“What happens when people open their hearts?” “They get better.”

― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

Imagine the opening scenes to a Hallmark movie. A festive jingle plays on a car radio, perfect snowflakes fall, and a joyous family are on their way home. What happens next? A good portion of us would automatically say an accident. But why? Why can joy never just be? Where does the tendency to forebode our own joy come from, and why do we beat our vulnerability down?

Vulnerability is the ability to expose our innermost selves, revealing our fears, doubts, insecurities, and weaknesses to others.

Renowned professor, author, and social worker Brene Brown remarks that vulnerability is often suppressed, and considered a weakness, as it is most often tied to shame, disappointment, and guilt. From a young age, we all look for a place of belonging and connection to fulfil our basic needs as individuals. We all seek a space to express or validate all our experiences in a non-judgmental and safe environment. Sometimes, we are met with the exact opposite. When a child is angry, parents would often ground them or send them to an isolated corner to reflect on their behavior. But humanity isn’t meant for isolation. Rather, some of our deepest growth comes from the connections we make within community. Leaving a child in isolation with heavy emotions gives the unconscious idea that they’re not fit to be around people when sitting with heavy emotions, yet anger is a natural response to frustration. This child would then push down their emotions, and adapt their behavior, because they have understood that expressing themselves will threaten the relationships they have. We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we push away the hard, we push away the love also.

As humans, we have an innate need to connect with others, but building deep and meaningful relationships can be challenging. One of the most vital ingredients in any successful relationship is vulnerability. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to form any genuine and healthy relationships without it. Connection forms the basis of our purpose and meaning in life, relationships, and other avenues, and connection is often strengthened by leaning into discomfort. We cannot know love without heart break or belonging without exclusion.

As daunting as it may seem, vulnerability is an essential tool for building strong relationships.

Here are a few reasons why.

  • Firstly, vulnerability allows for deeper connections. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others, we are giving them a chance to see who we truly are. This means sharing our past experiences, our struggles, our hopes, and dreams -allowing others a glimpse into our heart and soul. By opening-up to others, we give them a chance to connect with us, creating a more authentic and meaningful connection.
  • Secondly, vulnerability breeds trust. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is a sign of trust. When we show our vulnerable sides, we are saying to others that we trust them enough to let our guards down. In turn, others will be more willing to open-up to us, creating a cycle of trust that reinforces our bond.
  • Thirdly, vulnerability helps us to develop empathy. When we are vulnerable, we allow others to walk in our shoes, giving them a chance to see things from our perspective. This, in turn, helps us to develop empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is a critical tool in any relationship, helping us to connect on a deeper level and foster greater understanding.
  • Finally, vulnerability leads to growth. When we are vulnerable with others, we invite them to help us grow – whether it’s by offering advice, support or simply being there for us when we need it most. This growth is a crucial part of any healthy relationship, allowing both parties to develop and become better versions of themselves.

Connection often unravels in the face of shame, when we fear someone knowing something about us that would make us unworthy of connection in some way. What we need is simply the willingness to compassionately lean into courage in its truest sense. The original definition of courage defines the word as telling the story of who you are with your whole heart. Courage asks us to be imperfect, hereby letting go of who we should be in order to be who we are. Courage asks us to honor the ordinary, for it is in the everyday connections where we find the most joy.

In conclusion, vulnerability is the foundation upon which any genuine and healthy relationship is built. It allows us to connect on a deeper level, fosters trust and empathy, and leads to growth. Though it may be difficult, the rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable. Although tied to shame, disappointment, struggle and guilt, vulnerability is also the origin of innovation, joy, creativity, and change.  So, take a chance, and open-up to others – you might be surprised at how much closer it brings you. Let us step into our softness and become whole-hearted once more.

The Author: Vishaka Baloo (Humanitas Intern)

Here is a little bit more about her: 

“Shame dies when stories are told in safe spaces.” – Ann Voskamp

I truly believe that people have an infinite capacity to love, heal, grow, and learn through every single experience in life. My passion lies in facilitating people’s journeys towards greater fulfillment by supporting an environment which fosters genuine authenticity and acceptance. To me, acceptance is the stepping stone towards a life we know we deserve, but may not know how to access.

My name is Vishaka, I have an Honors Degree in Counselling Psychology, and am currently a student counsellor for Vita Nova Counselling. I am passionate about compassionate communication, creating safe spaces, and unpacking life into opportunity.