In a society that has taught us to keep our guard up, most people cringe at the word “vulnerability.” Being vulnerable is associated with the risk of being viewed as weak, needy, and emotionally exposed—directly contrasting the culture of heartlessness that is commonly boasted about on social media. Let’s admit it: we’ve all been afraid to express how we truly feel. Whether it be in a conversation in which you’re hesitant to voice your opinion due to the chance of offending someone, or not asking out the person you like because you fear rejection—most of us tend to bottle up our emotions rather than let them run freely.
I was this emotionally cut-off person for so long. Growing up in an immigrant family, I was taught to be strong-willed no matter what adversity came my way. Whenever I felt down, I would think about the hardships my parents dealt with that were much more difficult than mine, and immediately become insecure at the thought of letting others know how I felt. My struggles seemed insignificant compared to those around me, causing me to deal with what I felt internally.
I’ll never forget how lonely my lack of vulnerability made me feel during my first year of college. My roommate didn’t like me, I was in an unhealthy relationship that eventually led to heartbreak, school was the hardest it had ever been, and I didn’t have the cool college experience that every coming-of-age movie promised. I was going through all of these experiences that produce complex emotions, yet I found it hard to be as open and honest as I should be. I took up journaling as a way to process these emotions, but even that wasn’t enough due to the hard-wired, human need to be connected with others.
When I decided to see a therapist my perspective was changed forever. She taught me that vulnerability doesn’t mean you have to spill your heart out to everyone you meet. Instead, it embraces sharing how you feel with those you trust. Although vulnerability risks being criticized, it is the key to growth, compassion, and building relationships. Vulnerability is telling someone you love them, dancing with your friends no matter how bad at it you are, or admitting that you’re wrong. It is asking for help, holding yourself accountable, and trying something new. Although it may be uncomfortable to be genuine with others, I decided from then on that it’s even more hurtful to live a life in which I’m not heard or the best version of myself that I can be. During this stagnant, winter season I encourage whoever is reading this to show up for yourself as I did, and feel as deeply as you can. You won’t regret it.