The Power of Vulnerability

If you’re anything like me, you hear the word “vulnerability” and immediately duck for cover. It’s terrifying to think about letting go of defenses and opening up. Doesn’t being vulnerable mean you’re weak? No, it means you’re able to be hurt which is very different from being weak. In fact, I have come to learn that being vulnerable is often the strongest thing one can do.

I learned about vulnerability when a loved one showed me Dr. Brené Brown’s TED talk. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading, follow the hyperlink, and take 20 minutes to watch this video. I found it to be life-changing and I went on to read two of her books, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. I highly recommend both of them.

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As a self-described researcher-storyteller, Dr. Brown performs qualitative research by collecting stories and analyzing them for patterns. In her quest to understand what makes people feel connected, her research indicated that vulnerability was critical for individuals to have loving and strong relationships. She also found shame and fear were related to feelings of isolation and a lack of belonging. Dr. Brown explained that being vulnerable allows people to embrace the parts of themselves they are ashamed of which leads to a deeper connection with ourselves and others.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Brene Brown

Seeing vulnerability as the antidote to shame falls perfectly in line with DBT’s skill, opposite action. Opposite Action, as a skill, is useful when an emotion is not effective for a certain situation. It involves changing your emotions by changing your behavior to be the total opposite of the ineffective emotion. For example, Opposite Action for fear is to gently approach while keeping a confident body posture. Opposite Action for shame is to make public shameful information which certainly requires a healthy dose of vulnerability.

proud courage strongDr. Brown highlighted three ways vulnerability aids in building relationships: courage, compassion, and connection. When we are vulnerable with others, we have the courage we need to show our true selves by asking for what we need or expressing how we feel. Vulnerability gives us the freedom to be kind towards ourselves which allows for genuine compassion for others. We can foster deep connections with others by using our vulnerability to authentically living our lives and inviting others to do the same.

In therapy, clients can often feel a sense of shame if they engage in a problem behavior or make some mistake. Coming to a session and sharing difficult times can be extremely scary, and yet it is one of the bravest and most vulnerable things a client can do. In DBT, therapists are encouraged to be vulnerable with clients as well to help foster a real relationship with them.

If you would like to start learning how to be more courageous and vulnerable, consider scheduling a session with one of CCDBT’s therapists.

About the Author

Samantha Mathews, PsyD (she/her) is a licensed psychologist who specializes in dialectical behavior therapy.  Samantha works with her clients to develop close relationships with themselves and others.  Samantha believes compassionately connecting with emotions is central to building a life worth living.  Click here to learn more about Samantha’s experience and therapeutic style.