By now we know it takes vulnerability to establish long-lasting and healthy relationships of all kinds. For someone like me, who is aware of this but a hot mess when it comes to execution, this is easier said than done. So, I spoke to a professional on tangible tips to explore my vulnerable side. India Douglas, LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) works at a school in Brooklyn, New York teaching underserved kids the fundamentals when it comes to understanding feelings. She also became a teletherapist at Brooklyn Center for Psychotherapy to all ages and genders during the pandemic at a time when vulnerability issues became a hot topic of discussion. Her background with the building blocks of emotions, I felt was perfect to break down the root of my vulnerability issues and how to move forward.
While she has never treated me, for the purposes of this story, I did share with her a few intimate details about my struggles with opening up wholeheartedly with those I care about. "Your diagnosis would probably be somewhere within the anxiety wheelhouse. It sounds as if you have issues opening up because you fear the response of what would happen if you did and the what-ifs," she explained. "If you get treated at Brooklyn Center for Psychotherapy, you might get an unspecified anxiety disorder diagnosis (found in the DSM-5). Later, they might put a specifier in there, based on whatever past experiences you share with your therapist."
Below find her tips for myself and others like me to navigate the ins and outs of being vulnerable.
How You Should Work On Being More Vulnerable
"Before you get vulnerable with someone else, that vulnerability needs to start with yourself. You have to start by asking yourself the questions that you've been dodging in the back of your head. Begin journaling and really thinking about any traumas that you've had. Also, if something that you struggle with is anxiety—which is just the fear of the unknown—write down a list of what you're afraid of, and then the possible outcomes. Ask yourself, 'What if that did happen? Is it the worst thing? Is it the end of the world? What are you fearing from being that vulnerable? What reaction am I afraid of getting?' Write it down, look at it, stare at it and then figure out, 'OK, if this happened how would I respond to it?' It takes away that fear of the unknown.
"Vulnerability lies a lot with understanding your triggers. A lot of people are triggered by things that are attached to trauma or situations that happened in their childhood. When another person doesn't know these triggers, their reaction can come off negative. But when they do, then you open up a conversation and better communication between each other. So, if you're not open to understanding what your triggers are, how can you possibly be open to being vulnerable with somebody else? That's why people need to take time before they get into romantic relationships to get to know themselves—which can sometimes take years. That doesn't mean you can't date in the meantime, but it does mean that the more you know about yourself, the more you can share with your partner."
How To Be More Vulnerable In Your Relationships
"When it comes to a romantic partner, I suggest taking each other out on dates. One takes the other out on a date and on that date, that's the date planners' day to be vulnerable and talk their about things. Don't approach the date like 'I got a bone to pick with you.' It shouldn't feel like a meeting or something you're dreading. It should be more like, 'This is my date day so I get to pick the spot and choose the topic of discussion this time.' And then next week is your date day to go where you want to go and discuss what you want to discuss. You can do this with family members too, if you're trying to build or repair that relationship. Maybe not indefinitely, but for a period of time that gets you both to a better place.
"The number one thing I recommend is couples counseling. The best relationships are where you're in therapy, your partner is in therapy, and you are jointly in therapy. That is the best way to move forward. [Also,] there are card games like We're Not Really Strangers. That's a fun way to kind of get to know someone that you're interested in a bit deeper, and literally laying your cards on the table."
How To Be Open & Expressive If You're Afraid Of Being Vulnerable
"For someone who is not good at being vulnerable, it might feel like, 'I want to be vulnerable with you but I'm scared of being vulnerable with you, and by me having even this conversation with you, is me being vulnerable.' Lean into your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses.
"If your strength is drawing, draw a picture that expresses how you feel; if your strength is music, play a song that expresses how you feel; if writing is your strength, write a letter or a card—everybody has certain strengths. You want to play off those strengths, they will empower you."
Being Vulnerable With Someone Who Is Not Receptive
"If you do step out of your comfort zone and are vulnerable with someone, and they're not receptive, then that is a sign that this person is not ready to be vulnerable back with you. It takes two. Instead, focus on why you're seeking validation from this person who's incapable of giving you what you're giving of yourself. If you feel like this is a person that you want to work on things with, speak to them about it. Have them own up to it. And if they're unable to do that, then move on to somebody else who's willing and ready to be just as vulnerable as you, because it doesn't work if one person is putting in all the work."
How To Receive Someone’s Vulnerability When Being Outwardly Emotional Doesn’t Come Natural
"By saying to them that you hear them and you are appreciative of them being vulnerable with you. Then add that you need some time to digest what was just said to you so that you can give them the proper reaction to that vulnerability. Sometimes when people have a hard time being vulnerable and then other people being vulnerable back, they go into a shell. That's something that needs to be shared with the other person so that they don't feel like, 'Wow, I just laid it all on the line and this person just blinked at me.'"
Patterns, Behaviors and Language That Should Be Established To Create A Space For Vulnerability
"Setting boundaries is a good place to start because once you establish your boundaries, you can figure out who you can trust. Once that trust is established, then the vulnerability just spills out. I feel statements which go something like, 'I feel like this and because of that, I would like this from you moving forward.' I feel statements are good because you're starting from the feelings and it's not an attack on that person. It's just you talking about how you feel."
For more of India, follow her on Instagram.
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