Brené Brown’s TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most-viewed TED Talks in the world, with more than thirty million views. All four of her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, are No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.
Her decades of research resonate with us all deeply, and it makes sense; she cuts into the very core of what it means to be human. She explains that people who succeed—the people we love to look up to—have three things in common: the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to treat themselves and others kindly, and the willingness to be authentic for true connection. After the research, she realized that the sum of these three things amounts to someone who truly embraces vulnerability.
Turns out, vulnerability is not the opposite of strength. In fact, the very idea that vulnerability is synonymous to weakness is dangerous in that it perpetuates isolation and holds us back from real authentic love—and real achievement. “Vulnerability is absolutely essential to wholehearted living,” Brown states. And for the thousands she interviewed, it was their vulnerability that actually made them beautiful.
Only problem? Being truly vulnerable is hard. Really hard because, again, in so many ways we’re naturally inclined to resist exposing weakness. So I spoke with ten women who struggle with being vulnerable—and how they’re working on it. Here’s what I learned:
01. The fear of rejection is innate.
“I don’t like to come across as stupid or weak, so if I make a mistake or fail, I tend to keep quiet . . . even though I know imperfection is what makes us all human and we grow through sharing experiences.” —Jenny
“I feel like I will be judged for truly speaking what is on my mind and in my heart. I am an emotional and introspective person, so I feel as though I am always holding back.” —Kate
“I tend to be afraid to put myself out there, so the only relationships I have been in were driven by others.” —Megan
“Eventually I sort of caught myself in the act [of closing off] and realized I was scared of saying yes . . . because that meant opening my heart up to the possibility of pain or loss.” —Nicole
02. It’s a process.
“I still struggle with this [fear of vulnerability] regularly. I’m working on just being comfortable and confident with myself because that is really the core of all relationships and trusting others—it starts within.” —Sierra
“As I’ve grown older, I’ve cared less about looking calm, cool, and collected; being open is way easier for me, even if it makes me feel less attractive compared to the ideal in my head. . . . I’ve brought that into my relationships, and I feel like they’re so much deeper and more meaningful because of it.” —Erica
“I am still working on this! I am impatient, and I expect relationships to be instantaneous. [But] increased self-awareness has enabled me to realize what I value, what I care about, and what I need.“ —Kathleen
03. Looking inward helps us grow outward.
“I think knowing who you are and your internal dialogue makes all the difference. Without taking that initial step and believing that your worth is so much more than the fear of what could happen or how you will be perceived, you never can really grow or create new experiences.” —Sierra
“I first learned how to meditate . . . I then opened up about all that I was feeling to the nicest person I knew. . . . Those were my tools: breathing and a single friend. From there I started letting people know my true thoughts and feelings. If things ever got tough I would go back to my basic set of tools and go from there.” —Taylor
04. Your friends need to know the authentic version of you—otherwise, it’s a recipe for resentment.
“No one ever really knew the ‘authentic’ me, and as a result, I had avoided the fundamental relationship in my life: getting to know myself.” —Kathleen
“I started to build resentment toward the people that were closest to me because I felt like I couldn’t be my true self, when in reality it was a lie. By not allowing myself to be completely open with people I loved and cared about, I was actually hurting myself.” —Taylor
“I have to recognize it and be willing to challenge myself. For example, in my current relationship, if I am annoyed about something small, I force myself to talk about it even when it makes me feel vulnerable. Then I am not resentful.” —Francesca
05. Your relationships will reveal their ability to last sooner.
“I was dealing with some mental and physical health issues, and I was afraid to tell the guy I was dating because I was afraid he wouldn’t want to see me anymore. When I finally told him, it brought us closer and gave him an opportunity to share personal things with me, too.” —Jenny
“If they turn out to leave and hurt me, then that relationship was meant to teach me . . . not [to last].” —Kait
“It’s been interesting to watch how conversations evolve (and deepen) over time, even in platonic relationships. As I’ve decided to become more mindful of my own ideas, desires, and emotional needs, I’ve been able to recognize who I’m attracted to.”