Vulnerability is one of the cornerstones of achieving intimacy in a relationship. Whether it be a friendship or a partnership – to feel more connected, understood, and loved, you need to learn how to open up to people. Humans also have a huge need to give and receive empathy, which is central to bonding. The only way to inspire empathy in another is by being vulnerable yourself.
Here are the 4 steps to learning how to be vulnerable – we will walk you through each of them:
- Understand how to be more vulnerable
- Address your blocks to vulnerability
- Learn how to open up emotionally
- Practice through vulnerability exercises
What is Vulnerability in Relationships?
Before trying to learn how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, it is important to understand what exactly vulnerability is.
Society has conditioned us to associate many negative connotations with being vulnerable. So it’s easy to think of it as equating to being “weak” or “needy”. This could not be further from the truth. While we cannot all be strong all the time and it is ok to have needs, vulnerability is actually a sign of internal strength because it takes courage and confidence.
To be vulnerable is to practice being honest with others about:
- Your past challenges and the ways they continue to affect you in the present moment (hurts from childhood, trauma, etc.).
- Any current challenges – not pretending you have it all together, but being honest about your fears and shortcomings.
- Feelings – admitting the fact that others have an emotional impact on you, and sharing that with them honestly, without blaming or shaming them.
- Needs – it is important to accept and ask for what you need. Even while knowing you won’t get all your needs met – including your sexual needs.
- Boundaries – telling your loved ones what you are comfortable doing – or not doing – inside and outside of sex.
- Your capacity – the fact that some things will be too much for you and overwhelm you.That you can’t do and be everything.
Blocks to Vulnerability
If you want to be more vulnerable, it’s best to address any potential blocks to vulnerability you might harbor. There is no way around it – practicing vulnerability in relationships is scary. If you share vulnerably with someone who does not understand or appreciate the value of it, you may be rejected or judged.
Or maybe you come from a culture or family where vulnerability was not valued. Boys and men are frequently discouraged from being vulnerable – sometimes gently, and sometimes violently. It’s only too common for an injured boy to be told by his father, “Brush it off. Men don’t cry. Get back in the game.” While this father is perhaps sincerely attempting to prepare his son for the world, this kind of treatment has caused a lot of boys (and men) to shut down. They disconnect from their feelings and develop intimacy challenges. Boys are also shamed or punished much more violently for showing vulnerability. On the flip side, boys who show tenderness are often taunted as “sissies,” bullied, or even beaten.
In some families, showing any kind of emotion – no matter if you are a boy or a girl – is cause for banishment or punishment. Parents say things like, “Go to your room and calm down. Then talk to me when you are finished crying”. Or “I’ll give you something to cry about”. These communications actively discourage children from expressing feelings.
If you had experiences like these in childhood, you are probably hesitant to try again. There is this lingering feeling inside you that showing any part of yourself could end you up getting banished or punished again.
It is important to acknowledge these blocks to yourself. It’s helpful to talk through them with someone who understands, like an intimacy coach or a therapist. Talking to a supportive professional is a courageous step when learning how to open up to people.
Writing about your blocks is another useful approach. Just knowing the blocks are there – and why they are there – can point you in the right direction. Being gentle and understanding with yourself about them help you begin to move beyond them.
Examples of Vulnerability
It is one thing to have a list – and another completely to have some real-life examples of vulnerability.
This is an example of sharing past challenges, current challenges, capacity, and needs:
“There was a lot of violence in my house growing up (past challenge). If someone starts to raise their voice to me, I have a tendency to dissociate (current challenge). This means that sometimes when you are upset and need me the most, I cannot really be there for you. I will be too overwhelmed (capacity). It would help me a lot of you would not raise your voice when you are upset. Instead, you could say something like, “I’m not going to punish you, I’m just really mad” before you share very intense feelings (needs).”
This example show how to share vulnerably feelings, past challenges, and boundaries:
“I know it might seem silly to you – but it really hurts me when you tease me about how much I sweat when we work out together (feelings). When I was younger, I got teased a lot about my appearance. It made me feel like I was worth nothing (past challenge). I really need you to stop teasing me about my sweating (boundary).”
For more examples around how to open up to people, watch this video in which Celeste teaches how to be vulnerable:
Learning how to open up emotionally is best done through practice. It can be too much however to dive straight into the deep end and just start sharing feelings. So here are some vulnerability exercises to get you started.
Our favorite exercise is sharing what we call “in the moment feelings”. These are feelings presently happening inside of you. Often, people scared of vulnerability will share feelings they had in the past, but have already shut down around or tried to move past. For real intimacy, empathy, and connection to occur however, it’s best to share feelings as they happen.
The “I Feel” Game:
To deepen intimacy with another person, share your feelings about them in real-time. Listen to their feelings about you, and share how they make you feel. In the “I Feel Game” that we teach in the Somatica Core Training, you practice sharing feelings back and forth. Try not to veer off into historical feelings, or try to fix feelings.
Sit in front of your sharing partner and take a few deep breaths to connect with your internal state. Look in your partner’s eyes and start to notice what kinds of feelings they bring up inside of you. Share your present moment feelings without explaining or commenting on the other’s feelings. Take turns going back and forth with one another. This is an interpersonal experience – you are not just talking about your separate feelings. Instead, you are sharing your responses to the other person. You are also showing how you are reacting to the feelings they are having in response to you.
Here is an example round between some imaginary people. We’ll call them Shelly and Paul:
Shelly: I’m feeling a little nervous. My stomach is fluttering, and I’m worried about whether or not I will do it right.
Paul: When you say you are nervous, I feel relieved. Like I’m not the only one who is a bit anxious about this game.
Shelly: When you say you feel relieved and that you are also anxious, I feel more connected to you and my stomach starts to relax.
Paul: When you say you feel more connected to me, I start to notice that I start pressuring myself to stay connected. This makes me want to disconnect.
Shelly: When you say you are putting pressure on yourself, I feel a little sad. The hero inside me wants to come in and save you.
Paul: When I hear that you have a hero inside of you that wants to save people, it makes me feel a little happy. I can picture you with a cape, flying down to pick me up.
Shelly: When I hear that you are feeling happy and imagining me in my cape, I feel tingly in my body. I notice I’m feeling a bit turned on by you.
Paul: When you say you are feeling turned on, I immediately feel a little turned on too. Then I feel anxious about what to say next.
Notice both Paul and Shelly are not talking about the other person or trying to reassure them, etc. They are noticing and vulnerably sharing the fears and desires that arise as a result of being in this intimate interaction.
How Somatica Can Help You Find Your Vulnerability
We hope this helps you dip your toe into how you can open up and be more vulnerable in your relationships.
If you are having trouble, or it’s not working well in your relationship to do so, there is help! The Somatica Method is based on a mutually vulnerable relationship between coach and client. If you want to take a deep dive into vulnerability with an amazing community, check out the Somatica Core Training.