The Irrational Fear of Vulnerability

Irrational fear of vulnerability

If you want to free yourself from the past so you can fully move forward into the future, come to terms with vulnerability. Discuss your fears and insecurities with the world.

Or at least with a friend.

Growing comfortable expressing yourself with vulnerability, with full authenticity, will open an entire world of possibility that you never thought imaginable.

The idea is that when you express the fears and insecurities you have held onto for so long, it almost acts as a release valve in your mind. No longer will you have pent up pain, anger, or frustration. No longer will you feel trapped in certain aspects of your life. No longer will you be fearful of being a fully authentic version of yourself. Like an accident on the highway, you have to clean up the roadways in your mind before the traffic of your thoughts can resume moving smoothly.

What I’m going to tell you today is the greatest piece of truth you will ever need to hear. I know this for a fact, because it has helped me in recent weeks clear my own mental traffic jam. While I have no doubt the thoughts in this post will set you free, if acted upon, it will also serve as a catalyst for you to help set others free as well.

Where is the danger in vulnerability?

For 29 years, I have kept hidden from the world a very painful, very real part of my life. In recent weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in the deep end of the vulnerability pool, breaking down the walls in my own mind about the “dangers” of publishing an essay on this most profound aspect of my life.

Only recently have I begun to discuss it outwardly with people besides my family. It’s something I’ve held so close to the vest for so long that I haven’t talked about it even with my closest friends. But why is that? What is it in my mind that has kept me quiet for so long? Is it fear? Is it pride? Is it some sort of perceived danger?

To illustrate how difficult it has been to get three decades of pent up feelings into one essay, I’ll tell you a little about my writing process. Normally when writing an essay, I can pump out 2,000 words in just a few hours. The thoughts come to me like a surging river. But for my upcoming essay, the vulnerability and deep personal aspects of the topic made it excruciatingly difficult to put words into coherent sentences. Thoughts came to be with the scarcity of searching for water in a dried-up riverbed.

After almost three weeks, patching together maybe 200 words per day, I finally have a piece of writing ready to publish this coming Saturday. But the experience made me think a lot about the subtle, unconscious forces at play when addressing such an ingrained pain point. These forces can be a result of our minds perceiving danger, whether real or not, and can reveal themselves in difficulty communicating, difficulty expressing emotions, and could even lead to serious cognitive consequences if not dealt with appropriately.

For me, I believe that sitting down to directly address this pain point, day after day, has required me to focus on two primary factors that could be slowing me down, and hampering me in other areas of my life: lack of self-compassion, and my irrational fear of vulnerability.

Self-Compassion

When I interact with people, I typically treat them with respect and do my best to understand them in a deeper way. I give them the benefit of the doubt. If they’re having a hard time with an aspect of their life, I try my best to help them up. If they are feeling down about what they are doing, how they look or how they come across to others, I do my best to encourage them. So why don’t I act with the same sympathy and compassion towards myself?

While watching a recent video of myself discussing the difficulties of self-expression on personal matters, I had a realization. Not a realization regarding my confrontation with fear. Not a realization regarding anything I am doing, writing, or building. But a realization so sharp, so piercing, so powerful, and so simple: “I need to give myself a break.”

What I mean is that I need to stop being so hard on myself. I need to have more compassion for myself. When I watch myself on video, I tend to think “my voice sounds weird,” or “I look strange.” I would never say that to someone else, so why do I say it to myself?! At every turn, it has become a habit to talk down to myself, talk myself out of things, and tell myself I’m not good enough. Where I see ugliness in myself, others see beauty. When I see imperfection in what I’m doing, others see perfection in my efforts. Where I see negativity in my mind, others see positivity.

In recent weeks, I’ve taken a step back. As an observer of myself, I have begun to understand that most often, I am the one limiting myself. I am the one not giving myself a chance. And it’s only when I can push through with self-compassion and self-belief that I can make an impact in this world.

By “giving myself a break,” I will allow myself freedom of expression with no limits. It is certainly not an overnight process, but limiting negative self-talk has allowed me the freedom to simply take action.

Confronting the fear of vulnerability

When you hold something in from the world for almost three decades, there is an accumulation of things that only serve to constrain the way your mind works. These unconscious mental blocks, these fears, and these insecurities build up and calcify in your mind, clogging up its natural flow.

What results are deep, subconscious insecurities and fears that the conscious brain isn’t always able to control. Left unchecked, your unconscious brain begins irrationally making up stories as to why you cannot or should not do something. And without challenging those stories, you begin to believe them, leading to inaction.

Our brains are evolved from those of our ancient ancestors, who were always on the lookout for tigers and lions waiting to eat them. We have grown acutely aware of possible danger in every area of our lives. On one hand this has allowed us to survive and thrive on earth. On the other hand, because we no longer live in such an environment, our brains still operate in survival mode even if it is only putting words on paper or hitting “publish” when it’s time to share them with the world. 

To address this problem, I’ve been exploring the method of “fear-setting.” This is a simple, 20-minute process that, once done, can show you that the danger you perceive in writing vulnerably or in public speaking isn’t actually going to kill you like a tiger in the Savanna. 

Instead of believing everything you think, apply the following questions when facing doubt or a fear-inducing situation:

  • What’s the worst that can happen? What’s so bad about that?
    • So what?…So what?…So what?
    • What does that mean about you?
    • What’s so bad about that?
    • So what?…So what?…So what?
  • How can you stop those things from happening?
  • If the worst happens, how do you repair it?
  • What’s the cost of inaction?
  • What are the benefits of action?
  • Is there proof from your past that you can, in fact, take the above steps?

Confronting the irrational fear of vulnerability in such a direct way is like unclogging a toilet after many years. Forgive my language, but the moment you decide to confront your fears, all that shit built up in your mind will eventually clear.

Setting myself free

While this may have seemed like just a stream-of-consciousness rumination on my own difficulties with vulnerability, I want this to serve as an example of how you can approach your own irrational fears of vulnerability.

Realize that telling your story–your unique perspective, is something people want you to do. They want to hear an honest, authentic version of you—not the perpetuation of a façade. When people see your scars and your scrapes and your imperfections, they instantly resonate with you. In putting your truth out there, others become comfortable in being open with theirs.

So when I hit publish on Saturday morning, telling my story to the world, it will be the most significant, most meaningful milestone—more than anything I’ve done or accomplished in my entire life. I say that because it will have set me free from my heaviest mental burden, in a way that no achievement or bullet-point on a resume could.

I will be free to be the most complete version of myself. Because if I can destroy the walls of the self-imposed box I’ve been living in for 29 years, if I can somehow become comfortable and open with the deepest pain in my life, then there is nothing in this world that will stop me from achieving what I’ve been put on this earth to do.

In the perceived “danger” of expressing your innermost feelings and insecurities, realize that it is actually immense power.

In vulnerability there is fear, undoubtedly.

But in expressing that vulnerability, there is magnificent freedom.

If you want to free yourself from the past so you can fully move forward into the future, discuss your fears and insecurities with the world.

Or at least with a friend.

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