I’m not sure anyone ever gets really good at vulnerability.
I watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special last summer. Brene is like the shame and vulnerability guru of the last decade and even she shared a story of a time when she resisted vulnerability recently with her husband. And she’s supposed to be the expert!
While vulnerability is the path to true connection, we have a lot of reasons why we don’t walk it.
Those reasons often include negative past experiences, a lack of trustworthy people, and fear of rejection. We often get caught up in our own list of reasons, focusing on what we need from others in order to be able to open up and share vulnerably.
So if you’re saying, “Scott, I’d love to be vulnerable. Once I get over these fears…once I forgive the people who rejected me before when I was vulnerable…and once I find some trustworthy people. I’ll get back to you on that!”
But, while you do all of that, what if you shifted your focus?
What if instead of focusing on who or what is not in your life that is keeping you from being vulnerable…
What if YOU focused on being the kind of friend others need so THEY can be vulnerable with you?
If you’re wondering what that might look like, here’s three places you could start.
1. Connect before you correct.
We all enjoy being right. Often, when someone opens up and shares, our knee-jerk response is to correct something they have wrong or help them get a fuller understanding that they lack. However, when we correct before we connect, we shut the other person down.
Connect before you correct. Make sure the person feels heard. Communicate that you empathize with their feelings. Once you’ve established a meaningful connection, then open the door and ask for permission to share or “correct.”
Your first response to someone’s vulnerability will determine if the walls stay down or if they go right back up!
2. Keep a confidence.
This should be a no-brainer. But, we’ve all shared something vulnerable and sensitive only to have it shared widely and indiscriminately. Like you, I’ve battled insecurity. I’m not proud to admit that during some more insecure periods in my life, I traded what certain people shared with me in confidence for the approval of people I desperately wanted to like me. I lost that trust very fast.
So, if you want other people to hold what you share vulnerably in confidence, then do the same when you get an opportunity. With modern technology and social media, it may seem like there are no secrets anymore.
Without safety, the people around us will avoid vulnerability.
Be the safe space for others that you want them to be for you.
3. Don’t assume you know what other people need.
We’ve all heard the old saying about what assuming does.
Too often, we assume we know what people need when they share vulnerably with us. If we aren’t arrogant enough to assume we know what they need, we’re insecure and so we guess out of fear that not knowing makes us look bad.
When someone shares about a struggle or weakness in a vulnerable way, affirm them for their courage and thank them for trusting you with it. Then, ask “what do you need? What would be helpful? It’s a myth that the smartest people have all the answers. No, the smartest people ask the best questions.
And the most caring people are the most curious.
While You Wait…
I know the difficulty of waiting for friendships to develop where you can enjoy ongoing vulnerability and deep connection. In the waiting, it’s easy to give up or become so absorbed in your own unmet needs that you neglect the needs of others.
My friend Hank once challenged me about what to do when I lacked clarity about my future. “If you don’t know your purpose in life, then find someone who does and help them achieve theirs. In the process, you’ll probably find yours. If not, you’ll get prepared to seize the moment when you do.”
I’ve tried to apply Hank’s wisdom (and really the wisdom of Jesus) to this challenge. Be the kind of friend you need someone else to be. Receive the vulnerability of others in the way you want to be received.
And don’t be surprised if eventually you don’t build the kind of relationships where what you’re giving is reciprocated.