Dr. Jessica Clemons, a board-certified psychiatrist based in New York City, said: “When I’m using the word ‘vulnerable’ in a therapy session with a patient who has put a wall up in terms of connecting with others because of their experience in life, I’m asking them to allow themselves to be in a state of possibility.”
How does one be more vulnerable?
Right now, Ms. Cargle said that “sometimes the most vulnerable we can be is with ourselves.” For her that means writing in her journal, as well as slowing down to sit and process her own thoughts.
For Jordan Rice, the lead pastor of Renaissance Church in Harlem, that meant working with a therapeutic professional after his late wife, Danielle, was diagnosed with cardiac sarcoma. “Developing the tools to have open, honest, albeit difficult, conversation was extremely helpful,” he said.
Now he often weaves the topic of vulnerability it into his weekly Sunday sermons, including one that explored the essence of faith. “Vulnerability means intentionally putting yourself in a position that allows yourself to be hurt but for the purpose of gaining something better,” he said. That better thing is a sense of connectedness, both to oneself and others. “I can’t see any group of people thriving without vulnerability,” he said.
Dr. Clemons also believes therapy is a great, but that it is not the only way to work to trust another person by sharing emotional experiences in a safe environment. Setting goals, like running a marathon or hiking more, can also be a great way to exercise vulnerability. “I would encourage a person to test themselves physically, that can be a really great measure to make you see how powerful you are,” she said.
Dr. Brown and Dr. Clemons believe that often, vulnerability begins with becoming aware of how we may have behaved in hurtful or threatening situations, in understanding our own defenses. (Dr. Brown called this “learned patterns of self-protection or armor.”)
Those defenses come from a real place, and show that there is a risk in being vulnerable. But, Ms. Cargle said, even having one tough conversation or moment of honesty, “leaves ourselves open to more connection, more clarity, and more unexpected opportunity to experience life in freeing ways.”