How To Get Over Your Fear of Vulnerability In 6 Steps (Even If You've Been Hurt)

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fear of being vulnerable
Self

Sure, it's scary. But life can be so much richer.

We humans have learned to "harden up" and create psychological armor from childhood. Everyone has some memories of varying degrees of feeling hurt, embarrassed, dishonest, judged, etc.

Maybe even memories of abuse or bullying or moments less fearful, but injurious to self just the same. We actually learn through our mental self-defense to magnify the vulnerability and feel helpless or hopeless, alone and afraid. That is, until we find people who "know" us and accept us.

However, not everyone finds those people, and often those they trust turn out to be hurtful and dishonest, too. These experiences set us up for challenges in educational experiences, romantic relationships, and experiences in job or career. A fear of vulnerability often follows.


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All of these experiences are learning experiences. You may feel like a survivor, but you can become even more  a thriver.

Just as scars are visible reminders of an injury or wound we once had, hopefully, the pain that accompanied them is gone. But scars are also metaphorical and psychological reminders for those memories, experiences, and challenges that have stretched us to fully experience life as it happens, good or bad, positive or negative, challenging or inspiring. Our life gives us experiences… what we make of them is the key, and we don’t have to do it alone.

Take what life gives you, learn from it, and move forward with the help of a committed confidante or two.

If you learned early to harden up and develop armor, that will not serve you well always. It is easy to live life thinking that self-protection is the best way to live, but paradoxically, that strategy also prevents you from living optimally. Self-protection is important, and so is learning to be courageously vulnerable.

Why being vulnerable is a good and necessary thing (even if it scares you at first): 

Stuff happens. Life is not always predictable or satisfying, how we respond is the key. First reactions might be scary, embarrassing, frustrating, but later we can see choices and responses we can choose.

Often these are discovered when sharing your challenge or hurtful experience with a trusted listener. Having courageous conversations with a trusting person, or trusting yourself enough to share when you have been hurt, or wronged in some way, makes vulnerability a strength, not a weakness.

One of my major beliefs for much of my life has been that personal and spiritual development is a process. That you can either just let it happen and be an observer, or you can be more purposeful in your personal exploration and be a participant in the unfolding or emergence of your being.

A choice that confronts each of us at every moment is this: Will we allow others to know us as we now are, or shall we seek instead to remain an enigma, wishing to be seen as something we are not? Throughout history, humans seem to have chosen the road of concealment rather than "openness." This strategy all too often results in sickness, misunderstanding, and alienation of self.

A fully-functioning human being is someone who has at least one person in their lives who they can talk to about anything. Without that, our psychological health will suffer and our efforts for honesty in relationships will be challenging.

So, if you are not a revealer and are around someone who shares to the extreme, you will likely be uncomfortable. Find those who speak and listen to your rhythm. This will provide safety and comfort for honest, meaningful conversation.

Getting naked, metaphorically, is about learning how to be open about your authentic self with the rest of the world (well at least those you trust). It is about how being secretive about yourself can lead to physical, mental, and emotional sickness. Can we actually try to live healthier by being honest with our fellow humans about who and how we are?

Get real. Be authentic. Be courageous. Make contact and empathize. Trust and disclose who you are and invite others to do the same.

When you are honest with another and share what you have kept hidden or at least well disguised, it invokes what I call the unexpected turn. Every conversation presents the opportunity for two experiences. It is both common and predictable with no surprises and little revelatory information, or it takes an unexpected turn.

When you are surprisingly honest with a trusted friend or colleague (or they with you) it usually leads to a more heartfelt and personally-connected conversation.

Even if you asked someone, “What are your passions or big desires? Tell me something exciting in your life,” instead of our usual greeting of “How ya doing?” it would lead to more truthful and useful dialogue.

To be real, you have to risk not meeting other people’s expectations, and you have to be willing to meet the parts of yourself you have been trying to deny. Our flaws are merely the shadow aspect of our potential. They long to be held, cherished, nurtured, and brought into the light.

Once we can honor our flaws and remain open to our potential, we can move toward our dreams.

And once you live your life that way, you inspire others to do the same. Once you become real, you encourage others to live life more on the edge, to take chances, to not be shamed, and to exemplify a sense of wonder, curiosity, and openness rather than cynicism, fear, and loneliness.

And here are 6 steps to becoming comfortable with courageous vulnerability,

This is process is useful for reclaiming parts of your authentic self that you may have left hidden in the shadows. Follow this template for naked sharing slowly, using a journal, personal reflection time, and patience.

1. Recall

Remember a belief or experience that causes you to keep it hidden.

2. Reflect 

Consider this memory. What happened? Who was there? How did it affect you?

3. Reveal on paper 

Write in a journal your memories, thoughts, feelings, actions, and emotional reactions. Just free flow. Get it out and on paper. Then read it to yourself as if you were hearing about it from your younger self.

4. Reveal to another

Make a big step. Who can you share your story with? Who can you trust will listen to you with suspended judgment and full acceptance?

5. Reboot 

After you have shared with a trusted other, imagine you are rebooting your memory, just like a computer memory. Let it be defragmented and safely put away.

6. Restart 

Get back on your journey to your future, starting now. You have now achieved a clean restart pertaining to this memory or story.

Now you have found ways to begin to reveal your truths, first to your self and then to another.

Who can you trust this week to allow your vulnerability? To allow you to be real and ‘naked?" Test the waters slowly if you’re not sure, or find a professional to start. Then "train" a true friend or two to love you, warts and all.


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Dr. Pat Williams is a Master Certified Coach and Board Certified Coach, and formerly a licensed psychologist. For more information about metaphorical nakedness, see DrPatWilliams.com. Also, read Dr. Pat's new book, Getting Naked: On Emotional Transparency at the Right Time, the Right Place, and with the Right Person on Amazon and in Audible books.

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