Feeling Vulnerable Vs Being Vulnerable

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vulnerable as ‘capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.’ Understandably, many of us work hard to avoid feeling vulnerable. Why would you want to leave yourself open to being wounded or attacked?

Woman touching window with finger raining outside

You will choose to make yourself vulnerable if you believe that the rewards are worth it. Emotional vulnerability is an essential part of intimacy and feeling truly loved. We all have ways we reflexively protect ourselves from emotional hurt. For example, you might be smiley and pleasing (so you don’t offer any threat), or you might be stony-faced and grumpy (so you look tough and dangerous). You are hiding your deeper thoughts, feelings and desires from view so that people can’t use them to manipulate or hurt you with them. You feel vulnerable, so you act defensively.

Remember, the more important someone is to you, the easier it is for you to feel hurt by them. When a stranger ignores, rejects or attacks you, that’s bad enough; but when an Attachment figure does, the pain is so much worse. That pain causes your amygdala to see your loved one as a threat. In a committed relationship, you organise your life around an Attachment figure. A rupture in that relationship threatens not just your feelings but also your living arrangements, your financial security, and your connection with your children (if you have them).

So, when your partner is upset, insincere, grumpy, or withdrawn, you may feel very vulnerable to hurt. The instinctive response is to protect yourself. But when you put up your defenses, you sever your connection with your partner. This is an ineffective way to try to protect yourself. It destabilises the Attachment relationship, making you much more open to significant hurt in the long run.

To maintain your connection, you must accept your vulnerability to your significant other rather than fight it. Being vulnerable is part of acting with integrity. Consciously sharing what’s happening inside you does give your partner information they could use to hurt you. It’s a risk. But you are far better to take that risk and find out whether your partner can meet you and whether you can look after yourself when your partner is unavailable. Being vulnerable requires being Differentiated — knowing and showing how it is for you at the same time as being accepting of and interested in how it is for your partner. Being vulnerable also requires effective management of your neurobiology, i.e. good self-regulation. The impulse to protect yourself will arise and require managing. Remember, tolerating vulnerability is a hallmark of those who are Securely Attached. If that’s the kind of relationship you want, then make sure you are managing your vulnerability in a way that supports that goal.