinking about all the vulnerabilities that I displayed over the years in my relationships. When a guy would break up with me, I believe the hurt that I experienced was the regret of all the vulnerabilities that I relieved to them. I know it sounds silly but I use to regret the times that I showed my vulnerable side when the relationship came to an end. Like any other person, I would try to go into the next relationship to trust again. When I wanted to put all my cards on the table aka my feelings and vulnerabilities, I would hesitate. It was like I was putting sanctions on my heart when I enter a new relationship. I use to be afraid to invest into someone else, and I would hold back. It was like I had my inner masoner putting up a 50 foot brick wall around me in order to protect me from experiencing any kind of hurt.
It was until five years ago I actually started to open up, and removed the sanctions and my metaphoric brick wall around me. Over that course of that time, I had a few long relationships. They unfortunately ended and for once I didn’t have any regrets of all the vulnerabilities that I relieved. I finally started to show my true self, and if people didn’t like it then… some will, some won’t, so what.
I use to think that every time that I shared my vulnerability that I feel like a fool for sharing it when the relationship came to an end. Now I find it is a great asset that adds so much value to my life and to others as well. I hope to one day to find the right man for me who appreciates not only my vulnerabilities but how they will help grow our relationship.
Like you said Stephen, “…vulnerable actions are where life happens.” That is not the only lesson I will take away from your article this week.
Thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities Stephen. I am truly impressed. I hope you have a lovely week.
I know exactly what you mean about regretting being vulnerable. But usually that’s just your defence mechanism kicking in. Vulnerability (not weakness) makes us relatable, better company, and more able to share joy with others.
Thanks for the lovely comment!
Well said Stephen. Thank you again for the great article.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Such a good piece.
I have watched the TED Talk Brené Brown: The power of Vulnerability at least twice before. Vulnerability applies to all relationships, I have grown more meaningful relationships with friends by just revealing a softer side that I normally reserve for my close circle of friends and family.
@ Stephen and Matt: CAPE TOWN our Mother City of RSA is even PRETTIER in real life… than shown on the link in the article!! :-) How about a visit, see if a little retreat of sorts might be worth it in CPT? Life, love and everything else in between coaching could do a few ladies good here!
Sincerely from a ‘girl’ enjoying crisp & clear Cape Town morning
Don’t worry Lani, Cape Town is *definitely* on my list. I’d love to come – maybe I’ll try to convince Matt to get the world tour in gear ;) If not, be assured I’ll be over for a holiday at some point!
Hmm, somehow I’m always having problems and then you or Matthew are either writing or making a video about it. Anyways, thanks again for this blog! Seems somehow we always meet and look at to the other person facing ourselves in the mirror.
And right now it is just making me think about resetting my goals. Which is never a bad thing to do, but to be hounest, getting so tired of that. Always addapting. I can even see it in my own behavoir and to me it looks quite ugly right now. I have some big dicissions to make.
I need that “brave” part of me to step up again, cause this wasn’t what I had in mind for myself! I wanted to be more open, but it’s so easy to just slip right into that old routine that we have.
Reset my goals. Get on track. Be brave. Take a deep breath. And just go! Cause we never know what being brave will bring…
Bring out the best of you again today,
Thanks so much Tamara, really appreciate it!
You guys are so weak. Beta males. lame
In my experience a man can be *both* an alpha male and as vulnerable as a sweet little new-born kitten. I should know ;)
And that´s so great that you can be like little kittn… cause then you are able to really understand, and love a baby… then you will be able to protekt, that what it is all about… maby if a woman, or a man gets to this vulnerability, it´s just a test programm, that shows, if people can handle dependend creatures,A TEST.. if we react right, the next steps will work out! Cause we are tuff.. we do not really need each other, or a certain person… but babies who want to come in a family, they do!
I agree that a True Sexy Alpha Male has to have a Tender Vulnerable Side to Him that makes him Awesomely Fun and Relatable to be around. Calling Guys “lame” and “Beta” for being in Tune with their Vulnerable Side is Hella Trashy and Immature so don’t give her the Time of Day Stephen. It takes Gold to recognize and appreciate Gold and that Witch is clearly Trash, she’s gonna make a horrible Mother and Wife one day and You are going to continue to Shine with your Ballsy Example. It takes Guts to write Articles like yours and I respect you for it
seems you need more education
Vulnerability is indeed the cause of many fears and insecurities. But apparently it is also the birthplace of love, connectedness, joy, creativity and happiness. ”
This attitude has another advantage. It causes that these people are perceived as very authentic. Because they show who they really are. And since we usually find authenticity very sympathetic, these people do find it easier to build deep connections to other people.
My personal goal has allways been …
” Iam enough ”
Sometimes it´s hard to believe that I am worth to be loved even if i am not perfect ..but Ive learned its worth trying to admit vulnerability.
So learn and grow :-D Greatings from Germany
This is such a beautiful article Stephen! Thank you for writing it! So many great lessons here :)
Thanks for sharing yourself in your writing. Your right, you do come to realize you didnt die lol. really great article Stephen!!
There are right ways to be vulnerable, and there are wrong ways to be vulnerable. The right way is to have a “vulnerability dance” with your partner. As you are getting to know each other express your feelings.
The wrong ways are to confess your weaknesses before your partner is ready to accept them, to use vulnerability for accelerating the development of the relationship, and to try to get the partner back after the breakup.
The main choices are:
1. No vulnerability – always holding back to avoid getting hurt.
2. Vulnerability due to the lack of self-control.
3. Vulnerability as manipulation.
4. Vulnerability as an expression of a growing intimacy.
The last option (4) is the one worth pursuing.
I love this comment so much, I really want to quote it in full and use it in the next blog. Would you be ok with this? I just love your distinction between the different kinds of vulnerability, and it makes it so clear how to use it to its best effect. I think everyone will benefit so much from having it explained in detail, especially people who misunderstand vulnerability and what it means.
Do let me know, I’ll be sure to credit you in the piece of course.
Thanks! Amazing analysis!
I am happy that you like my comment and will be honored if you decide to quote it. Your loyal reader,
I was at Matthew’s event in Toronto last weekend and want to put some of his techniques to work.
Anyone want to join me at a bar this weekend to practice?
Ladies night out where we can run around pretending men are our body guards and complementing them on their shoes.
No more sitting at home…say YES!
Let me know you can make it on this site. Thanks!
WOW Stephen, such a brilliant article. It made me cry – thank you for writing it. Exposing yourself to others is not so easy to do but the rewards far outweigh living behind a wall.
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