Teach me to be vulnerable
December 24, 2016 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I am not able to be vulnerable. I am ok with getting to know anybody, but when it comes to real vulnerability, no dice.

I only form consistent relationships with people from work. Previous relationships include the unavailable and narcissistic personality disorder. I can sort of open up to folks with issues, but when these folks are kind to me, it feels uncomfortable. In fact when anybody offers kindness, it freaks me out. How can I be vulnerable and open to help? I have done therapy 5x for anxiety/PTSD and done CBT and mindfullness. I feel better but I think vulnerability is still missing. Advise please!
posted by Kalmya to Human Relations (9 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I found group therapy — not just a support group, but a therapy group where you look at your relationships with other group members and work on understanding your interactions with them — to be super helpful with this sort of thing. It is a very different experience from individual therapy.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:15 PM on December 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Brené Brown has a lot of TED talks and books about how to be vulnerable...

"Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame."
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 9:32 PM on December 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

Daring Greatly (Brown) is a good place to start, as the book addresses the issue of vulnerability head on.

I find that the mindset of having nothing to lose is very helpful. If you come to terms with the fact that you don't want to be with anyone who can't accept the worst and truest parts of you, then there is basically no real downside to being vulnerable except the possibility that your initial judgment about people was wrong.

The real possibility that people may walk away from you once you are vulnerable (honest about the past, realistic in your assessment of yourself and the present) makes a good case for tending toward intimacy and vulnerability earlier rather than later. You don't want to hold back your deepest beliefs and secrets and wait years to tell someone, only to discover that s/he isn't who you thought. Wait too long and the deepest, darkest parts of yourself can sort of take on a life of their own and spin out of proportion in size, depth, and perceived importance.

As for accepting kindness, it could be self loathing that you have at work--you can't be nice to you, so it's hard to let other people be nice to you. Or could it be that you interpret their kindness as some form of pity?
posted by flyingfork at 10:54 PM on December 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think you are looking for some form of Buddhism. Maybe not SGI, which is a cult similar to Scientology, but even legit Nichiren Buddhism would work. Although, for your purposes, I think more traditional forms would be great.

The goal is to be feeling awesome no matter what's going on around you. That's Buddhism, which at core is a meditation practice. This is your jam.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 AM on December 25, 2016

Baby steps. Pick an issue that won't devastate you and learn to be vulnerable about that. Pick people with whom you'd like to be vulnerable very carefully. Are they kind? Patient? Caring?

Gradually build up to something a little more fraught. Be sure the person with whom you are being vulnerable has the energy and emotional awareness to be supportive. Sometimes, people just can't be there for us, even if they would want to be - real life, complete with sick children, demanding bosses, struggling spouses may intervene. This does not mean you don't deserve to be supported in your vulnerability.

Keep in mind that being vulnerable to other people is a skill that must be learned, like a muscle group that must be exercised.

Finally, vulnerability is all about trusting *yourself* - that you will find appropriate people with whom you can be vulnerable, that you will select wisely, and have the emotional capacity to recover, should the people you choose have hidden issues or just be having a bad day.

Good luck! I hope you find good, safe, kind, caring people with whom to share yourself.

Don't forget to reciprocate.
posted by dancing_angel at 2:28 AM on December 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think your first step is probably to make friends outside of work - work friends *can* be okay to share with but usually in limited amounts on limited subjects. So work on expanding your social network. For me that takes a lot of time, and it takes longer to find those people I can really relax and be myself with. When I find people I can relax and be myself with, vulnerability seems to come naturally.

When you were in therapy were you able to be vulnerable with your therapist? If so it might be worth it to seek out therapy just to have someone to talk to. This is assuming that you feel a need to express vulnerability and don't have anyone in your life you can comfortably share that with right now.

Vulnerability can also mean sharing happiness or hope or ideas or even appreciation and admiration. Since receiving kindness makes you anxious, it might be easier to start with those revelations.

Journaling allows you to express vulnerable feelings in a safe space. If you're not already doing that, you might give it a try. Other arts can do this too.

Respect boundaries. One time I started to confide in someone I'd been spending a lot of time with socially but hadn't developed a deeper emotional connection that I'd been depressed for a while. She immediately changed the subject, and I didn't take offense. I realized that for whatever reason she just wasn't able to hear me and dropped it.
posted by bunderful at 7:24 AM on December 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I gather from your question that one objective is to form closer friendships with people who are colleagues or acquaintances now, and that you're finding that progression to be awkward and uncomfortable. (I do too but it's wonderful when it works out.) In this context, your vulnerability should be focused on certain topics where you perceive a shared delight. After bonding for a while over sports teams (I.e.) you could describe a difficult situation you're experiencing but say straight out that you need a sympathetic ear only, no problem fixing. If this is what you want to explore, I'm happy to discuss further here or via MeMail.

You also mention therapeutic approaches, and the dynamics of vulnerability there are flipped there: you have no personal relationship with your therapist but you need to share your innermost self. Group sessions can be beneficial in that you can observe other people's approaches and engage at a lighter level with several people. However, if your priority is building 1:1 relationships, you'll want to keep up private sessions with a therapist towards this specific goal as a supplement.
posted by SakuraK at 1:16 AM on December 26, 2016

Are you comfortable providing some examples of the kind of help you're uncomfortable receiving?
Accepting help can be difficult, but sometimes it's due to a good instinct for spotting bad help. Distinguishing the two can help you focus on accepting just the good stuff.
posted by yorick at 3:19 PM on December 26, 2016

I wonder if the word 'vulnerable' is associated with being defenseless, as if the way to be in relationship is to wholly give up your own boundaries and defenses. The truth is more along the lines of building trust. You give someone a little trust and if they respect and take care with that trust, then there's room to build more, a step at a time. All relationships negotiate like this constantly.
So being vulnerable kind of sucks until you trust someone. So learn to trust a little with small, inconsequential things and over time that can grow into a lot of trust and mutual support if both people keep being trustworthy.
posted by diode at 5:30 PM on December 26, 2016

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