Showing your feelings to others can be difficult. There are fears behind it that others may not see and/or understand. Those fears and feelings can be used against you by the wrong people, which is one of the worst things that can happen to your emotional well-being.
This can make you want to withdraw into a shell and shut people out. It can seem easier to shut people out than to let them in and see your not-so-amazing side. Showing others your tears, anger or even your deepest thoughts, can be mentally tiring and tough.
A Big Word with a Bigger Meaning
It is hard to predict who will and will not be the right person to open up and be vulnerable around. Let’s start with the definition, according to Webster’s:
capable of being physically or emotionally wounded: open to attack or damage. (The third definition doesn’t apply to this situation)
Who really wants to be open to attack? Not me. I’m not a fan of being capable of being wounded either way mentioned. My immune system wounds me enough, thanks. I’ve been emotionally wounded enough for a lifetime, starting with my parents’ split when I was a kid and its aftermath.
Basically, my dad literally said in court that my mom could have my sister and I because he didn’t want us. To this day, we still aren’t very close. He didn’t walk me down the aisle when I got married in 2005 and has missed out on a lot of events.
That will mess a girl up and create some trust issues. If you can’t trust people, there goes the idea of vulnerability.
I used to have a huge circle of friends, thanks to school, work and later college. This continued until 2015 when my life took a very sharp left turn. It took losing a lot of my friends after Jake’s death to realize who my friends really are.
Clue: it definitely isn’t anyone who flips on you at a funeral home. If someone asks you how you are doing (at the wake of someone you were in love with) then says, “This isn’t about you”, then maybe you should look into a new circle of friends.
I opened up to a circle of people that I shouldn’t have. They talked about me behind my back, didn’t believe in me at all, but I didn’t see it that way. I was too busy drinking away my problems.
In response, I blocked about 100 people from my social media and quit my job. I don’t normally recommend this, but it was a matter of my immediate mental health and I do enjoy having a clean legal record.
I have a bad temper, even after therapy, and I knew I would never make it back to that job without someone getting hurt. I also stopped talking to almost everyone that I still spoke to. I didn’t trust anyone and I wasn’t in the mood to try it again anytime soon.
Two things happened: therapy and Sara. She was the first person I was able to open up to in the time after my life blew up, and I had no idea if she was truly as nice as her cousins (Josh and Jordan) told me she was. Learning to be vulnerable again would have to start with her and Matthew.
A Flower in Bloom
I consider embracing vulnerability as being somewhat like a flower in bloom. It starts out slowly because you have to take your time. It doesn’t happen overnight. This also requires patience, something Matthew had to learn the hard way. He didn’t understand that I couldn’t just forgive him and move on.
I needed space and time to deal with all of the events that made our marriage go bad, figure out if I wanted to stay and what we needed to do to change. This was a huge task to take on, with grieving Jake’s death added to it.
I had to basically relearn how to trust him with my thoughts, feelings and my body again. I also had to work on the anxiety of old thoughts returning, something that I still struggle with. Sometimes I’m like, “Did I really just say that? Is he gonna be pissed? What if he starts yelling at me?”
I learned, however, that if you don’t give yourself the chance to be vulnerable to others, people can see you as cold, as fake. They might see you as something that you aren’t, and that isn’t something you want.
Jake once told me that when he first tried flirting with me, I barely paid attention to him. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I brushed him off repeatedly. He went home, rethought his approach (he was not used to being ignored) and talked to Jordan, who knew me a lot better. I felt so bad because that isn’t me. I apologized. Luckily, he kept speaking to me.
What can you try to be vulnerable to others?
- Choose people that you can trust. Who is there for you? Who can you talk to about anything? Let trust build over time.
- Start with small things. You don’t have to tell people everything that has happened in your life. Start with the smaller things- like if you’re having a bad day, if you’ve got a stomach bug and need soup, etc. This helps you build trust in others and realize it’s okay to show a softer side. Over time, it will be easier to let others in and be okay with risking yourself.
- Remember that you’re not clingy or needy. Opening yourself up to others does not automatically mean that you are clingy or needy. There’s a difference.
- There might be setbacks, but take the time to learn from them, pick yourself up and move along. This sucks. Mistakes are made. Feelings get hurt. You can and will get through this.
- If you need to, talk to someone. This was a topic that I worked on for most of my time in therapy. For further reading, please see Rebuilding Trust in Others
If vulnerability is difficult for you, it may be holding you back from some great connections. Consider which parts are the hardest and work on them, either alone or with a therapist. This may take work and time, but your emotional wellbeing is worth the work.