The Power of Vulnerability in Building Strong Relationships

The Power of Vulnerability in Building Strong Relationships
February 28, 2023

Most of us have a deeply ingrained desire for connection and a sense of belonging. In order to cultivate, and maintain strong, healthy relationships, we must first be willing to be vulnerable with others – a task significantly easier said than done. Forming close relationships requires a certain level of vulnerability; when we are vulnerable with others, we expose our innermost thoughts and feelings, and we make ourselves emotionally open and available to others. For some, this is trivial in nature, but for many others, it can be overwhelming as it means taking a risk and opening ourselves up to potential rejection. Despite emotional vulnerability being a daunting and scary subject for many, it is an indispensable building block to fostering intimacy and trust within our relationships. When we are vulnerable with others, we invite ourselves to be seen as we truly are, flaws and all creating a sense of authenticity and honesty in relationships, which deepens trust. Having a trustworthy support system makes us feel safe and secure, which is vital to our overall well-being.

Conversely, when we are not willing to be vulnerable with others (within the realm of therapy we often refer to this as being guarded), we may keep our genuine emotions and thoughts hidden. While this removes the risk of being rejected for our authentic selves, it can create a sense of distance and disconnection in our relationships. When we feel too distant and disconnected from the world it profoundly contributes to feelings of loneliness, and isolation, frequently contributing greatly to one’s depression.

What exactly is vulnerability and why is it important?

If we look at the various definitions of vulnerability, we often see the words ‘attack,’ ‘wounded,’ ‘exposed,’ ‘harmed,’ ‘hurt,’ etc. Vulnerability is the act of bearing our intimate thoughts and feelings, even when we are concerned about how others may react. It involves being open and honest about our fears, hopes, and dreams, as well as our struggles and imperfections. When we are willing to be vulnerable with others, it shows that we trust them and value their opinion. It also helps to create a sense of intimacy and connection that is difficult to achieve in any other way. Vulnerability can also help us to break down walls and create deeper, more meaningful relationships. When we are willing to be open and honest about our struggles, it can help others to feel more comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities with us. This, in turn, can lead to a stronger sense of connection and a deeper understanding of one another.

So why do some people struggle with being emotionally vulnerable? We all learn from our past, and we implement the lessons we take from those lessons into the future with us. As humans this is deeply ingrained in our nature, as well as our social conditioning since the day we’re born – a child learns not to touch something hot, either by believing in others when told not to touch something hot, or when they get burned. For the most part, these lessons are positive and contribute to character growth and development; however, especially harmful events can be maladaptive in nature. For much of our, we conceptualize our relationships, these foundational beliefs begin in early childhood and are strengthened into our adult lives – leading to a brief look at attachment styles.

Understanding the relationship between attachment styles and emotional vulnerability.

Attachment styles are patterns of behavior that we develop in childhood in response to the way we were cared for by our caregivers. These patterns can impact the way we form and maintain relationships throughout our lives. There are four primary attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

  • Securely attached individuals can be vulnerable and form close relationships with others. They are comfortable expressing their emotions and sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings.
  • Anxiously attached individuals may struggle with vulnerability, fearing rejection and abandonment. They may have a strong desire for intimacy but be hesitant to reveal their true selves.
  • Avoidantly attached individuals may also struggle with vulnerability, but for different reasons. They may view vulnerability as a weakness and prefer hiding their emotions.
  • Disorganized attachment is characterized by a lack of coherence and inconsistency in behavior and affect. This attachment style may result from experiencing traumatic or abusive experiences in childhood.

Developing an understanding of our attachment style is an important first step in building healthy relationships and improving emotional vulnerability. Therapy can be valuable for working through attachment issues and working towards more secure attachment styles, exploring our past experiences and how they may be impacting our present relationships. In therapy, we often navigate this by assessing the negative patterns of behavior or thought that may be preventing the formation of healthy relationships. When there is a basic understanding, work begins on developing strategies for building stronger connections with others.

Overall, building a secure attachment and improving emotional vulnerability requires a willingness to be open and honest with ourselves, as well as others. It involves a commitment to authentically assessing our own beliefs and accepting them for what they are, and working to build stronger, healthier relationships based on trust, communication, and emotional vulnerability.

How can we cultivate vulnerability?

Cultivating emotional vulnerability can be a challenging and seemingly impossible task, particularly if we have experienced trauma, rejection, or feelings of loneliness. However, with practice and patience, building a greater sense of emotional vulnerability and openness in our relationships is possible. Below are some methods which are commonly discussed in therapy that often contribute to navigating relationships.

  • Practice self-awareness: Become more aware of your own emotions and how you respond to them. This can help you to become more comfortable with vulnerability and sharing your feelings with others.
  • Take small risks: Start by sharing small details about your life with others. This can help to build trust and create a sense of connection over time. Radically Open Dialectical Therapy (RODBT) –, there are models that outline methods on how to implement “low-risk intimacy building exercises” in order to minimize negative outcomes. The link below is a pdf outlining this model and a worksheet

  • Practice active listening: Make an effort to truly listen to what others are saying and respond with empathy and compassion. This can help to build trust and create a safe space for vulnerability.
  • Acceptance through mindfulness: For so many, it is extremely difficult to simply allow ourselves to be human and go through our lives with our past mistakes. Mindfulness allows us to be more accepting of our beliefs and actions without attaching negative perspectives. We are all human and we learn and grow consistently, and practicing self-acceptance and forgiveness is so incredibly important to moving past negative times in our lives.

Our experiences are unique, and while exploring these can be daunting; however, we should also allow ourselves to celebrate our successes regardless of how small they may appear to ourselves or others. The steps we take are subjective in their size, and any progress is growth. Remember that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength that requires courage and self-awareness. With time and practice, anyone can develop the skills to be more emotionally vulnerable and create more fulfilling relationships. If you have found yourself either having difficulty navigating the dynamics of relationships or emotional vulnerability or want to explore your attachment styles, I invite you to contact us today to begin your journey in exploring these subjects and begin your therapeutic journey.

Jasmine Ontiveros