How to be authentic when you have a fear of being vulnerable
One of my midlife “pursuits” is to be more authentic. I want to show the world my true self. Maybe you do too. But, how do we do that when we fear being vulnerable?
We know that being authentic is important. At this age, we have probably figured out most of our core values and and want to live according to those values. Deep down, we know our fears can be overcome. Even fears of being vulnerable.
For me, just having this blog is being vulnerable. I’m sharing a lot about my own journey – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Allowing myself to be vulnerable has been a process for me, and I understand that it is actually pretty common to have a fear of being vulnerable. I’m betting that you probably have felt a form of this fear over the course of your life too.
The idea for this post came up for me when I saw something on Instagram:
Tanks Good News (@Tank.Sinatra) posted that a homeowner in Canada, when seeing that people were cutting through his property/yard, built a path, instead of a wall. It just made me smile, made me feel happy and inspired.
And it made made me think – wow this was a really vulnerable thing to do. Having people cut through his property could have made him feel violated in a way, like his privacy was being invaded. So, by allowing people to walk on through was like saying,
“I’m open to sharing my world. I’m not hiding anything.”
When I started researching material for this post, of course I found the TED Talk by Dr. Brene’ Brown – The power of vulnerability. There is so much to explore in this 20 minute video, but I would say the main point, at least for me and this post today, is that being vulnerable leads to connection with other people and that is what leads us to feeling good about ourselves and our lives.
Conversely, not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable leads to feeling disconnected to people, feeling bad about ourselves and/or our lives. It’s a way of hiding your true self.
My Own Vulnerability (or lack thereof)
I would say that for most of my life, I put up walls around myself. I didn’t open up and share my fears or the thoughts I had of being “less than.” People couldn’t know the real me because I put on a mask. I pretended to feel good about my life, my confidence, and my “ability” to handle shit. I lived life defensively. (Although I wouldn’t admit that at the time, of course!)
Some ways that I was defensive:
1. Being the bitch
When something upset me, I could easily get confrontational, and blame the other person for the situation. An example that comes to mind is being bitchy towards a person working at the gas company when I had to go pay my bill so that I could get my propane tank filled (after running out and having no heat). Instead of allowing myself to be vulnerable and just say that it is a struggle, I would get defensive and could be rather “bitchy.”
2. Putting on a “tough” exterior
Feeling insecure required me, at times, to be “tough” or show that I could handle anyone’s crap. To be honest, I never had a lot of “crap to take.” There was high school and the stupid girl competition stuff, where I can remember putting on the tough exterior (meaning wearing a jean jacket, smoking cigarettes, and listening to heavy metal music). But, otherwise, my life hasn’t been hard like some people’s lives – I’m thinking of people who regularly live with fear of physical or emotional harm for whatever reason.
3. Pretending not to give a shit
A lot of the time, I assumed things about people, like they were judging me for my choices (which I of course already felt badly about) and my go-to defense would be “I don’t care what you think.” When, in reality, I did care, I cared a lot – too much.
Why did I put on a mask and live defensively? Basically, I didn’t want to appear weak or… imperfect.
“Sometimes people mistake vulnerability for weakness, because while others build walls up to prevent anyone from coming in, you bring walls down to let yourself be free.” – Nicole Tarkoff
I had very strong feelings about showing weakness. I didn’t want to show weakness at all. I wanted to be seen as strong and independent. I always said I didn’t need anyone. I rarely asked for help with anything. I didn’t want people to know I couldn’t handle “life” myself.
Well, that was totally untrue. I mean I can handle things and I am strong and independent, but I’ve learned that needing help does not mean being weak or incapable. Opening up and telling others that you are unsure about things – decisions, desires, fears, etc. – is actually a strength, not a weakness.
And – it helps you connect with others.
Being open is welcoming. Being closed, putting up walls – well obviously – not very welcoming.
Brene’ Brown says that connection is achieved as a result of being authentic – being willing to let go of who you think you should be and just be who you are.
Being authentic and allowing others to see the real you – flaws, fears, and all – can also really help other people. That’s really my top reason for sharing my stories through this blog – to create a sense of connection among readers so that you guys know that you’re not alone and that these feelings and struggles you may be dealing with are all very common!
There is definitely comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone. It feels better knowing that you’re “normal” or there’s nothing “wrong” with you. People don’t like thinking that they are weird or abnormal – that something is wrong with them. It’s a survival instinct. It goes back to needing to be a part of the group; if you got kicked out of the group, you likely wouldn’t survive on your own.
For a long time, I was closed off to the world because I felt like something was wrong with me; that I wasn’t “normal.” I am sharing with readers like you because I want you to know that you are not alone. You CAN be yourself, be open, and live authentically, EVEN IF you happen to have a fear of being vulnerable.
How can you allow yourself to be vulnerable?
Start sharing some of your truths and start small. Depending on what is most comfortable and safe for you, this could mean sharing with a close friend or your partner. Or, it could mean sharing with someone who you feel you may have a connection with, like a coworker. It could also mean sharing online in a group, like a closed Facebook Group.
Three Tips for being more vulnerable:
- Assume that other people have the best intentions.
Just like you, other people have their own fears and sometimes that comes out negatively. However, don’t assume that other people are judging you. Remember the benefits of being open and honest. By doing so, you are possibly helping them to be more authentic as well.
- Practice meditation.
I cannot express how beneficial this has been for me. Meditation quiets your racing thoughts – thoughts that keep you ruminating on fears and insecurities. There are literally tens of thousands of free guided meditations that help with anxiety, stress, worry, and self worth. You can sort by benefit on Insight Timer. I use it daily.
- Journal your thoughts.
If you want to focus on something, it’s super helpful to set aside some time to reflect on what’s going well and just your thoughts overall. Just take a few minutes each day to write about being more vulnerable and how it feels. And, then go back at the end of a month or after a few months, and you’ll find that you have learned a lot. It will give you an opportunity to reflect on the positive effects of being more open and authentic.
Or, like the Canadian who built that path, be welcoming. Don’t hide yourself from the world. You have more to offer and share that you will ever realize!
Are there walls around you that might need to come down?
Think about why you put them up.
Know that you’re not alone.
If you feel comfortable, share some of this below in the comments, so that we can learn from and support one another while we awaken to new pursuits!
Shoot me an email if you’d rather connect that way. I’d LOVE to hear from you and chat about how you’re handling this midlife stuff!