**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
The word “vulnerability” has a way of making people uncomfortable because of the things it implies, including letting down your guard and being completely honest about what you are thinking and feeling. To be vulnerable also involves being authentic (as opposed to being fake) and not knowing exactly how others are going to receive the authenticity, therefore also implying some level of emotional risk. Taking emotional risks requires locating a rare form of courage from within, which for many cannot be found until more learning about self and other mental health skill development takes place. For these reasons, I like to think of vulnerability as a developed skill rather than something a person “can do” or “can’t do.”
People tend to have a hard time being vulnerable as adults because of bad experiences making attempts at being vulnerable in the past, including encounters with parents, caregivers, and peers. In most cases, they learned long ago that it isn’t safe to be completely honest/authentic because of the strong possibility that others will invalidate the sensitive content revealed. For example, if they explain how sad they are about something, another may instantly inform them that “others have it worse,” or “not to feel that way because it brings others down,” or “to concentrate on the good things in their life” (all invalidating responses). And even though others may have good intentions while making their invalidating suggestions, the hidden message is that “it is not safe to be authentic,” and “it is not safe to ask for help with emotions.”
For a person who struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), one of the worst-case scenarios is not to have developed any capacity for being vulnerable. It is one of the worst-case scenarios for a person with BPD (a person who regularly experiences powerful emotions and the many associated life challenges) because practicing vulnerability can work very well for managing emotions and otherwise navigating life more effectively. Refusing to exercise vulnerability, or keeping all things emotional hidden from view – both from self and from others – is one of the primary reasons that emotional disorders such as BPD take root in the first place. It is similarly part of the reason that other common mental health conditions that happen at the same time as BPD (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.) get activated.
Since vulnerability can be BOTH difficult to practice but also highly valuable from a mental health perspective, it is wise for a person with BPD to understand how to develop more capacity for it and when to make judicious use of it.
To become more vulnerable as a person requires taking steps to start noticing what is happening internally; then as you are ready to be more open, you can more accurately describe “what it is” that is happening within you. Most people live their lives in busyness and distraction, and therefore, do not get in touch with themselves enough to accurately describe what is happening at the emotional level – never having practiced digging down to the root of their issues. It is quite understandable that a person’s description of his experience would be over-simplified (or shallow) if the time hasn’t been taken often enough to self-reflect (to dig deeper).
So for instance, if you are feeling guilt or shame about a particular life experience, it helps to take the time to notice how those feelings are happening in your body and how they connect to your overall experience (including all relevant events and thoughts). The noticing could be done through writing and sound something like: “I see the guilt and shame, and I see how it is understandable they could show up according to what happened and how I am thinking about what happened.” The next step would be to elaborate further on what is being noticed and how it possibly links to your perceptions and past experiences. It is always possible to find something valid/understandable about your human experience since you (a human) are a creature of perception.
Taking the time to go through a process like this instantly suggests that “it is safe to be authentic” and “it is safe to ask for help with emotions.” You have started practicing vulnerability through taking the time to notice and reflect, and furthermore suggested to yourself it can be safe to be vulnerable through applying empathy (considering how your experience has validity/is understandable). It is very healthy to start having these experiences!
The next, and perhaps most difficult step to take after practicing vulnerability with yourself, is to seek out another human with which to practice being vulnerable. As you are no doubt already keenly aware, it is not safe to exercise vulnerability with just anybody, since so many of us humans automatically dismiss and invalidate ourselves and each other at every turn. For these reasons, it may be best to work with a therapist, or with someone who can appreciate a blog post like this and also take the time to read other articles on the subject of validation (e.g., Article 1, Article 2). When you develop confidence in a person to provide knowledgeable support, then taking the opportunity to practice being entirely vulnerable could be the proving moment you have needed to exercise more and more in the future.
I have had more therapy clients than I can count inform me that practicing vulnerability like this is very counter-intuitive since their life experience has “told them” over and over again than it isn’t safe. No doubt it can SEEM that way. The truth, however, is that it CAN be safe! But more importantly, dare to be vulnerable when necessary provides the most direct path to adjusting unhealthy thoughts, torturous emotions, and ineffective behaviour.