I am weak. I am powerless. I’m asking to be hurt. If I open up, I’ll get stomped on. These are the messages we often hear when we think of being vulnerable. But the reality is, there is tremendous power when we open up to others, and show our true colors.
In fact, I believe the only way you’ll ever be in love and be loved in return, is to be vulnerable in your relationships. Yes, I believe it is impossible to love without opening yourself up. Vulnerability is not a character flaw. It is at the core of who we are as humans.
Love is an emotion. It is about connecting at a deep intimate level with another. And the only way to connect at a deep intimate level is to…forgive the obvious, go deep and be intimate. When we open up and show others who we really are, we are giving them a clear picture as to whether they want to love us. If you try to hold back, and don’t show your true self—there’s nothing to love.
Not long ago, a casual co-worker and I were having lunch—as we often do. Steven and I were talking about the opening of baseball season, and our plans for the weekend—just some superficial stuff. Then I mentioned that a mutual friend of ours had told me that Steven had been dealing with a pretty bad break-up, and how our friend had been worried about him for a while, but was glad to see that he was feeling better about the split. Immediately, Steven looked at me with a steely stare—not saying a word. Then, a tear torn down his face—and tore open the barriers of our casual friendship, when he opened up and told me a very vulnerable story about how much he had been in love, and how much it now hurt. I liked Steven a whole lot more after that—after seeing him open-up, and be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable does not mean you are powerless—in fact, quite the contrary. When you CHOSE to open yourself up—to be emotionally intimate and vulnerable, you get to keep your power. Projecting vulnerability can actually be a controlled and extroverted act—a proactive stance, and keeps you in control. Now admittedly, you have no power over how others will respond to your vulnerability, but the reality is you never have power over other people’s feelings and reactions. If you think you do, and if you try to control how others feel about you, you are just trying to be manipulative.
I was dating a girl for a couple of months. Jess and I had progressed from bike-ride dates and dinners to sleepovers and talk of weekend getaways. One night I was particularly frustrated by a series of encounters during the day that left me feeling disrespected and wanting to lash out. I told Jess how vulnerable I was feeling and opened up to her about some childhood traumas that were triggering these emotions. Rather than “lean in” and try to make me feel better, Jess recoiled a bit from our discussion, and closed herself off to me. Our relationship quickly faded after that. Why she reacted the way she did is still unknown to me. Did my emotions spark something inside her that she was unwilling to share? Did she see me in a different, more vulnerable position and not like what she saw? I could have hounded her, and asked why she behaved that way. Instead, I retracted into my less-vulnerable self and decided not to ask. Both of our actions were probably to blame for the break-up.
Being vulnerable can feel emotionally naked—and risky. You risk being ridiculed or rebuffed. When you open yourself up and have your vulnerable-self trampled on and pulverized, it might be difficult to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start being open all over again.
Let’s face it, we are afraid to be vulnerable because we are afraid of being hurt. But the fact is that every emotion has risks and rewards, and every emotion goes in cycles—we are vulnerable, then we get stomped on. We feel comfortable, then we fall down. We feel sad, then we are happy. The only constant among emotions is that if we don’t risk having them, we will never receive the possibility of their rewards. The only way to obtain happiness is to risk being sad. The only way we know comfort is to feel fear. The only way we know love is to be rejected.
Consider the alternative to being vulnerable. Being closed-off, introverted, emotionless and sterile does nothing for your self-confidence, and is a sure fire way of never attracted people who will love you for who you are.
So I say, open yourself up, and see what comes in.
Author Jack Reid is a relationship expert and author of the “Jack Knows” column on FIVE THôT.