The Strength in Vulnerability: How to Improve Your Relationships By Letting Down Your Guard

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Love: Everyone wants to experience it, and yet many of us are also scared of it, because in order to truly be open to love, we must also allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

What is vulnerability, and why does it terrify us? 

Vulnerability is a willingness to show your own humanity to others, despite the risk of criticism or judgement. Sometimes misunderstood as weakness, vulnerability is actually one of our greatest expressions of humanity as it allows us to deepen and strengthen our connections with other people.

As children, many of us are discouraged from showing vulnerability. We’re taught that to cry, emote, or talk about our feelings is to be fragile, ridiculous, or somehow “less than” the people around us. 

“Never let ’em see you sweat,” “boys don’t cry,” and “toughen up” are just a few of the worn-through idioms that might have been fed to us throughout our adolescence, until these archaic, clichéd mantras became invisible yet dominant narratives in our lives. As children, we learn quickly to stuff our feelings deep down where no one can see or reach them. But then, something peculiar happens.

When we put up walls to block others from seeing our emotions, we often lose the ability to access them ourselves. 

As children we may appear fearless, but as our world becomes more oppressive, we may ultimately grow up to become emotionally stifled adults who struggle to effectively cope with unwanted feelings. 

This leads to increasingly less effective and assertive communication skills in the workplace, as well as less openness and communication in friendships, and—you guessed it—unnecessarily dramatic or lackluster romantic relationships. 

Ironically, our very efforts to protect ourselves are what block us from the very thing we want most: love. When we put up walls to block others from seeing our emotions, we often lose the ability to access them ourselves. In essence, we cut ourselves off from our own humanity.

How to be vulernable

So how do we get out of our own way? We get vulnerable. When we learn how to effectively tap into our vulnerability, we see that it is not a weakness, but perhaps our greatest strength. Here are three tips on how to allow yourself to be more vulnerable and improve the quality of your relationships.

 

3 Tips for Practicing Vulnerability

Tip 1. Be explicit about your wants and needs
Tip 2. Be honest and forthcoming about your feelings
Tip 3. Be receptive to support

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Tip 1. Be explicit about your wants and needs

So many of us struggle with speaking up about exactly what we want out of our relationships. We don’t want to put ourselves into the vulnerable position of expressing an earnest desire for fear of receiving an unwanted answer. However, as the saying goes, “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” In other words, the only way to get what we need from other people is to make it known.

A few moments of vulnerability are never as uncomfortable as living with less than what you desire.

Do you desire more appreciation, a raise, or a title change to reflect your growth in the workplace? Why not advocate for yourself and set up a meeting with your boss and talk about your professional desires and everything you’re doing to reach them? 

Do you wish your partner would spend more quality time with you? Speak up and tell them what you need. When communicating with a loved one, use phrases such as “I need,” “I want,” “I hope for,” etc., so that expectations are out on the table. You may worry about your partner’s response, but remember: 

A few moments of vulnerability are never as uncomfortable as living with less than what you desire. Your emotions are there to guide you, and showing your emotions will bring you closer.  

When you get crystal clear on what you expect from others, you’re more likely to gain tangible results. Yes, sometimes people will let us down—that’s always a risk—but you’re more likely to get what you want by showing what you want. 

Best-case scenario, you express your needs and your expectations are met or even exceeded. Worst-case, you learn that the other person simply isn’t able to provide what you want, and you’ve freed yourself to look for someone else who can meet your needs. 

 

Tip 2. Be honest and forthcoming about your feelings

It may seem easy to have a successful relationship if you avoid all of the difficult “emotional” stuff, but the reality is that our vulnerability and authenticity is more likely to inspire others and draw people closer to you. This is because in order to have a healthy relationship, you need to know that the other person accepts you unconditionally. They can’t do that if you never give them the chance to truly know you. Letting your guard down may not be easy, but it’s critical to having a truly intimate relationship. 

You should feel comfortable talking about your fears and insecurities, just as when you talk about your hopes and desires. 

If you find yourself struggling to discuss tough subjects with your partner, try using this affirmation: “My relationship is a safe space where I am free to be my full self.” 

 

In order to have a healthy relationship, you need to know that the other person accepts you unconditionally.
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Tip 3. Be receptive to support

For many of us, the issue may not be finding someone who’s able to meet our needs but, rather, allowing that person to do so. 

When we accumulate emotional wounds from past disappointments and heartbreak, we often don’t know when, or how, to let it go. We hold on so tightly to our need for self-preservation that we can end up blocking new opportunities when they arrive. Part of being vulnerable is accepting that although you can stand on your own two feet, you can also choose to accept emotional support when it arrives and is being freely offered to you. 

When we learn how to effectively tap into our vulnerability, we see that it is not a weakness, but perhaps our greatest strength.

No matter how warm and understanding someone may be, it’s on you to choose whether you’ll cling to your wounds or dissolve your emotional barriers in order to let new people in. 

It’s okay to lean on others. As a matter of fact, doing so is a human need. It’s a sign of strength to know when to relinquish control and let someone else help and support us. Far from a sign of weakness, it’s a signal of maturity and your own humanity.

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It’s on you to choose whether you’ll cling to your wounds or dissolve your emotional barriers in order to let new people in. 

Vulnerability is vital to any healthy relationship.

The instinct to protect oneself from harm can sometimes take over areas of our lives where defense mechanisms are simply not needed, and relationships are a prime example. 

A relationship should never feel like you versus the other person; you should be a team, working together every step of the way. The sooner you relinquish your attachment to past wounds and fear, the sooner you surrender to the beauty of new possibilities and allow yourself to reap the rewards of vulnerability in the form of healthy, blossoming relationships. 

 

Your Turn: Letting down your guard is no easy task. How has being vulnerable changed your relationships with yourself and others for the better? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

A version of this post originally appeared on our sister site, NYC Therapy + Wellness.

Dr. Logan Jones

Dr. Logan Jones is a Psychologist and Founder of Clarity Therapy. Sign up for his free 30 Days of Gratitude email series and follow him on Instagram at @drloganjones.

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