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Coping with ‘vulnerability hangovers’

How often do you open up, get real with yourself, and express your needs to others? And how often is doing that followed by a gnawing-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling? That right there, is what Brené Brown (bestselling author and vulnerability expert) coined a ‘vulnerability hangover’.

It’s that lingering fearful feeling we get when we put ourselves out there and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with those around us. Telling your partner how you’ve been feeling recently, talking to colleagues about work difficulties, opening up to a therapist about your mental health, letting someone know they hurt your feelings - it’s all being vulnerable. And it’s something we tend to find really difficult and that’s mostly down to the uneasy feeling we get afterwards.

Is being vulnerable a bad thing?

You’d be forgiven for thinking so, considering the unpleasantness that vulnerability tends to lead to. But Brené Brown suggests that when we are vulnerable, when we are able to let ourselves be seen and heard for who we really are, we bring meaning and purpose to our lives. And it’s actually the most accurate measure of courage.

We might see it as a weakness, because when we’re vulnerable we’re more at risk of being hurt, but that shows just how courageous vulnerability is. Putting ourselves out there despite the risk of being hurt. And it’s why we get that sickening feeling after we’ve shared something personal or vulnerable, it’s the fear of how others might react.

Take talking about anxiety or stress for example. Something we all face daily, that keeps us alive, but is also highly irritating and inconvenient at the same time. Telling your boss that your workload is causing too much stress for you right now is being vulnerable. It’s allowing someone to help you, but as soon as you open your mouth you might feel silly, ashamed or worried that your boss isn’t going to think you’re as great as before and we’re filled with dread.

But actually by telling our bosses, partners, friends - whoever - when we’re struggling or finding things a bit trickier than usual is an act of courage. People can’t help us if they don’t know there’s a problem. It helps us to protect our wellbeing, and reach out for support.

It’s quite normal to feel this way after sharing honestly with others and feeling vulnerable.

Brené Brown says,

“Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have hard conversations.”

Much like a normal hangover, a vulnerability hangover probably causes some anxiety, leading to a lot of ‘what if’ thinking which tends to spiral and leaves us feeling overwhelmed and even more vulnerable. So, how do we cope with these uneasy feelings to prevent being put off by it in the first place?

  1. Allow those feelings to flow

We often find ourselves worrying about a situation when we’ve been vulnerable - when we’ve set a difficult boundary with a friend, approached an uncomfortable topic with our partner, or have an opportunity to ask for that promotion with our boss. We can become very negative, assuming the worst-case scenario will happen, our partner might leave us, our friends might not like us, our boss might laugh at us. And we might try to push those feelings away to quieten them down - spoiler alert: that doesn’t work.

Instead approach yourself with empathy and compassion, learning to be ok with difficult outcomes. What would you say to a friend who was worried about others not liking them? About a partner leaving? Their boss laughing at them? We’re quick to judge ourselves, but using empathy and compassion, being kind to ourselves helps us to accept when things don’t go as hoped or planned.

  1. Reframe your thoughts

After opening up about yourself, asking for something you need or want, you might feel a bit embarrassed. Some of that is likely because the moment we share a problem, it immediately seems like less of a problem (because we aren’t then spiralling through the worst possible scenarios in our heads), then we feel daft for saying anything at all. That feeling can quickly lead to stress or anxiety that we said or did the wrong thing.

Anxiety tends to exaggerate how we feel, making things feel like a bigger deal than they truly are, or that outcomes will be worse. You might catch yourself thinking about what ‘will’ happen, we tend to catastrophise or become definitive in our thoughts. Instead, try thinking less definitively, more possibly, such as ‘this could happen’, ‘that might not go well’, ‘it might be the best thing I ever did’.

  1. Associate discomfort with growth

Many of us are looking at our wellbeing, finding ways to improve and grow to feel better and do better. But what many of us forget, don’t know or haven’t considered, is how challenging that can be. Alright, you might know how challenging forcing yourself to move your body can be, or stick to a nourishing menu, or practise that hobby. But have you considered the challenge in growth? That growth isn’t comfortable?

Instead of trying to find a comfortable way to grow, accept that growth isn’t easy and that you’ll experience discomfort. When we know things can be tough, we might feel uneasy, but it’ll be much easier to move through it when we allow these challenges rather than fight them. If we know it’s going to be hard, we can prepare ourselves and learn to navigate through rather than avoid it entirely.

Face the fear: How many times have you encouraged someone else to go out on a limb and get what they wanted? Direct that outward encouragement to you, encourage yourself to be vulnerable. We fear what others will think, but we all love it when someone else opens up, so those around us are likely to be in awe of your bravery (even when it doesn’t feel that way immediately).




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