After what we have all been through this past year, it is understandable that the idea of being vulnerable with others and going out is a scary prospect. A recent survey has found that 49% of adults feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends.
The concept of vulnerability or ‘feeling exposed’ has been a preoccupation of ours for so long, and it encompasses not only our physical state but our mindset. Certainly, after experiencing any type of trauma in normal times – a breakup, prolonged loneliness, or grief – it is difficult to start opening up to new people and situations.
The free exercise below will help you break away from negative connotations with vulnerability and connect with others.
It is an edited extract from the book Navigating Loneliness How to Connect with Yourself and Others — A Mental Health Handbook written by the Sunday Times best-selling author Cheryl Rickman.
Exercise on How You Can See the Value in Vulnerability
Choose vulnerability and sharing over guardedness and hiding.
Think about insecurities you might have that you could share. People are often surprised when they get a ‘me too!’ response. For example, perhaps you struggle with criticism and find that you default to defensiveness, and maybe they do too. After discussion, you might find this comes down to your mutual desire to feel approved of and fairly evaluated and has a lot to do with your shared values of justice and fairness. Or maybe you often feel out of your depth at work and have ‘imposter syndrome’ where you think you’re going to get found out for not being good enough. If you shared that vulnerability with someone, the chances are high that they will have felt the same at some point in their life.
If you have insecurities, explain what they are and talk about why you think they might exist.
Make any trust issues you have about you rather than them, to avoid a defensive response. Sharing our vulnerabilities builds bonds because it reveals our human, relatable side and shows we are comfortable enough with someone to let the drawbridge down, to let them in. This leads to the other person doing the same, and soon, in the place of walls, there is only mutual trust.
It is precisely our vulnerability which opens us up to closeness with others.
Remind yourself that others may be feeling the same social anxiety as you.
You are not alone in feeling social inhibition. It can feel uncomfortable talking to people when we fear we might say the wrong thing. But if we remember that we all like characters with imperfections, it can remove this fear. And besides, other people are likely just as nervous as you might be. Once you begin to talk to people and invite them to open up, it can be easier to find yourself opening up too. And the more you connect and practice conversing, the easier it becomes.
Take tiny steps.
If it feels too daunting to get out into the world to meet new people, set yourself tiny goals you can work towards. For example, you might start by phoning one person each week or joining a small yoga class where you can sit at the back on your mat. Each time you stretch outside of your comfort zone you learn that you can do more than you thought you could. But you can only learn when you dare to try. And your comfort zone naturally expands with experience, along with your abilities. So, each time you try something new or achieve a goal, you’ll feel your capabilities growing. Meanwhile, having a focus will give you an anchor to distract you from anxiety.
This exercise in vulnerability is taken from Navigating Loneliness: How to Connect with Yourself and Others — A Mental Health Handbook by Cheryl Rickman.
The book is a practical guide on how you can cope with isolation and emerge on the other side equipped with ways to reconnect with other people and with yourself. Published May 2021.