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Fear of Emotional Vulnerability

There are reasons why you might fear emotional vulnerability. Perhaps you have experienced rejection, betrayal or hurt in the past. Or, maybe, you have been taught to believe that vulnerability is a weakness. However, the truth is that vulnerability is a strength because it takes courage to show your true self to others.


Facing the fear of vulnerability can be challenging but can lead to greater emotional freedom and a deeper connection with other people. Learning to be vulnerable involves knowing and loving yourself first, then sharing yourself openly and honestly with others.



Fear of emotional vulnerability can lead to a lack of self-awareness. When you fear your vulnerability, you will avoid looking inward. This can prevent you from understanding yourself deeply and limit your ability to grow and change.


When you fear emotional exposure, you might also struggle to open up to others. This can cause a lack of emotional intimacy in your relationships, leading to feelings of depression, loneliness and isolation.


Benefits of Emotional Exposure

Many of us only share the parts of ourselves that we want others to see. In this way, we are less likely to get ridiculed, teased, bullied, betrayed or rejected. However, when you armour against feeling your vulnerable emotions, you will prevent yourself from connecting to your rich inner life.



Most people only pay attention to their inner lives when their emotions intensify to unbearable levels. This is because more subtle emotions can be more difficult to identify. Yet, if you check inside yourself, there will be all kinds of emotional nuances you habitually ignore.


Many of us hide our emotional nuances from our awareness, and so we continuously self-reject without knowing it. We learned early that expressing our emotions has negative consequences, or perhaps we think we will become stronger if we override our vulnerability. In either case, if we do not touch into our emotional vulnerability every day, our emotions accumulate, eventually becoming unbearably painful.



Emotional exposure with a trusted other is a gesture of connection. In its balanced form, you would first acknowledge your feelings to yourself and then let others in on what you’re experiencing. If you’re sad, for example, you can acknowledge it first inside yourself and then let someone else know.


This doesn’t mean there are no risks when sharing vulnerability with others. People can and will let you down. Yet, if you listen to and stand by your emotions every day, your self-acceptance will make you less vulnerable to insensitivity and rejection from others.


The Risks of Misattunement

Any time you talk to someone about how you feel, you risk them being dismissive, misattuned or overly defensive. This is what makes sharing emotions scary, so you might want to become accustomed to becoming emotionally attuned to yourself first. See Morning Pages Journaling.


When our needs go unmet as children, we often do not have enough access to our emotions as adults. When our caregivers did not meet our emotional needs when we were little, as adults, we tend to look to other adults to fill in those gaps.



Daily self-attunement is at the center of secure attachment—with yourself. Attuning to yourself is an ongoing inner inquiry into what you are feeling, thinking, experiencing, and needing. See Focusing Journaling Process. When you practice daily self-attunement, you can make sense of your various emotional states and physiologically self-soothe.


When you are ready to share your vulnerable emotions with others, you might want to proceed cautiously and make sure you trust the person you are talking to. You also want to manage your expectations. It is common to envision an ideal outcome when you share yourself with someone else, especially if you are not emotionally connected to yourself first.


When you do share, expectations might not be met, especially if you cautiously under-share so that the other person may not be able to understand you. If you over-share, on the other hand, out of a need to "get it all out," you might get a "vulnerability hangover" and vow never to expose your emotions again.


If there is a misattunement when you under-share or over-share, try again with someone else. Being emotionally vulnerable in a balanced and discerning way has benefits. Emotional exposure can create connection and a sense of love and belonging.


We all need to know that we’re worthy of love and belonging for who we are. Yet, there is no way to feel love and belonging without first letting others know how you feel. Through trial and error, when you let someone in, they might be able to understand how you feel. This will help you to feel seen and heard.



Signs That You Fear Emotional Vulnerability

  • You struggle with feelings of shame or embarrassment

  • You fear that if others knew you, they would not like you

  • You are out of touch with your emotional needs until you irrationally explode, or you shut down with emotional overwhelm

  • You tend to be defensive or guarded with others

  • You avoid opening up to others or sharing your emotions

  • You have a difficult time trusting others

  • You tend to keep people at a distance, even those who are close to you

  • You feel uncomfortable with intimacy or physical touch

Embracing Self-Acceptance

One of the most important things you can do to overcome your fear of emotional vulnerability is to practice accepting yourself. This means learning to love and appreciate yourself for who you really are. Accepting yourself will make you less afraid of what others might think of you.



To embrace self-acceptance, treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer a dear friend. Challenge all self-rejection and doubt all your critical inner voices. Practice loving yourself as profoundly as possible in your most self-rejected aspects of self.


Fear of emotional intimacy is rooted in shame. It is important to understand that we don't feel shame unless we have been shamed for our emotional needs. In addition to obviously shaming messages, any emotional disconnection, dismissal, or neglect can easily produce shame in childhood.


To heal shame, you will need to go back to the original shaming in your childhood or teenage years and understand what happened so that you can self-repair. Seek to uncover who, when, where, how, and why others emotionally rejected you in the past and look for similar patterns of self-rejection inside yourself.


Once you stop perpetuating the original rejection through your own patterns of self-rejection, you will not have to remain so guarded amongst other people. Shame about your most vulnerable emotions will often bring up tremendous fear of being hurt again, so it is imperative to become intimately kind and self-soothing with your fear. Tracking your body's fear will help you discover the vulnerable emotions underneath.


With love,

Shelley

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