Vulnerability Hangovers

Vulnerability Hangovers

by Jennifer Johnson

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a shame and vulnerability workshop. While there, a woman a couple rows behind me put into words a concept that I think we have all experienced but do not have a name for. Have you ever openly shared personal information with someone but then afterwards felt very vulnerable and flawed and wished that you could take back what you said or hide? This woman called this feeling a “vulnerability hangover.” Although she did not come up with this idea, I wish I knew her name so I could give her credit for expanding my world with this new phrase.

This phrase actually comes from Brené Brown, a renowned researcher on the topic of shame. Shame is essentially the belief that we are flawed and would be rejected by others if they really knew us. It is the belief that we are unlovable. These faulty beliefs are the reason that we have such a difficult time letting ourselves be vulnerable. A “vulnerability hangover” is the result of experiencing shame over what we have recently shared with someone.

Although I always think of feeling vulnerable as a necessary evil, the presenter at the workshop I attended pointed out that vulnerability is not actually good or bad. It is just a necessary prerequisite to creating connections with others. From my personal experiences I know that it is a lot more comfortable to go throughout life without making myself vulnerable. However, with this approach, we also miss out on the meaning that life and relationships with others have to offer.

As I have recently started seriously dating someone, I have experienced several “vulnerability hangovers.” My gut reaction when I have these feelings is to withdraw, to pull away from the relationship. However, doing this will weaken, rather than strengthen the relationship we are trying to build. A better solution (learned at the workshop I attended) is a lot of self-care and then turning to this trusted person again. I have found it helpful to try to be kind to myself, reminding myself that I am not as bad as I sometimes think, and telling myself how proud I am that I was brave in sharing openly. In addition, as I engage in building my relationship instead of running away, again letting myself be vulnerable, I have found that my sense of connection with my significant other has deepened. A little risk and the subsequent discomfort opens the door for deeper connection.

As Brené Brown said, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Obviously, choosing to be vulnerable does not mean that we need to tell every person we encounter all the intricacies of our lives. However, when we choose to be vulnerable with those we trust and are closest to, we will find that our courage yields meaningful experiences and relationships. It is scary, but that is the kind of life I would like to have. Who is with me?

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