Take a moment to think back to your carefree college years and all the funny beliefs you might have had about dorm life, frat parties, and drinking. You likely remember the age-old saying “don’t break the seal” and the memories of your friends reminding you not to pee if you have been drinking beer because then you would be in the bathroom the rest of the night.
Fast forward to now and that belief can still show up other ways in our lives, feeling that we have to be all or nothing when it comes to everything from diet to exercise to even vulnerability. While the analogy might seem like a bit of a stretch, so often we want to live in a black and white world in which we have control over how we show up and how we are perceived. In our work with clients at Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we see the tendency to believe that being open and vulnerable is like breaking the seal, and fear the potential judgment, loss of control, or shame that could arise if you start to share emotions, stories, and feelings. In this post, we’ll dive more into this dynamic and outline how authentic vulnerability unfolds, and why you don’t have to fear “breaking the seal.”
Fear of Vulnerability
There is often a fear or hesitation to fully open up in a relationship, especially in the early phases. This might be due to your attachment type, your dating history, or simply the stories you tell yourself about how your partner will respond. There is likely a fear that once you open up that everything will come out and it will feel overwhelming to both you and your partner. You may fear looking silly, scaring them off, not being able to control your emotions, or completely turning them off. Ironically, keeping distance emotionally can also prevent the relationship from moving to the next level just as much as holding back can.
Shifting Your Mindset
Instead of focusing on what could go wrong as you open up, work on knowing that you can take it at your own pace and share bit by bit. Vulnerability unfolds more naturally in this way, and you can start by sharing things that you may more often share with close family and friends, knowing that you have practiced those stories and received responses to them already. As you do that, you can assess how you feel, how your partner responds, and even ask how it feels to your partner. As you slowly get more comfortable sharing your emotions and feelings, you can sense how it is shifting your relationship. You’ll stop overthinking about what to say and how it may be received. Usually, vulnerability will deepen and strengthen your relationship, as scary as it might feel to test it.
If you have an urge to share everything right away, notice whether you are using this as a tactic to subconsciously test to see if your partner will stay. Oftentimes, we believe that others will leave if they see us in our entirety. Instead of using vulnerability to test the waters, use it to develop and invite closeness. Take one opportunity each day to communicate your feelings as well as you can and take it slow as you build trust and connection. This will also test the waters, but in a more reasonable and manageable way for you both.
Brene Brown is a great thought leader and researcher in vulnerability. She reminds us that “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage.” A relationship without vulnerability isn’t one that is likely to last. Therefore, opening up about your fears, past, doubts, and self-limiting beliefs - and encouraging the same from your partner - will only root your relationship in greater courage, honesty, and strength.
While vulnerability is a risk, it’s also necessary for authentic connection. At Center for Shared Insight, we help clients understand how to bravely identify and share what they are feeling, their past pain, and what they need in relationships and beyond. This often starts with more deeply understanding yourself and creating an authentic narrative around why you feel the way you do. That exploratory work takes time and courage, and our team can help guide you through it, ultimately resulting in stronger relationships with others and yourself.