Vulnerability: What does it mean to show vulnerability?

What does it mean to you to vulnerable? It's an important question I often ask my clients. I ask this because a lot of people have a misconception of the meaning of vulnerability, based on their experience, or the way in which the word vulnerability is often used. If you could pause for a moment and consider what you believe it means, what would it be?


Common answers I have received include, ‘weakness,' or ‘to cry a lot.’ Others have said it means, ‘to tell someone all your secrets,' 'to share everything about yourself,' and ‘to tell someone your weak spots and hope they will not use it against you.’ Another client said that vulnerability is ‘honesty about who you are.’ 

Some clients are very creative in their explanations. Answering with statements such as, ‘vulnerability is to be emotionally raw and naked in front of someone you trust,' or ‘it’s like open heart surgery.’

The question opens up beautiful conversations in sessions, allowing clients to get involved in challenging what they believe their own vulnerability and their fears about it to be. At the same time, the process of sharing this information can leave clients feeling vulnerable. I’m not there to judge, but help them to explore and to understand the restrictions their beliefs about vulnerability might be causing them, while they are experiencing it in the room. 

A lot of people believe that vulnerability is something you should not be or do all the time, or that it is to be reserved for special people or situations. 

What are your thoughts? 

Being vulnerable is different to showing vulnerability

Some groups of people seen as vulnerable in society are those in certain age groups or people with disabilities or illness. This is something different from being vulnerable in any sort of relationship (whether romantic, friendly, work relationships etc).

According to the dictionary, vulnerability is ‘to be exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed either physically or emotionally.’ 

The definition seem to lack components. It doesn’t, for instance, credit that the reason we could be exposing ourselves to the possibility of being attacked, is because our needs are exposed to someone else. For instance, this can be a need to be understood or a need to be seen for everything we truly are, including a past we might want to hide from a new partner.  A need can also be for someone to share an affection you might feel for them, or a need to ask for a promotion.

By being vulnerable with another person about these things, the other person is in a position of power where they have the choice to either meet that need (partially or completely) or not meet the need. Therefore ‘the other’ does, to some degree, have more power in that situation. 

But that doesn’t mean you have no power. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t want to meet the need, although, it's undeniably true in some circumstances. They might not be able to meet your needs. Perhaps they are unable to meet a financial need or they might not be experiencing a mutual sexual attraction. They certainly cannot change your past.

This does not mean that there is something wrong with you. 

My tips to help...

Make sure the person is trustworthy before being vulnerable with them. This does not mean that someone has to go out of their way to prove their trustworthiness to you, but when someone is showing consistent and mutual interest in you, it is usually a good sign that they could be trustworthy.

If you find that you struggle to get to a point where you feel that you can be vulnerable with someone, it might be worth seeing a mental health professional (such as a counsellor) to explore if there is something blocking the connection between you and others. 

Building a relationship (platonic or romantic) takes time. Don’t share too much too quickly. Again, time will give you a good indication of the person in your life, and if they have stuck around long enough to be trusted. 

If we share too much too quickly, it could push people away. It might be worth getting some therapy sessions to understand why you do this. 

Vulnerability is not weak but can show a weakness

It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable with someone. It shows that we are real and it shows that we are human and that we have needs. If someone doesn’t appreciate it, it’s probably not personal. Don’t let it stop you from being vulnerable with the people who can fully understand you. 

This is a common topic that comes up in my sessions with clients, however, there are many aspects of vulnerability not covered in this article, especially about being vulnerable rather than showing vulnerability. If there is anything you would like to know about what it means to be vulnerable, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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