The fear of vulnerability is possibly one of the most common fears of all. Through my clinical experience, here are some of the ways that I have come to understand this core emotional challenge.
From opening to closing
As young children, we are open and free, sharing everything of ourselves with others. However, as we grow and mature, we learn that the world can be a very painful place.
We learn that not everyone is on our side, and that not all situations are going to work out. Over time, then, we also learn to protect ourselves.
We build walls around our hearts, we convince ourselves that we never really love that person who hurt us anyway, and we become practitioners in the art of denial.
Worse yet, we begin to believe and internalize negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves. As we seek answers to life’s hurts, we often begin to believe that we are responsible for them.
Playing Both Sides: Protecting Yourself with Destructive Behavior
Although these steps are normal and natural, they are also counterproductive.
It is important to learn from past mistakes and always strive for personal growth. However, it is equally important to learn to forgive your own mistakes.
How often are you quick to forgive someone else’s mistake, or even bad behavior, while continuing to beat yourself up for a mistake you made?
In the same way, building walls creates a safe space in which you can quickly retreat, but also blocks the flow of energy and love in both directions.
It’s easy to get caught behind your own emotional defenses, unable to give or receive both positive and negative emotions . This, in turn, makes many people feel isolated and alone.
Furthermore, the fear of vulnerability often leads people to inadvertently inflict pain on others. People with this fear often become “distancers,” using sharp methods to keep others at a distance.
Some intentionally bury themselves at work, school, or other activities. Some simply disappear at the first sign that a relationship is getting serious.
Still others perform an elaborate push-and-pull dance, luring in a potential mate only to emotionally pull away when the other person gets too close, and then luring that person back once the distance has been reestablished.
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From protecting yourself to forgiving yourself
The fear of vulnerability is ultimately a fear of rejection or abandonment. You have been hurt before, therefore you seek to minimize the risk of being hurt again.
However, the best way to minimize potential damage is not to build walls or try to act according to a self-created checklist.
Instead, the solution is counterintuitive. To combat the fear of vulnerability, you must first learn to love and accept your whole authentic self.
Loving ourselves is one of the most difficult lessons we will face. We all have flaws, imperfections, embarrassing stories, and mistakes from the past that we wish we could forget.
We are insecure, uncomfortable, and we desperately wish we could change certain things. It is human nature. But the trick is to realize that everyone feels this way.
No matter how successful, how beautiful, how perfect someone seems, he or she has the same awkwardness, insecurity, and self-doubt.
Think of the most dynamic person you know, the one who always knows what to say or do, the one who has the perfect outfit for every occasion, and the one who can juggle a baby and a briefcase while standing on the subway.
What if he or she said something silly? Would you hold a grudge against him? What if that person got mad at you? Would you find that unforgivable? Of course not. You understand that others are imperfect, that they have good days and bad days, that they have flaws and blind spots and moments of weakness. But you don’t remember them for that.
You remember his triumphs, his brilliant moments, his love and his light. So why do you treat yourself differently? Why do you punish yourself for the things that you easily and quickly forgive in others? Why do you automatically assume that others will judge you harsher than you judge them?
How to love yourself
To learn to love yourself, start by recognizing yourself as a complete human being, with flaws, imperfections, and all. Possessing and accepting the mistakes of the past, but realizing that they do not define your present or your future.
Apologize to anyone you feel you have done wrong, and then move on. Forgive yourself. Moving on, try to live by a few simple truths:
You Are Important: Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the simple fact that you exist has a ripple effect beyond belief. You may never really know what lives you have touched, and what the repercussions may be, but they are there at the same time.
Embrace your dark side: Not only do your mistakes make you human, but they give you a wealth of experiences that you can draw upon when helping others. Using your past for good is one of the strongest ways to connect with your whole being.
Stop trying to prove your worth: Human beings, especially those with a fear of vulnerability, are always trying to show how valuable we are. We worry that if we don’t earn a living in some way, people will stop caring about us. Invariably, we get exactly what we are unconsciously asking for:
A series of people interested in what we can give instead of what we are. To turn this around, offer her the most precious gift of all – yourself – rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
That does not mean that you should stop doing kindness for others, but rather that you should make offerings based on love rather than fear or self-judgment.
Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.