The Importance of Vulnerability in Self-Acceptance and Boundaries
By: Christian Baginski, MA
One topic that often comes up in therapy that clients sometimes have misconceptions about is vulnerability. Vulnerability is when we share the parts of ourselves that we would rather others not see. Often this means admitting to our insecurities or fears that we think will lead us towards judgement. Jeremy Sutton (2021) of positivepsychology.com explains, “Rather than respecting those who are courageous enough to show their vulnerability, we tend to criticize them, becoming judgmental.” Because of this, it is little wonder that people learn to avoid discussion of these deeply important aspects of themselves. This is not only a shame because people feel criticized when they try to share, but it inhibits processing in these potentially powerful moments of self-realization. This also reduces the ability for others to empathize with a person who has trouble revealing their vulnerability. So much of society learns from an early age that vulnerability is scary and something to be avoided. I believe that this is where so many of the misconceptions come from. Some of my clients have said that they only perceive vulnerability when they might otherwise take an obvious social risk, like asking someone out on a date. Vulnerability can mean so much more than just this, it can be taking an emotional risk in a relationship, it can be communicating a boundary, it can mean admitting that you are who you are, and so much more. It is a state of being that has an inherent connection with one’s ability to be authentic and proud of who they are (goodtherapy, 2016).
Communicating a boundary in a relationship can be a difficult thing to do as it requires an individual to confront a trusted family member with a need that may imply some sort of weakness. If I were to confront my brother about hurtful comments he has been making, I would need to admit that those comments hurt me and have the confidence to know that he would respect me saying so. There is a risk here in that I would need to show my emotional response, something that we often hide, and become vulnerable in front of him. If I can do this effectively without my own defensiveness, I can help avoid turning this into an argument and help him understand my point of view. Defensiveness is something that we often do due to counteract our feelings of vulnerability. In an ineffective version of this scenario, I might yell at my brother. This communicates that I do not trust him with my feelings and may trigger a more anxious or defensive response. When we communicate defensiveness in boundary setting people stop listening and become defensive themselves. Keeping these things in mind can be incredibly difficult in these moments when our feelings are hurt, and we feel like we are being criticized. Sometimes this is the perfect moment to take a step back, consider our language, and communicate clearly to our loved ones.
Sutton, J., (2021, January 8). How to be vulnerable in life and in therapy. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/how-to-be-vulnerable/
(2016, August 8). Vulnerability. GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/vulnerability