Why Vulnerability is the Superpower of Therapy
For many this word feels super-scary. But, more and more, the conversation has become about how it is actually a superpower.
Exploring feelings of vulnerability means exploring natural human emotions which can yield fertile ground for self-understanding, self-forgiveness, and personal growth. Therapy is designed to be a safe space for this exploration, but without practicing vulnerability it can be incredibly hard to open up.
Why Do We Avoid Vulnerability?
Vulnerability means being open to potential harm, both emotionally and physically. Avoiding harm is hardwired – avoid pain and ensure survival. But avoiding emotional pain is a trickier terrain as it involves social connection hitting at the core of being human.
is not something to be ashamed of, but rather celebrated. However, avoiding vulnerability becomes problematic when it manifests in ways that leave us feeling misunderstood, isolated, or unwilling to ask for help.
Shame can be triggered by feelings of vulnerability and can be incredibly distressing. Feeling inadequate, embarrassed, or humiliated can become an internalized message of not being good enough. Going to therapy may make someone feel as those they have something wrong with them, or depending on their previous exposure (or lack of exposure) to therapy it may be seen as weakness. Often people feel as though they should be able to solve their own problems, and seeking help is a signal of inadequacy. However, this is far from the truth. Vulnerability requires a tremendous amount of courage.
Therapy Encourages Openness
Vulnerability and the ability to open up in therapy is vital for the experience to be as beneficial as possible.
One of the beautiful things about therapy when it comes to overcoming fear of vulnerability is that it is a safe space for expression, but just because the space is intended to be safe it still may take some time before it feels that way.
Andrea Marquez LCSW who is based in Austin, TX and offers teletherapy to Texans statewide, points out, “We all wish we could snap our fingers and magically feel comfortable in any environment, but the truth is that even in therapy – which is a space specifically designed for vulnerability – it takes time to feel safe.”
Vulnerability is a vital aspect of the therapy process. It allows individuals to be open and honest with themselves and their therapist. As a result, they are able to gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This self-awareness is a crucial step in the healing process and can help individuals to identify patterns and triggers that contribute to feelings of shame.
Furthermore, when we are open about our vulnerability, we give others permission to do the same, thus promoting connection and a sense of belonging. This is essential for shame resilience as shame thrives in secrecy and isolation. By sharing our story, we open up the possibility of being seen, understood, and receiving empathy. All of which are fundamental elements in healing from shame.
It’s important to note that vulnerability is a two-way street. It requires trust, empathy, and authenticity on the therapist’s part too. A therapist can show vulnerability by sharing their own experiences, acknowledging uncertainty and limitations, and being open to feedback. In fact, better relationships between therapist and clients ultimately produce better outcomes.
Vulnerability is an integral part of the healing process and an essential component in overcoming shame and seeking therapy. It allows individuals to be open, honest and courageous about their struggles, which can lead to deeper understanding, compassion and connection to self and others. Thus, promoting healing, resilience, and growth.
How Vulnerability Improves Your Life
In contemporary conversation of vulnerability it would be hard not to discuss the work of Brene Brown. Through extensive research on shame and vulnerability she synthesized key attributes of these human experiences and how they impact our life. In her book Daring Greatly, she defines vulnerability in the social-emotional sense as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
What has emerged from her research are the powerful yet opposing takeaways about vulnerability that became the cornerstone of her famous TED talk.
1. Vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness.
2. Vulnerability is also birthplace of joy, creativity, and belonging.
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable we also are allowing ourselves to be better communicators, and seem more human and approachable to those around us.
“No one trusts perfect, and that’s a good instinct,” comments Brown.
Perfect, after all, doesn’t exist. Instead vulnerability allows us to be human, and to be people who need other people for support. As social creatures the connection of service and being served creates bonds, and those bonds not only strengthen our safety and survival, but improve the quality of our lives.
5 Steps to Embrace Vulnerability in Therapy
- Start small: One of the most powerful ways to practice vulnerability is to open up and share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. This can be a friend, family member, or therapist. It can be scary to be vulnerable, but it can also be incredibly healing and liberating. You can begin with something small as you build your courage towards larger shares.
- Keep a journal: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a great way to practice vulnerability in a safe and controlled setting. It can also help you to gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts and emotions, which can be valuable in identifying patterns and triggers.
- Honor your intuition: Being vulnerable doesn’t have to mean sharing your deepest secrets with every person you meet. Taking time to get to know someone, and trusting your intuition, is an important element of being vulnerable. You want to feel safe to share, and that likely won’t mean sharing with everyone. Remember that you’re allow to exercise discernment about with who, when, and where you choose to open up.
- Challenge yourself: Challenge yourself to do something that makes you feel vulnerable. This could be something as simple as trying a new activity, or something more significant, like public speaking. The more you challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone, the more comfortable you’ll become with vulnerability.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice that can help you to be more present and aware of your thoughts and feelings. By becoming more mindful, you may be more able to notice and acknowledge your vulnerability when it arises, rather than pushing it away or avoiding it.
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