Nobody wants to feel vulnerable. But everybody needs to. Here's why

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re at school or work, and suddenly you look down and realise you’re completely naked? That sensation of feeling exposed has been a constant for me since I started this blog, and I’m starting to realise that that’s a good thing.
Woman in front of wall of paparazzi

Renowned vulnerability and shame researcher Brene Brown talks about a ‘vulnerability hangover’ – that stomach-churning feeling of dread that occurs when you’ve revealed more of your true self than you have before, and now you feel emotionally exposed, ashamed and probably full of self-loathing. You’ve shattered the façade of coolness and competency, revealed your authentic self, and in doing so have put yourself up for judgment and potential ridicule.

Perhaps you texted someone asking if theyd like to go on a date, and they haven’t replied. Maybe you told your workmates about your battle with post-natal depression and they hurriedly changed the subject. Perhaps you started a blog where you outlined your deepest fears, your slightly left-of-field spiritual beliefs and all the things that make you different. (Um, hello!)

I think you can see where I’m going with this. 

Depending on the type of content, I get a massive vulnerability hangover almost every time I post on this blog, and it can last for days. I've penned some very personal stories in this space, and in one instance, the exposure factor made me felt so yucky that I could not bear to publish that post for two days. Eventually I did, because I knew that would help me destabilise my fears… but I can’t tell you how sick I felt about it. 

There aren’t enough hash browns in all of McDonald’s to ease a vulnerability hangover.

Brene Brown has dedicated her academic career to teaching us why allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is an act of strength, not of weakness, and it can transform the human experience. She is incredible – seriously, if you see only one TED talk in your lifetime, make it this one... there’s a good reason it’s one of the most viewed talks on the channel. Brene writes that being encased in a self-protective shell hampers the extent to which we can grow and fully experience life – the way we love, belong, trust, feel joy and express creativity, etc – in all its uncertain glory.

Being vulnerable is not, by the way, the same as revealing details about yourself in a bid to get attention or sympathy. Celebrities are not making themselves vulnerable when they post nude pictures or TMI details about their health; they are only revealing the extent of their low self-esteem and need for validation.

Back to my own vulnerability hangover. I am happy to report that, so far, I have lost no friends as a result of making myself vulnerable on this blog, and I am not aware of anyone slagging me off (although I can’t rule it out).
Woman clutching her knees

Actually, some wonderful things have happened. I am more (quietly) confident and more self-assured. I am less controlling of my own and other people’s behaviours, less afraid of judgment, less afraid of isolation, and less afraid of all the one thousand and one things that could go wrong at any given moment. I don't think that is solely due to the blog; I've been doing a lot of work on improving my low self-esteem and I'm sure that has been a major contributor. But being vulnerable, I am realising, is an essential part of growth, and by doing so I have strengthened my relationship with myself. By forcing out of the shadows the sense of shame that I had held at my core, I am seeing myself in a more compassionate, more accepting light. I feel like I am starting to become the person I was supposed to be all along but had not felt safe enough to let myself be. 

It has also transformed my relationships with others. In the process of opening myself up and revealing unflattering details about myself, I have forged deeper connections with people already in my life, and established common ground with strangers. And in that process, many of these people have revealed the rawness of their humanity to me, too. People’s pain. People’s insecurities. People’s fragility. I am seeing old friends in a brave new light. I have once again been reminded that though we are different, we really are all the same.

None of this was the purpose of my blog, but it is a better outcome than I could have expected.

There’s a sentence by lyrical US writer Andrew Solomon that I scrawled in the front page of my diary at the start of this year and I come back to it every time I need to be reminded of my inherent value. It’s the closest thing to a life motto I have. It reads: “If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.”

Through this blog I am making my world a better place. I can't help you or anyone else make your own world better  that job belongs to you  but if me writing about my journey of personal growth prompts you to ask yourself new and pressing questions about what you stand for, where you are going and how you might be keeping yourself hidden, my ongoing vulnerability hangover might *just* have been worth it.

It still feels yucky though.