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Fear Of Vulnerability

If you have a fear of vulnerability, especially as a vocalist, welcome to an extremely large club. Research professor Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D., says, “You’ve probably heard that public speaking is feared more than death itself. It sounds crazy, but that’s what people say. Is there any truth to this?” His answer is revealing.

“Certainly, the vast majority of people rank fear of public speaking as number one – 75% according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. For some people, this means a fear of speaking to large groups. For others, it means speaking to even a single person if that person has the power to evaluate you, as in a supervisor, interviewer, or professor giving an oral exam.”

My experience has been that singing in public, speaking in public, or anything that smacks of performance can cause severe anxiety. To me, this is the fear of vulnerability. The scientific word for this fear is “glossophobia.” From the Greek words “glossa” (tongue) and “phobos” (dread or fear).

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The Etymology of the Word “Vulnerable”

To understand vulnerability, let’s look at the word vulnerable. It comes from the Latin word vulnerare, which means “to wound, hurt, or injure.” 

Being vulnerable means you’re “putting yourself out there” before public scrutiny with the possibility of being wounded by others’ opinions, words, insults, and personal feelings of disapproval. Whether you’re a scholar, lawyer, politician, actor, athlete, comedian (crickets would be the biggest fear here), singer, dancer, or a guest on a talk show, the fear of vulnerability is inescapable!

Some may see positivity in being vulnerable because that’s the place where learning has the greatest potential. Very often, fear is your friend if you understand its proper role. Fear of failure, fear of vulnerability, fear of unpreparedness… all these lead to one great action: TRAINING.

Training gets you ready for the task at hand. The greater the instruction, coaching, and reduction of the unknowns, the better chance you have to succeed.

To have great life experiences, you must be ready to leave your comfort zone and embrace vulnerability. Avoiding vulnerability is the avoidance of life itself. Indeed, avoiding vulnerability might feel safe, though it can actually hurt for years to come. On the other hand, the rewards of vulnerability are far greater. They are a path to happiness!

What Is Vulnerability?

Vulnerability exposes your struggle, weakness, insecurities, feelings or hidden emotions, past experiences, past pain, shame, or rejection. It is fed by the awareness that your confidence, relationships with loved ones, and public reputation could all be compromised in a single moment by simply trying to connect and show others your authentic self.

Vulnerability and Our Relationship with the World

We grow tremendously in our relationship with the world when we embrace vulnerability. However, we must not forget that the courage to overcome usually is accompanied by criticism and failures.

Challenging situations and deep, close relationships may become far more difficult if you fear vulnerability and consider it to be a formidable enemy. So accept vulnerability. The important things that we want in life, like strong relationships and even true love, are the result of being afraid and risking rejection.

The Cost of Vulnerability

Vulnerable people are often admired and despised in society. Truly, they serve as an example to us that we should boldly face possible rejection and stop seeking approval from people who will NEVER accept us to begin with.

Think of the religious leader, philosopher, and important historical figure Jesus of Nazareth. Now, don’t freak out if you aren’t particularly religious or have an aversion to Christianity or any other philosophy or religion. Regardless of what you think, He was able to connect with the masses, even the lowly. However, before his unjust death penalty, Jesus was put to shame. He experienced rejection from loved ones, and… check this out… He was afraid. Something rarely talked about in debates.

Now, you can find many important historical figures who had to find confidence in their message and mission regardless of who might accept or reject them. The fear of vulnerability did not dissuade them!

Why Vulnerability Matters

If you fear vulnerability, you might also have a fear of folks seeing your true self. Or, your lack of self-esteem or self-love could be the reason you’re avoiding vulnerability. It’s human nature to feel vulnerable if you’ve not had healthy relationships in the past. Unfortunately, some people don’t have a concept of what healthy relationships would look like in challenging situations that are just outside their comfort zone.

Until we are willing to show true vulnerability and stop keeping friends, loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers at arm’s length, we’ll always be wading in the shallow end of the pool. Self-disclosure is necessary to develop healthy relationships.

Self-awareness is also important but can lead to a deeper level of self-doubt. In other words, focus outwardly more and inwardly less.

You might be thinking, “But feeling vulnerable isn’t safe…letting my feelings out makes me feel insecure… leaving my comfort zone causes a great deal of social anxiety… not everyone can accept emotional vulnerability …certainly not me.”

One Possible Way Out

Emotional exposure is like walking out of prison. If fear of vulnerability is keeping you locked up and stifling your personal growth, remember you’re not alone. The late, great C.S. Lewis had a fantastic, gut-wrenching diagnosis of how vulnerability can hurt so bad that we’ll do anything never to feel it again!

Lewis writes this about relationships:

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully ’round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

If that took your breath away and left you with even more feelings of vulnerability, that may be the first sign that the fear of vulnerability has trapped you in your narrow box.

Learn From Others’ Simplicity

Years ago, I had a dear friend who had to deal with the tragic news of her brother, in his mid-twenties, dying of a drug overdose. To overcome this, she shared ALL of her emotions on social media. She was extremely vulnerable (Remember vulnera: to wound) and talked openly about the difficult emotions… now wait for this… YEARS afterward.

It would have been completely natural for her NOT to want to feel vulnerable and, thus, keep everyone at arm’s length. She didn’t! She was courageous. One thing she has always told me is, “I just keep trying.”

People counted on her, and she knew it. So instead of navel-gazing at her own self-awareness or self-esteem, she valued her relationships over her feelings of weakness, hopelessness, and fear. She was fully human, overcome with a sense of far more important things–relationships with others and a relationship with herself.

Her life became even more honest, less afraid, and deep. She developed courage. Courage soon turned into confidence. And it didn’t matter if society or the rest of the world understood her.

Her greatest fears of this life were already realized. Her world was turned upside down, and the deepest hurt imaginable was hers to face. Feeling vulnerable could easily have affected her well-being, but she said that all her relationships were worth getting hurt.

How Does a Fear of Vulnerability Develop?

Our common fear of vulnerability has come about because it’s no longer completely safe to be honest, to share our emotions, and to be completely human. Was it ever? Living with constant criticism in this age of “all public access” via social media has led to record-high levels of social anxiety and feelings of perpetual fear of being rejected at any moment.

The walls build higher and higher with a sign that says:

“Beware, vulnerability wounded me already and will wound you too, so don’t ask me to be honest with my emotions because feelings aren’t worth it. I’ll connect with no one. This is how I’ll live my life. I’ll be honest with no one. Now I have no fears to overcome!”

But the second we say this, we’ve chosen to let the fear of vulnerability obscure what it means to be human. As this fear of vulnerability continues to build, we often feel afraid, even when there’s nothing there.

It’s the whole nature vs. nurture argument. Begin to find safe, encouraging-yet-honest friends who will make you a better person. Friends who will let you lead! In fact, they will help you slay the “real” dragon—your fear of vulnerability— and even encourage you to take the lead. They will encourage a vision outside of your cave or coffin and tell you to leap!

Benefits of Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a certain muscle. Facing your fear of vulnerability is like going to the gym for your heart, mind, and soul. Whenever you flex, you feel tension, discomfort, and possible strain. This shouldn’t keep you from going to the gym. In fact, there’s no growth without a certain amount of hurt, pain, and sometimes injury.

There’s no testimony without a test. No reward without risk and no victory without defeat. In fact, victory without the high potential of defeat is hollow and meaningless.

For example, if I sing karaoke in front of 100 non-singers who are too drunk to know the difference between my average performance and my best, I’m not thrilled by their applause.

The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

1st Benefit – A Deeper Level of Relationships

Psychology professor Arthur Aron, Ph.D., once paired up strangers to talk to each other and ask each other some deep questions that require vulnerability and emotional exposure to answer.

The conclusion? Those who answered with guarded or shallow responses got minimum intimacy with their new friends. The opposite group developed deep, satisfying conversations and rewarding relationships by being vulnerable!

2nd Benefit – You Find Courage to be Yourself

Without vulnerability, you’ll spend the rest of your life in fear. Fear of failure, criticism, and increased anxiety. On the other hand, being your authentic self is the way out of this emotional trap.

Authentic meansnot false or imitation; not fake or pretentious; true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character; honestly representing yourself.”

If you want to be free, let people know the “real/authentic” you. However, if you KNOW you’re a bad person (come on, let’s not pretend, there are millions), then seek out spiritual guidance and seek to change your character. This is where vulnerability becomes exponentially more difficult.

I’ve personally grown faster with something called “Nouthetic” counseling. I felt understood and was given certain tools to make it through the hardest times of my life! But when I wasn’t vulnerable, I was just sitting on a couch, wasting my counselor’s time and my time and my money!

3rd Benefit – You’re Not as Easily Triggered

Vulnerable people, who have practiced facing their fears, learn to be in control of their emotions. Don’t get triggered by opinions of you, EVEN when they are right and ESPECIALLY when they are wrong.

Being easily correctable is an outstanding strength. It requires the strongest level of vulnerability. Once you arrive, you will have these two crucial understandings:

  1. Other’s mean opinions of you can’t hurt you

Of course, slander and libel can ultimately hurt you. But the person guilty of this can face legal ramifications. While most people do not face this level of vulnerability, we all have difficulties to overcome. Who is not hurt from time to time? Who does not face challenging situations or difficult people along the way?

Remember that vulnerability doesn’t mean weakness. Realize being vulnerable does NOT mean that you are a doormat. You can defend yourself. Remember this—meek doesn’t mean weak. Neither does humility.

Finally, when you know a person is insulting you with statements like “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” AND they have no evidence to the contrary, you have no obligation to accept their opinion. Here’s an example:

My son (when he was only 14) was trying to have a respectful debate on Tik Tok (which he no longer uses), and some kid turned disrespectful and started the name calling, telling my son to ‘Shut up ____ ____ !”

So…. he did. He simply obeyed his wish by saying, “OK.”

No other response was given. He’s exceptionally driven and has no time for smug, mean-spirited, meaningless bully behavior.

The “bully” was frustrated to no end because he wouldn’t respond, and if my memory serves me correctly, 🤔 I believe he apologized.

So if you face your fear of vulnerability and someone insults you and tells you to shut up for just putting yourself out there, you can respond with “OK.” After this, the first one who talks… loses.

His response taught me a lot, although I still occasionally engage when I shouldn’t.

Note: it’s not always about winning, but not allowing unnecessary defeat to paralyze your opinions and actions. It is not allowing someone, even yourself, to punish you for just being vulnerable.

  1. True opinions about you can help you

Even when it hurts, face the difficult emotions that come with facing your fear of vulnerability, and you’ll experience personal growth. This also requires an even more difficult trait. Humility!!!! (OUCH)

How To Be More Vulnerable

Here’s a partial list to help you discover the “superpower” of vulnerability!

  1. Know Your Triggers

If you make a list of 5 things that trigger you and decide beforehand that you’ll not let it affect you, you’ll have the power, and you won’t be thought of as weak and an emotional train wreck. Decide your response to the thing you least want to hear.

To illustrate: I coached this amazing rock star once whose voice is unparalleled in the industry. Think of Freddie Mercury, Bono, Jeff Buckley, and Muse. Then think of someone out of this world with his other-worldly abilities.

So he has music that rocks pretty aggressively, but was singing one of his sweet, immaculate, head voice songs in a set where he was opening up with someone whose music was FAR darker and more EXTREME than his music. (Notice: I didn’t say better)

Certain members in the audience started calling him some awful names and even throwing nickels at him. His reply? “That’s cool, guys. I love that you’re expressing yourselves.”

The triggers were dealt with appropriately, and once he lit into one of his chest-pounding screams, the audience started to turn back toward his favor. He was ready. It paid off!

However… here’s an ironic sense of “trigger warning.” Some triggers may come without warning or expectation, and your response might go over the top.

One example: someone was shouting out stuff about the singer’s mother (who happened to be extremely ill at the time), and my buddy leaped out from the stage and decked a person who weighed about 70 pounds more than himself. The security grabbed the guy who was hit and prevented him from retaliating. He was lucky because the bigger guy would have probably thrashed my friend.

The lesson? We can debate right and wrong, but one thing we all know is that everyone has their limits!

  1. Practice Self-Compassion

Think of the way you prefer to be treated. When someone doesn’t show you the same respect or courtesy, decide right away if this is the type of person who adds value to your life or stress.

Be ok with walking away and enjoying your life without someone who inevitably increases your fear of vulnerability…. because, in this case, your fear is valid.

Be intentional about your well-being. Enjoy yourself with hobbies and goals. Pick a song that you think you have confidence with and stick with it until it’s mastered. Pick 2 or 3 piano or guitar pieces and learn them. Don’t even think of quitting!

Go for long walks, go visit an infra-red sauna with a cold plunge and challenge yourself. Go to a batting cage and swing away. It’ll release tons of stress.

Encouraging yourself should be a challenge, but YOU decide to be an encourager and…

  1. Surround Yourself With Supportive People

Now, this doesn’t mean that you are the center of your world, and everyone is expected to be on call to help you out while you add no value to others’ lives. Instead, this means that you have friends who are in a “giving contest” with you. They support your dumb choices and your daring choices. You do the same for them. It keeps on giving.

By the way… supportive doesn’t mean flattering pushovers. They need to be able to see danger or needless embarrassment and dare to keep you away from it. This is essential for a healthy relationship. They should know how to put themselves in your shoes and say it like they’d want to hear it. They should help you be aware of any dangers while also helping you to ensure that you are going for the things that really matter.

Important note: If you attempt to avoid vulnerability your whole life, oddly enough, you still feel vulnerable but lack the skills that are only learned by taking risks. The productive side of vulnerability is that you learn, as I said earlier, that high risk yields high rewards.

  1. Acknowledge Your Fears

We’ve heard that confession is good for the soul. So say it out loud to yourself. Practice vulnerability by yourself.

  • If you feel sad, be sad. But not forever. Accept it and watch it fade to joy.
  • If you feel mad, be mad. But practice self-awareness and self-control. Put that energy into something productive.
  • If you’re wounded or offended, be offended. But decide beforehand not to let these emotions ruin you.
  1. Ask For Help

Counseling, coaching, learning your skill, and applying it are all necessary. Most successful people will tell you that they succeeded because they “didn’t do it alone.”