Social connections benefit both our physical and mental health. Experiencing support and relationships, whether that be in the form of family, friendship, professional, platonic, or romantic love, can lead to healthier habits, reduced symptoms of stress, and give a sense of meaning in life. However, despite people’s inclination toward social connection, there are certain beliefs and patterns that we hold. These lead us to resist vulnerability and intimacy that are important to fully experience the benefits and sustain these connections.
How embracing vulnerability strengthens relationships
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association and a speaker at national and international conferences in areas of couple relations and parenting, shared that “embracing vulnerability strengthens our relationships” although many mistakenly brush off the idea of being vulnerable as weak. Most think that it is unnecessary to expose the humiliation and hurt. We grow up thinking that something about us is shameful or flawed and that is why we expect that we will fail others or we will not be accepted if we expose our vulnerability. So, the tendency is to protect ourselves by putting our guard up.
But being actively vulnerable to people is a “trait that is far from a bad thing,” published American news and opinion site HuffPost. It cited the words of psychoanalyst Robert Stolorow, who wrote the book Trauma and Human Existence. He said people instinctively run away from the idea of being vulnerable for fear of looking soft but it is far from being the truth. It is a good thing to be unashamed and open about it.
1. Vulnerable individuals are open to new experiences
Stolorow said that one of the most important characteristics of people who dare to be vulnerable is their openness to new experiences. They may not know the outcome in advance but they know of the possibility to be happier because of it. A study showed that experiences boost an individual’s sense of happiness more than what material possessions can provide.
2. They acknowledge that life has ups and owns
Actively vulnerable people accept if bad things happen, especially if there is nothing that they can do to change it. They understand that we are all mortal beings and heartbreak, loss, death, illness, injury, or suffering are possibilities that also define people’s existence.
3. They don’t run away from their emotions
Another habit of people who embrace vulnerability is that they don’t avoid their negative emotions. For instance, even if there is a possibility of rejection, they will find the courage to ask someone out or they will also ask for a salary increase in a professional setting. It does not mean they are fearless but they are simply not running away from it.
4. Vulnerable people are open individuals
Vulnerable people have this way of putting themselves out there or strike up a conversation even with a stranger. As a result, it increases their feelings of social connection.
5. They thrive in bonds that have more emotional intimacy
They are the kind of people who value relationships where the other person likewise shares their values or have more emotional intimacy. In a successful marriage, for instance, one person will see their partner as their go-to person in times of need. Emotional support is seen as a form of love. In a survey conducted by database company Statista, nearly 70.4% of married women in Japan said that their spouses listen to their trouble and worries as their form of emotional support. On the other hand, about 27.6% of married women said they never receive any support from their partners.
In a business setting, the emotional connection has also been linked to brand loyalty. Customer satisfaction survey platform Customer Thermometer shared the top 10 emotions for brand connection in a survey of 1,000 people in the US. These emotions include interest (72%), trust (57%), optimism (41%), admiration (41%), acceptance (38%), joy (35%), security (29%), amazement (25%), anticipation (23%), and love (22%). Because of the emotional drive, about 11% of them said they are willing to pay greater than 51% of the price or more.
6. They practice self-compassion
Self-compassion is an important quality of well-being and mental health. Vulnerable people are those who respond to their disappointments or inadequacies with patience, understanding, and acceptance, instead of self-criticism.
Social and health psychologist Dr. Julia Breines, whose research focuses on self-compassion, shared via online publishing platform Medium that the ability to forgive oneself for small and large mistakes is necessary for psychological well-being. Individuals who have a high level of self-compassion are the ones who handle stress better and they spend less time reactivating the stressful event or dwelling on them.
What makes vulnerability an attractive trait?
Women may love periodic machismo and boyish charm but they also find vulnerability attractive. It doesn’t hurt their masculinity but they are found to be more emotionally stable and better long-term partners compared to those unwilling to share the intimate parts of their lives, said mental health social network Psych Central.
Dr. Firestone also details that openness is one of the invaluable traits people look for in an ideal partner. Finding someone who is receptive to feedback and is approachable can be a huge asset to achieve a lasting union, she added. Being open-minded and free-thinking allows them to be forthright when it comes to expressing their dreams, thoughts, desires, and feelings. Consequently, it allows the other person to truly know them as well.
Importance of good communication in maintaining a healthy relationship
Good communication is important in maintaining a healthy relationship. Lifestyle website YourTango surveyed 100 mental health professionals and found that the most common (65%) factor in a marriage that leads to divorce is a communication problem. This is followed by the couple’s inability to resolve their conflict (43%). The main communication complaints when couples are considering divorce are the following: men blame complaining/nagging (70%), women lack validation of their opinions or feelings (83%), and spouse talking about himself too much or not listening (56%).
A healthy dose of vulnerability may be terrifying at first, but it is a driving force of connection. It does not mean oversharing every detail of our lives to anyone, but to people we hold close or want to connect with.