By Dr. April Minatrea - Clinical PsychologistMay 02, 2017

It’s easy to think of vulnerability as weakness because when we are vulnerable, we let our weaknesses show.  But it takes a lot of courage to deliberately show weakness.

Most of us are not that brave all the time.  We wear masks and emotional body armor to protect ourselves from the scrutiny of others—expecting them to judge us…on some level as we have already judged ourselves.

We answer “good” or “fine” when someone asks how we are doing—whether we are or not.

We selectively post on social media just the parts of our lives we want others to see.

We relationally check out using distractions, hiding behind screens to remain safely disengaged.

We avoid conflict and confrontation because we don’t want to risk what could come from someone disagreeing or knowing how we truly feel.

We say yes when something inside is screaming, “No!”

We tell people what we think they want to hear.

The problem is that attempting intimacy with such relational armor on is the emotional equivalent of trying to have sex with clothes on—or worse, while wearing a suit of armor like a medieval knight.  It simply doesn’t work.  It keeps us from truly connecting and experiencing the full pleasure of love.

Some people may not love us when we are brave enough to be ourselves, but those who don’t never loved us to begin with.  At least when we are our authentic selves, we know that we are loved for who we are inside, not just the mask or armor we wear.

When we experience the joy of unconditional love, it dissolves shame and the judgments we hold against ourselves.  We learn to love ourselves and discover even greater courage to be who we really are.  We also set the tone in our relationships, leading by example and giving others permission to be themselves.  As our walls come down, theirs do, too.  We honor their vulnerability with more of our own, making it a safe space for intimacy.  As honor and vulnerability are reciprocated, we keep drawing closer and watch the relationship deepen as love grows.

This process unfolds for romantic partners to be sure, but it is not limited to spouses.  The same dynamics are at work in all of our relationships–with our friends, our parents, our kids, and our siblings.  We will only be as close and as loved as we are able to be known.

It all begins with someone being willing to go first—risking vulnerability.  Will you be that person?

Are you willing show up with your whole heart and say what you are really thinking and feeling?  Are you ready to share your hopes, your hurts, your dreams, and your fears?  In essence, are you brave enough to be your true self?