Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

I Don’t Want to Be Vulnerable. It’s Scary!

I Don’t Want to Be Vulnerable. It’s Scary!

It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable,
but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers and the creators.
They are the magic people of the world.”

~ Amy Poehler

Being vulnerable is scary, and it also means you’re weak, right? Wrong. When I researched this post, virtually every article I came across conveyed the same misconception most people have – that allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a weakness. Think about it for a minute: what kind of person is willing to show a true version of the self, warts and all. A weak person? No, a very strong person. Because being vulnerable exposes you to being hurt. True enough. And that’s scary!

But let’s say someone who feels weak can still feel vulnerable, but feels bad about it. Because somehow, being “weak” (whatever that means) is bad. There aren’t too many genuinely and completely weak people in the world, nor genuinely and completely bad people either. (They exist – you’ve heard or read about them – but they don’t rule.) We all have moments of weakness – we give in to that second helping of dessert, we stay up too late to watch just one more episode of the series… But that doesn’t mean we’re bad people for having done so.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to open yourself up to the possibility of rejection, embarrassment, shame or any other kind of unpleasant emotion isn’t easy. It takes a lot of courage, and trust that the person to whom you’re exposing yourself will respond kindly. To me that translates as strength. Brute strength. There are no guarantees that you won’t ever be hurt. Sometimes it happens. But we recover and go on. In the meantime, we’ve become so fearful of hurt, the pain of rejection or embarrassment, that we armor up. But you know what? In the long run, that doesn’t work. Why?

It doesn’t work, because it’s not possible to be selective about which emotions you shut out and which you allow in. If you shut out one, you shut out the others, at least on the deepest level. They all come from the same place. It probably doesn’t feel like that to you, but intimacy, connection, love, won’t happen on the basis of the What Ifs. What if I tell him about my background, then he won’t trust me. What if I expose my dislike of camping, which she loves, then she won’t go out with me. What if….[fill in the blank.]? So we block any hint of being vulnerable to show how strong we are, to foreclose hurt or rejection.

Sometimes the shutdown happens automatically. We’re on autopilot. Because a lot of the fear stems from a feeling of unworthiness. You’re not deserving of the chance to connect with someone. You avoid the threat of shame. So you stay in that nice, comfortable zone of safety. You protect yourself from being hurt, but you also lose the opportunity for genuine intimacy and closeness. You can’t predict in advance what will happen, but it’s worth the risk. Take a chance. Step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised by the rewards.

If you’re curious to read about vulnerability in greater depth, I recommend the book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, by Brené Brown, Ph.D. Her book is the definitive discourse on the subject, and was cited in every paper I read before writing this post.

1 comment on “I Don’t Want to Be Vulnerable. It’s Scary!”

  1. I spent too many years being strong. My work, with troubled and/or troublesome people, called for the hero part of me. Which was good for the work, and I liked being strong. But I didn’t see that I needed to tend to myself and my feelings. (While I counseled families that they needed to take care of themselves and not just focus on the “problem”.) I knew I was shutting out feelings, but I told myself I’d deal with them later. As your essay points out, that doesn’t work. Thank you.

     

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