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 WorldWe 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 VulnerabilityVulnerable 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 MattersIf 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 OutEmotional 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’ SimplicityYears 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 VulnerabilityVulnerability 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 RelationshipsPsychology 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 YourselfWithout 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 means “not 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 TriggeredVulnerable 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:
Other’s mean opinions of you can’t hurt you
True opinions about you can help you
How To Be More VulnerableHere’s a partial list to help you discover the “superpower” of vulnerability!
Know Your Triggers
Surround Yourself With Supportive People
Acknowledge Your Fears
- 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.
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