How can I open myself up to vulnerability when I’m scared of getting hurt?
How do I deal with my deep-seated fear of getting (emotionally) hurt? I’ve noticed that I don’t allow myself to be vulnerable, or to really feel all of my feelings to their full extent, which I’m sure isn’t healthy.
A few years ago, I had a falling out with a very close friend. We’d grown up together and stayed in touch throughout college. We were at each other’s weddings. Even as adults, we made frequent and intentional trips to visit one another despite living in different states. Then one day our relationship ended.
In hindsight, I missed numerous red flags that should have been indicators that our relationship wasn’t going to last. Nonetheless, it was a painful friend breakup, especially because we had been incredibly vulnerable with one another throughout our years of friendship.
To say I was crushed when the relationship ended would be an understatement. Not only did I lose a close friend, but I also felt incredibly exposed and vulnerable. The wound was raw for a long time, and it caused me to feel very jaded in all of my other friendships. For years after, I noticed myself acting cautious and reserved, carefully choosing what I shared, and working tirelessly to maintain emotional power within relationships.
But eventually, I had to come to terms with my feelings and my hurt. While it was easier to keep people at arm’s length and avoid experiencing my emotions, this came at a great cost. Many of my relationships became surface-level, and I also began having a surface-level relationship with myself. As you mentioned in your question, I wasn’t allowing myself to experience the full extent of my feelings—mostly because I was afraid of dealing with the hurt.
The truth though is that people will hurt us in life, just like we will hurt other people. This is the reality of relationships and of being human. The question, then, is what to do with this knowledge. Do we avoid relationships and experiences that require vulnerability? Or do we show up anyway, choosing to believe the reward outweighs the potential for getting hurt?
While I can’t promise you that you won’t experience pain in vulnerability, I can promise that choosing vulnerability (with others and with yourself) is worth it. For all of the times I have been hurt, I’ve experienced joy, intimacy, and deep connection much more often. Best yet, choosing vulnerability allows for love. I love myself so much more when I choose to experience my (many) emotions and feelings, no matter how challenging they are.
So start small. You don’t have to open yourself all the way at first. It’s not about being open or closed, but rather taking small steps in progression. I like to picture it like a rope that I can feed and tow as I feel comfortable. Some days, I feel brave and feed out a lot of rope; other days, I need to tow a tight line. This is okay. Being vulnerable with someone and opening ourselves up to all of our feelings is an ongoing process. Baby steps are perfectly fine.
I’ll end with this: I’m a pretty big believer that life requires a lot of courage and showing up. This can be hard and cost us a lot if we focus only on the things we lose. But we can’t let the fear of being vulnerable keep us from living our lives. Life is too short and sweet. And in the words of Brené Brown, our vulnerability queen, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
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Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.