How To Be Vulnerable (Even When You’re Afraid) 

Date Published: Mar 6, 2022

Like all fears, the fear of vulnerability may feel impenetrable when it happens. You may worry that you’ll never overcome it because it feels so… scary! Believe me, I’ve been there. That’s why, at Fearless Living, my primary goal isn’t to keep you from ever feeling this fear. It’s about learning how to be vulnerable despite the fear—that’s the first important step.

A fear of vulnerability often comes from having caregivers who, for whatever reason, weren’t comfortable being vulnerable themselves. Or they couldn’t deal when you tried to share your less comfortable emotions. “I’m afraid of going to the party,” was met with: “No you aren’t—that’s a ridiculous fear.” “I worry about leaving home,” was met with: “That makes no sense—you should be excited.”

If you tried to talk about your fears, doubts, or insecurities, they simply told you that you were being silly, that there’s no reason for these experiences. They taught you to keep it to yourself because they were at a loss for how to accept the less sunny parts of you being a human. And if they could keep you from expressing uncomfortable emotions, they wouldn’t have to deal with them.

But the result of cutting off this deeper communication is that it weakens our connections with others. Unless we can talk about our difficult emotions and experiences with at least some people, our relationships remain superficial. If we can’t trust others with our deepest thoughts and feelings, how can we create emotional intimacy? How do we turn to others for support when we can’t talk about what’s going wrong?

And being willing to be vulnerable starts with you—by accepting all those vulnerable feelings within yourself, and by accepting that those feelings are healthy and normal and part of being human. You accepting all of you is key to giving you the courage to share those feelings with another. 

💗 Learn How to Trust Yourself and Build True Self-Confidence.

Learning how to be vulnerable is also about realizing that not everyone will reject you for feeling vulnerable. Your caregivers, your ex-boyfriend, your school teacher might have done that.

But there are people out there who won’t reject, dismiss, or minimize what’s really going on inside you. They will prefer to get to know the real you and are actually hoping you open up to them. Vulnerability says, “I trust you enough to share this.” What’s more, they’ve had their own struggles, and as you share, they can connect with you on a deeper level. 

Now, I’m not saying you should tell everyone you meet at the grocery store about your issues with Mom, your fear of death, blah, blah, blah. You have to feel comfortable with the other person and trust them with your secrets. And vulnerability with others takes practice and, most importantly, vulnerability with yourself.

Listen—tapping into the power of vulnerability isn’t easy. It took me a long time to learn this. After I’d seen my father shoot my mother and himself when I was 14, I spent 20 years trying to escape my fears however possible. I was an alcoholic and a people-pleaser. I went to therapy. I told everyone who asked that I was doing fine.

None of that helped me regain control over my own life. No matter what I did, that deep fear of vulnerability was underneath; it was running the show, keeping me from getting close to others.

It was only when I learned how to be vulnerable that I learned how to be comfortable with the fact that everything wasn’t fine and that I could trust others with my emotions and my story. This led to connecting with my true self and gradually arriving where I am today, helping others become fearless.

So what is vulnerability, and why is it important? How do you cultivate it even when you’re afraid? I’ll answer these and other questions in this article, so you can discover the magic of vulnerability for yourself. 

What Vulnerability Means and Why It Matters

The meaning of vulnerability depends on its context. Let’s define what being vulnerable means in the context of Fearless Living.

Here’s the definition we aren’t using: Vulnerability is defined in society as people at risk of being hurt. For example, you may hear about “vulnerable groups” in conversations around inequality and poverty. In this sense, vulnerability is understood as a “risk of being hurt” or exposed to harm—in other words, something to be avoided.

At Fearless Living, we talk about emotional vulnerability, which means openly acknowledging difficult emotions and experiences, first in front of yourself, and then in front of others. This can also make you feel exposed. It would certainly hurt if someone were to laugh, not understand, or brush off the deep, important, emotional stories we’re telling.  

That’s why it’s important to know how to turn vulnerability into an opportunity rather than a threat. That’s what I’m unpacking in the rest of this post.

Emotional vulnerability could look like telling your close friend how you really feel, sharing an uncomfortable truth with your family, or exposing your shadow self in an intimate relationship. It means practicing trusting another person enough to allow your authentic self to shine through. When you do that in front of another, it opens up room for them to do the same with you. It can bond you. And it helps you be honest with each other in the ups and downs of any normal, healthy relationship.

True vulnerability happens when we’re our true selves with others. It’s the willingness to risk being hurt for the sake of greater rewards, like taking your relationships to a deeper level. Vulnerability requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and courage. 

When you see it that way, vulnerability becomes a strength rather than a weakness. My client Suzanne learned this in a beautiful way during our coaching sessions. When she first came to me, she was convinced true love would never show up at her door. And even if it did, Suzanne didn’t believe she could show her true self to her partner.

Interestingly, shortly after we started our coaching, she met someone. Her new romantic partner ticked almost all the boxes. One thing that scared the hell out of Suzanne? He would periodically make jokes about her that made her feel deeply insecure. She felt her self-esteem take a dive each time it happened. On top of that, she worried he would judge her for being insecure.

Her first instinct in those situations was either to run and hide or get defensive. But through the vulnerability work we did, she discovered the third possibility: Sharing her feelings with her partner and exposing that part of herself that hurt.

At first, she felt like she was risking rejection every time she did that. But over time, vulnerability started feeling easier. She saw that her partner appreciated her openness and started changing his behavior to accommodate her. By being vulnerable, Suzanne ultimately strengthened their relationship and opened up space for true intimacy. 

Later on, she shared with me that this special bond only strengthened with the emotional vulnerability she and her partner displayed towards each other.

The Power of Vulnerability: What Are the Benefits?

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Some people believe that they should always “keep their act together” in front of others. They hide any hint of self-doubt or insecurity. They want to come across as strong, confident, or knowledgeable.

But that’s rarely what real life looks like. No one is superhuman and free of difficult emotions, such as fear or shame. Constantly pretending that you don’t feel those is tiring. It also makes you miss out on close relationships and other psychological benefits.

To be vulnerable means to acknowledge and disclose those feelings and facts about your life that you’re not proud of with those you trust. That person could be a therapist, a long-time BFF, or your Life Coach. Doing so has lots of psychological benefits. Here are just a few examples.

Benefit #1: Deepening Bonds With Others

Most people know this intuitively: When we can be honest about who we are with others, our relationships deepen. The core of true intimacy is self-disclosure. This includes sharing difficult or embarrassing experiences with your friends and loved ones.

Psychology professor Arthur Aron, PhD, conducted a study where he paired up strangers to ask each other deep questions that required vulnerability to answer. The study found that the participants felt significantly closer to one another after the exercise. Compared to the control group who engaged in small talk, the sense of intimacy between them deepened.

Benefit #2: Finding the Courage To Be Your True Self 

In the era of social media, it’s easy to share beautiful snapshots of what seems like a perfect life. This may make you feel good for a moment, as your Facebook or Instagram profile gets showered with likes and hearts, but consistently doing that is the opposite of true vulnerability.

Showing up as your imperfect but authentic self has more long-term benefits. When you find the strength to be vulnerable and admit, “I feel afraid” or, “I don’t know how to do that,” you send a powerful signal to your unconscious: You have enough courage to be yourself.

This has the potential to change your self-image into someone who’s true to themselves. It reshapes your mind by reinforcing new behaviors. As poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Benefit #3: Overcome Difficult Emotions Faster 

Believe it or not, hiding your emotions doesn’t help you deal with them. In reality, denying that you feel something usually makes it even more powerful!

This is another psychological benefit of vulnerability: It helps you process your emotions faster. When you acknowledge you’re going through a hard time, the problems often start seeming more bearable. In my own life, this was the saving grace when I needed to confront my past experiences with my parents.

As the beloved Mr. Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

How To Be Vulnerable: A Short Guide

Old woman or wife dancing with old man or husband at park under tree in morning. Grandmother and grandfather feel happiness at the wonderful moment time with smiley faces. Senior couple is romantic Senior couple Old woman or wife dancing with old man or husband at park under tree in morning. stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Being vulnerable is in our human nature. It’s a core competency that allows us to connect with ourselves and others on a deeper level.

So why does it feel so hard? Usually, the answer is simple: We’re afraid. 

A fear of vulnerability runs deep. It makes your darkness—your depression, your anxiety, your past break-ups—feel dangerous to share. If you tell others, the fear says they’ll stop talking to you. They’ll think you’re damaged goods. They’ll say you’re weak or otherwise “insufficient.” 

But this is just a learned response—something usually born out of your childhood that helped you survive to adulthood. So it takes time to unlearn it.

There can be many kinds of fear that block our vulnerability. And it’s worth taking time to figure out the root of that fear. Sometimes it’s a fear of rejection; we’re scared that if we allow others to see us for who we are, they will abandon the relationship.

For other people, it’s the fear of not being good enough. When we always feel like we have to prove ourselves, we have a hard time acknowledging our difficulties. Others struggle with a fear of intimacy—vulnerability builds emotional intimacy, and we fear getting this close to another person. We’re afraid if we get close, they will leave, so we decide it’s safer never to get close. 

Most people struggle with a fear of vulnerability. The good news is you don’t have to erase that fear to learn how to be vulnerable. All you need is to stop being controlled by it. For that to happen, you want to develop self-awareness around how your fear works.

That’s a core skill I teach in my Fearless Living Training Program

1. How the Fear of Vulnerability Keeps You Stuck

One of the tools we use at the Fearless Living Training Program (FLTP) is the Wheel of Feara visual explanation of the fearful cycle we all go through. Once you understand it, you’re free to break it and choose vulnerabilityand loveover fear.

Here are four stages of the Wheel of Fear that stop you from being vulnerable. At each stage, I provide examples of how this may play out in real life.

  1. Trigger. Let’s say your core fear is that of being seen as incompetent. This fear may get triggered when you’re upset about a dumb mistake you made at work and someone notices you’re upset and asks you what happened.
  2. Fear response. When you’re wrapped up in that fear, you suddenly feel threatened. Your fear response may be to turn the situation into a joke, laugh, and change the subject (think Chandler from Friends).
  3. Core negative feeling. Whichever way the discussion goes, chances are you’ll feel the feeling you have tried to avoid. In this case, because you were caught being incompetent (or so you think), you feel absolutley worthless. You’ll probably recognize it as an emotion that haunted you most of your life since it’s connected to your core fear.
  4. Self-destructive behavior. To get away from that unpleasant feeling, you could now find yourself resorting to a destructive behavior of choice. It could be losing yourself in social media, drinking, or another form of instant gratification that undermines your long-term goals.

Mindlessly going through that cycle means that you can’t fully acknowledge your core fear, and you’ll damage yourself further. In this cycle, you never process your fear and it keeps you running away from vulnerability.

So what can you do?

2. How To Get off the Wheel of Fear

Stressed woman crying feeling depressed offended by controlling husband tyrant Stressed woman crying feeling depressed offended by controlling husband tyrant stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Before we start looking at how to rethink these stages, we need to talk about how you’re worthy of love, and it’s important to give that love to yourself—even if you have skeletons in your closet (we all do), even if you have work to do on yourself (we all do), and even if you slip up in your journey to being vulnerable (… which, once again, we all do).

💗 Learn How To Love Yourself With My 7 Self-Love Tips.

Also, remember that feeling comfortable with your own perceived weaknesses is an important step to feeling comfortable enough to share them with others. It’s helpful to understand where your fear of vulnerability comes from in order to accept this as part of the story that makes you who you are. This acceptance comes over time. 

The more comfortable you are with your real, true self—light and shadows included—the more honest you can be with yourself and others, enabling you to begin a process of building emotionally intimate relationships. It feels so good to be truly connected to others—it’s part of what we’re on Earth to do. Plus, in those relationships, you’ll feel you can trust and rely on others.

Finally, know that this is a process. It’s going to take time to not let this fear control you, so don’t beat yourself up when the fear pops up and when you slip back into your old habit of closing off. Also, know that for many people, the fear will still visit them once in a while. The difference is now it doesn’t have to paralyze you because you’ll know what to do when you see it. Eventually, its voice may become softer, but again, it takes time. Love yourself regardless of how the process goes, and you’ll be stronger for it.

Ok, let’s get started. There are things you can do at each stage of the Wheel of Fear to break the loop. That’s how you gradually open up to new ways of responding to fear.

  • Stage 1: To notice your triggers, pay attention to your close relationships. People who are closest to us often act as mirrors and activate our deepest fears without even realizing. Romantic relationships are usually particularly helpful for that (surprise, surprise!)
  • Stage 2: Once you notice you’re triggered, this is a chance to ask yourself: Is this threat real, or is my old programming speaking? In other words, will opening up really hurt me the way I think it will, or am I reliving what would happen if I tried opening up to my Dad as a teenager? To put it really plainly: Are you making it up, or is it a fact? This is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to tell facts from fiction and make decisions based on the present moment instead of past memories.

To help my clients increase awareness of what’s really going on for them, I devised Fearbuster Exercises. They include journaling prompts and questions people would usually only hear from their therapist or coach. Being able to ask and answer them yourself can help you confront the truth in a gentle, compassionate way—a true superpower.

  • Stage 3: When you connect to the core negative feeling at stage three of the Wheel of Fear, this is your best chance at being vulnerable. See if you can find a way of expressing the feeling that’s manageable to you. 

I’m a big believer in role-playing. Before any difficult conversation, I still call my BFF Marta and ask her to play me so I get some perspective. And yes, I always play the “evil” one I’m about to face. (You will too!) This gives me a chance to gain much needed perspective!

When you role-play, you are training your neural pathways to shift your fear response to a freedom-based action. Yep. You get off your Wheel of Fear.

If you don’t have a good friend who is skilled enough to help you role-play, no worries—my Certified Fearless Living Coaches can do this with you.

  • Stage 4: Finally, you can always catch yourself at the last stage, engaging in destructive behavior.

    If you find yourself in the pit of despair and lashing out at yourself or others using those lovely self-destructive behaviors, you will definitely know you’re on your Wheel of Fear. This is good news! It means you’re becoming more aware of what you’re doing, and thus, you have a better chance of responding differently next time.

Breaking out of the Wheel of Fear can help you feel ready and willing to be vulnerable and open. You’ll know that being vulnerable can’t hurt you as you once imagined it could. It’s actually avoiding vulnerability that puts your true, emotionally intimate relationships at risk. 

In the example of fearing to be seen as incompetent, this may mean you’ll ask a question you wouldn’t otherwise dare to. Or you’ll just admit that you feel insecure. Or you’ll ask the other person for advice, even though you feel embarrassed.

However your vulnerability shows up, it opens a possibility of having a more authentic, better relationship with the person in front of you. As a consequence, you’ll also feel empowered and more rooted in yourself.

You Don’t Have To Do This Alone

To be vulnerable means to be willing to risk being seen and exposed emotionally. You take your guard down and allow the other person to see you. That risk, however, often holds a promise of infinitely more rewards: 

  • True intimacy 
  • Courage to be yourself no matter what
  • Better emotional regulation

The way to vulnerability is through mastering whatever fear is keeping you from achieving it. Changing the relationship with that fear allows us to be vulnerable.

Because this work is so challenging, it helps to do it with others. Community and peer support can be critical when it comes to inner growth. That’s why I created Fearless Living Institute—to provide guidance and coaching for those who are ready to turn their fear into love and vulnerability.

The enrollment to my signature Fearless Living Training Program is open now. As you take a look, ask yourself: Are you ready to become fearless?

The Foundation of It all

In her groundbreaking seminal work, Rhonda Britten shows you how to master the emotional fears that keep you stuck in old cycles. Fearless Living is the foundation for all of Rhonda’s work, and it gives you an overview of her philosophies on how fear can take your life captive.

Enter your name and email address below to receive Rhonda's Fear of the Unknown course.

By Rhonda Britten

Rhonda, voted America’s Favorite Life Coach is here to help you get unstuck. “Everyone needs Fearless Living”- Oprah Winfrey With her acclaimed method called Fearless Living, Rhonda Britten has helped thousands of people let go of indecision, gain clarity of purpose, and take life-changing risks. Her work exposes the roots of fear and gives you the tools to move beyond that insidious universal feeling of “not being good enough.” The result is unstoppable confidence and a world of unlimited possibilities.

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