When you feel stressed, anxious, or sad do you share your related thoughts and feelings with others? If you do, have you ever thought about why it is that you are able to open up and be vulnerable? If you don't have the tendency to do that, then I encourage you to ask yourself why. Why do you think it is so hard to share your challenges or struggles?
You may be afraid of sharing because you fear that you'll be thought of as someone with a disorder or with problems. You might worry that others will think something is wrong with you and perhaps you don’t want them to worry. You might not want the negative attention on you because you believe others view you in a certain way. Often times, we feel anxiety about sharing our most vulnerable challenges because we don't want our "perfect" image to get stained.
A very bright young woman I work with had a big realization when she came to my office today, stating, “I realize that the best way for me to overcome my fears and anxieties is to face them and do the opposite of what I usually do.” This might not make sense to some of you, but basically this has translated into allowing herself to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. The best way to overcome the perceived stigma and embarrassment associated with mental illnesses is to join the movement of the millions of people who are being vulnerable and sharing their stories and experiences.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 16 million adults in the U.S. suffer from depression each year. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that one in five adults experiences mental illness each year. Even more concerning, suicide was the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-24 in 2019. We’ve all seen the statistics at this point, and the truth is, you probably don’t need to see those numbers to be alarmed. How many of us struggle with our mental health or know people who are struggling? Unfortunately, most of us deal with the effects of mental illness in some way, shape, or form on a daily basis.
As a licensed therapist, it is obvious to me and other mental health professionals that while it might be challenging to open up about things that you are dealing with, once you do it you feel better. However, I recognize that it’s easier said than done. I’ve listed out some concrete steps you can take to help yourself open up and begin your journey toward vulnerability.
Step 1: Know the facts.
Dr. Brene Brown spent many many years researching the concept of vulnerability. I encourage you to watch this amazing TED Talk, where she breaks down the idea and explains how vulnerability separates people who feel a sense of worth and belonging from those who don’t. After interviewing hundreds of people, she discovered that vulnerability leads to concepts like worthiness and whole-hearted living. Research shows a connection between vulnerability and mental health, which is important to keep in mind if you are someone who is skeptical about the idea of therapy or even just expressing your feelings.
Step 2: Understand why you don't share or allow yourself to be vulnerable.
If you are not the type to share your thoughts and feelings with others, do you wonder why? I used to refrain from sharing my thoughts and feelings because I thought that if I did, it would make me feel worse. As a result, I continued to suppress my emotions. I was also never taught to share my feelings as a child and therefore I internalized them. In reality, today, when I share my thoughts and feelings, it might be hard at first, but I always end up feeling a sense of relief.
Step 3: Ask yourself: What will happen if I share with others?
Think about something that you are going through that you wish others knew but instead you held it in. For example, for years I struggled with an eating disorder (ED) and I never wanted to share out of fear that others would think that I wasn’t a skinny, perfect person. I feared this would tarnish people’s view of me forever. I also didn’t want others to worry about me. On a dee