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5 min read

Why is vulnerability important? Here's what psychology says.

Struggle with vulnerability? Feel like you can't relate to others? Ironically, you're not alone.

Different cultures have different approaches to vulnerability. Some cultures, for example, place the family unit on the highest pedestal, which often means that family members are extremely vulnerable to one another.

Other cultures, by contrast, prioritize collective quietude, leading to a trend of polite distance between the self and others.

Other factors contribute as well, which can affect one segment of the population more than others. In some cultures, gender roles dictate who shares what with who in terms of emotion and trauma.

In the United States, it's often hard to pin down the level of vulnerability that our culture accepts. While this is a good thing - it means there are many cultures mixing and growing together - it can certainly leave one wondering just how vulnerable they should be with their family, with their friends, and with professional acquaintances.

While the general consensus among healthcare professionals is that vulnerability is generally a good thing, and that one should share an experience or emotion so long as it is safe and healthy to do so, many people still struggle with opening up.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the most common is that being vulnerable is fairly terrifying and that the negatives appear to many people to outweigh the positives.

This is generally untrue. In this article, we'll explore what vulnerability is and isn't and dive into the tangible benefits one can experience in being vulnerable with those they trust

Learn about being vulnerable on this page:

Myths and Misconceptions: What Vulnerability Isn't

The Reality: What Vulnerability Is

How Vulnerability Can Benefit You

Therapists in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Myths and Misconceptions: What Vulnerability Isn't

Let's be clear: being vulnerable does not mean you're always complaining.

Humans experience an extraordinary range of emotions. Being vulnerable means sharing any of your emotional range with others.

You're actually far more vulnerable than you think you are. Do you share laughs with friends? Get angry at traffic with your mom in the car? Do you cry in movie theaters? That's vulnerability!

The misconception here is that sadness and fear are somehow fundamentally different from happiness or humor, and that they certainly come from different realms of human experience. But the simple fact of the matter is that all emotions are equally human, and everyone experiences them.

Vulnerability is not some trait that one must hone over time. It is simply the nature of humankind to share emotion.

But if vulnerability is so natural, how come it's so hard?

The social contract that we, particularly in the Western world, have constructed during and after the industrial revolution is one that prioritizes specialization of trade and, by extension, specialization of life.

In other words, rather than existing as incorporated packs of primates who all live, hunt, and gather together, we instead focus on learning what can make us most productive and then doing only that, usually as individuals who live very seldomly with more than two or three other people.

In a way, this is a great thing: modern technology, healthcare, safety, nourishment, and the rule of law are almost entirely predicated on specialization. The drawback, one could argue, is that we're trending toward isolation rather than incorporation. More and more people are working from home and communicating online than ever. This lack of in-person social intimacy is certainly what teaches us from a young age that we must hold our tongues in order to appear "polite" and professional.

Luckily, thanks in large part to the advancement of psychology and other human sciences, we are starting to relearn that vulnerability is not something to be feared. We're starting to rediscover the power of true vulnerability.

The Reality: What Vulnerability Is

If you look it up in the dictionary, "vulnerability" means being open to attack or harm.

When you interpret your own vulnerability in this context and really think about it, you may start to realize that it's impossible to always be invulnerable.

Being invulnerable means total defense, 100% of the time. It's clear from the nature of human socialization that this translates to total alienation and isolation. You don't need an advanced degree in psychology to know that that's not ideal for your mental health.

Vulnerability, in practical life, simply means exposing those parts of your soul that are often stuck behind those defenses. This can be something as minor as a stubbed toe or as major as past abuse. By sharing those experiences with others, we open ourselves to attack, thereby lowering our defenses and becoming closer with those around us.

Being vulnerable can have immense benefits for your mental health. Before we get into those, here's one quick note: Being vulnerable is great, so long as it is with people you know and trust. Being vulnerable with a stranger or someone who does not have your best interests in mind can, in fact, be harmful. Remember: You never have to be vulnerable. If it makes you uncomfortable, speak to a professional before being vulnerable with others.

How Vulnerability Can Benefit You

So long as it is safe and healthy to be vulnerable to a certain person, vulnerability can have a great effect on one's mental health.

Let's go over them now.

Stronger Relationships

If you were to be vulnerable, what would you share? What past experiences or traumas would you talk about with a close friend?

With extreme trauma as an exception, pretty much everyone has many more relatable experiences than they know they do. If you have something you need to get off your chest - insecurity at work, frustration with your partner, or concern over a sick relative - chances are your friends and family members are experiencing, have experienced, or can at least understand, what you're going through.

Opening up about what's on your mind shows the other person that you are multifaceted and complicated. In fact, they might realize that you're about as complicated as they are. Sharing this creates a bond that transcends pretenses and niceties.

Less "Bottling", More Emotional Regulation

There's a common adage, commonly cited, that has been passed around the mental health professional sphere so much that it's almost a cliche: you have to feel it to heal it.

Behind this adage is a very real psychological concept. Internalizing your strife causes a buildup of stress hormones, often leading to mental health conditions and an increased risk of chronic physical illness.

Keeping things bottled up not only makes you feel alone, but it also means that you take the brunt of the psychological negatives associated with what's bothering you.

When you're vulnerable with someone and you tell them what's on your mind, you are reaffirming within yourself that you are not alone. You can share the load for a while to let yourself breathe.

More Trust From Others

The tradition of shaking hands upon meeting a new person is derived from a common custom performed by ancient leaders and opponents who showed their right hands before approaching one another in order to reveal that they were unarmed.

This is a direct analogy to the idea of vulnerability as it relates to building trust. When you are vulnerable with someone, you show them that your defenses are down and that you are giving them the power to hurt you, but trust that they won't.

This is usually received with a return of vulnerability; when you open up to someone, they will usually open up to you. They will trust you in the same way that they now know you trust them.

Therapists in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you want to work on being vulnerable, or if you have any other mental health concern, our team of doctoral-level therapists in Austin is here to help.

Our therapists maintain a high level of availability, so you can receive the quality of care you deserve as soon as you want it.

Give us a call, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right therapist for your specific case.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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