The Big Differences Between Being Open And Genuinely Vulnerable

In the larger realm of personal growth and development, being vulnerable is an important aspect that can be easily dismissed. Often, being genuinely vulnerable is overshadowed by people who are good at being open. But what is the difference between the two? And are there advantages to letting your guard down in relationships and the workplace? 


Let's be honest, it's not easy to let the walls down, revealing our true selves to the world. Being vulnerable can be a scary way to live; but, as the research shows, it can also be very rewarding.

Researcher, speaker, and author Dr. Brené Brown's TEDx Talk on vulnerability is one of the most viewed talks in the world. In her work, Dr. Brown studies the effects that courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy have in our lives. Here we specifically explore the work Dr. Brown has done over the years on what it means to be truly vulnerable, and we'll also look at how this is quite different from just being open.

What does it mean to be vulnerable?

In her book, "Braving the Wilderness," Dr. Brown writes, "The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." She goes on to say that vulnerability may seem like weakness at first; but, in the end, it is really a call to courage. 


Knowing what vulnerability means is one thing, but actually practicing it in real life is another. So, how does vulnerability show up in our lives? 

Vulnerability often shows up in our relationships and intimacy. Many times, being vulnerable may be the one thing that can save a failing relationship. If you are struggling with something your partner does, this is where being vulnerable shines. Sit down with them and have an honest conversation about how you are feeling. Talk about your frustrations, feelings, and needs that aren't being met. However, once you do this, be prepared to answer any grievances they may also have with you. The act of being genuinely vulnerable can be contagious, and your partner may start to feel comfortable opening their heart to you. It is a great way to strengthen the bond you have together, and it may be the conversation that reveals what areas need more attention.


Being open versus being vulnerable

There have probably been many times in your life when you have been open. For example, it may look like opening up to a friend on how you are planning a career move soon. In comparison, being vulnerable is taking that openness a step further and sharing that the change of careers is really scaring you. You may go into a deep conversation about how you're scared that you will be financially unstable for a while until you are secure in your new position. These types of conversations open up your feelings and emotions, exposing your inner world.


How do you know when you should be open or vulnerable? In relationships, it's best to gauge the type of relationship first. Deeper relationships offer more opportunities to become vulnerable. On the other hand, openness is easier to do in more surface-level relationships like co-workers, acquaintances, and new friends. It's best to save those deeper conversations for the people in your life you trust the most with sensitive information.

Should you be vulnerable in the workplace?

When it comes to the workplace, things can get a bit tricky. The workplace may not be the best place to share your deepest feelings, fears, and wishes. However, you can sometimes use openness to your advantage in the workplace. Putting boundaries around your needs for a healthy work-life balance is important. This is where being open can work to your advantage. Opening up to your boss that you are unable to work on the weekend isn't about being vulnerable; it's just being honest.


How you advocate for yourself in the workplace could mean the difference between your needs getting met or not. If you are feeling burned out, always voice your concerns before it's too late. This is where you can get a little vulnerable in order to ensure you don't get taken advantage of. Voice your feelings to your co-workers to see if they are also on the same page. Often, when we have workplace grievances, we aren't the only ones. You don't have to go into great detail on all your frustrations, but opening up and showing a little vulnerability can go a long way to ensure you have a healthy relationship with your job.

Making the switch from being open to vulnerable

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly, it may be difficult to feel safe enough to open up if you had a difficult childhood (via Well+Good). If you were consistently hurt as a younger person, you may have walls put up around your heart to protect yourself. While this is certainly understandable, it can make it hard for you to form deep bonds with the people in your life. You may feel like being open is a safer bet than being genuinely vulnerable. Additionally, if you were raised in a household where you were told to just "suck it up" and not complain, you will probably have a hard time shifting to vulnerability.


This is where the work of Dr. Brown comes in so handy. She explains that being vulnerable can make life more meaningful because you are living wholeheartedly. This often requires courage, authenticity, and honesty (via Start small and work your way from openness to vulnerability. A simple conversation is always a good place to start. Let yourself be seen and heard — even judged. And while it can be difficult to make that shift to vulnerability, it is a necessary step for growth.

Helping others become vulnerable

If being vulnerable comes more naturally to you than other people, you may find yourself in a role where you're able to help others shift from openness to vulnerability. While this is no easy task, there are ways to encourage your partner or a friend to break down those walls. Vulnerability is contagious, so just being yourself may be enough to influence others around you to be vulnerable when it's necessary. It takes a courageous leader to shed the mask, revealing any faults to others. Your leadership could be what helps people around you lean into those difficult conversations.


On the path to vulnerability, be prepared to be rejected and judged from time to time. Vulnerability can be really scary for some people, and they may not know how to react. Creating a safe space for others is an important piece of the puzzle. If you make it clear to your partner, friends, and co-workers that you are a trustworthy person, then they will be more apt to reveal their inner feelings to you. Don't be surprised if this process takes time — vulnerability is not something that happens overnight. But, by starting those hard conversations and leading from the front, you will get to witness your relationships deepen over time.