Vulnerable is a bad word.
If we are vulnerable to illness, it’s bad; we can get sick easily. If we are vulnerable to scam artists, it’s bad; others can make fools of us and take our money. If we are vulnerable to sales people-bad, they will talk our money right out of our pockets. Lesson learned. Don’t be vulnerable.
But wait. When I’m not vulnerable in a relationship I’m considered a cold fish. So how could it be good to be vulnerable?
In fact, by definition (according to my Google search) vulnerability is “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon (a vulnerable part of the body) or open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.” And it get’s better, a vulnerable person is described as a person, “who is or may be for any reason unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation…”
So by definition it sucks to be vulnerable.
But here’s the catch, being vulnerable in a relationship is different, moreover, necessary. Vulnerability in a relationship does not mean being weak or submissive. It does not mean crying and whining and sharing our most intimate details to strangers. It does not mean over sharing or the need to gain attention.
So what does it mean?
Vulnerability is about sharing our experiences and our feelings with people we feel connected to. Vulnerability embraces boundaries and leaves doors open to express feelings and expose ourselves to those who have earned our trust. It implies taking risk and sharing with uncertainty. It is having the courage to be ourselves without explanation, without hiding. It involves a risk. And the risk is rejection.
Okay that’s f*cking terrifying.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we truly had the courage to be vulnerable? And the funny thing is, we love to it when others are open, humble and honest with us. Furthermore, it is difficult to truly fall for someone who doesn’t show any vulnerability. We love to watch George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, James Franco, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hallie Barry, Mila Kunis, Emma Stone and onward, because they show their emotions; we see it in their eyes, their voice and the words they say. We can feel it. We fall in love and can’t stop watching because they are vulnerable. We just plain get them.
And it is inevitable if we are in relationships that matter. What makes a relationship last is its degree of affection.
But wait- you sat- some of us lost trust. Possible somewhere when we grew up. Dad might have left us or mom was emotionally unavailable. Perhaps we lost trust in our last relationship. We were cheated on, or blindly broken up with, or ghosted by someone we cared about. And we got hurt. We hardened. We decided we weren’t going to let someone else in and hurt us again. The trust is gone.
Well, this sucks, because you can’t truly love or be loved or fall in love without letting go. Yes, this implies you can get hurt again. But so can all of us. We can all get hurt. And that’s why every song is written about this stuff. Pretty much everyone over 21 who walks by you has been hurt or hurt someone. You are not alone.
Okay, you say, so I will try to allow myself to become vulnerable. But what does that mean? And how can I let go and do this? Start with admitting your feelings to yourself first. Get clear on what you are feeling. Write it down. Read out loud what your wrote. Hear yourself say it. Then gain the strength to say what you are feeling to the person you feel it about. Feel the strength in this- not the weakness. Do any of us think a good writer was weak? From all the books we read, and all the music we listen to, who thought The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Beyoncé or Jay-Z , Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande or Lady Gaga were weak for the words they sung? In fact, they made a zillion dollars doing this. You know why? Because we relate to vulnerability. And we listen to their words over and over and understand the emotions they feel.
What can you do for others that need help with vulnerability? To start with, tell them what you need. And tell them what you feel. Also, ask them what do they feel. They may need some egging on. And if you ask them, be ready for what they have to say. You can’t run now.
Vulnerability is what attracts us, bonds us and makes us feel closer to you. It is the key to falling in love. And it might just be the sexiest word alive.
Jacqueline Donelli is a Psychotherapist in NYC