We’re told getting things off our chest will make us feel better in the long run, but what should we do if we initially feel worse? If you're one of those who does feel worse, know that you’re not alone. There is a term which describes this feeling that we get, it’s called the ‘Vulnerability Hangover’. Coined by author and researcher Brené Brown in her TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” it is best explained as this gut-wrenching feeling pops up the moment we decide to get real about who we are, what we want, and how we express. This feeling can crop us following a deep conversation, perhaps with a close friend, a manager, or even a counsellor or therapist.
Being able to open up, reach out for support and share our distress is something which we are actively encouraged to do, especially given its hugely important role in working through our Mental Health concerns. While this act can often bring a lot of relief as we lighten our emotional load and begin to see the steps in front of us as we navigate a way forward, there are also times which this very act of opening up can feel extremely exposing, leaving us feeling drained, embarrassed, and even regretful at the end. It is important that we understand Vulnerability hangovers, because not only are they very real, but at its best, it’s another hurdle to jump over as we work on our wellbeing, but at its worse, it’s a barrier to opening up again for many people. This piece will also throw some more light on how we can better cope with the feeling should it crop up for us.
When we do choose to be vulnerable, we open ourselves up to uncertainty of the future, especially in terms of the reaction of the other individual. Will they call/ text me back? What are going to say? Do they think less of me for saying that? Have I ruined everything? These questions run through our minds in the absence of a reaction. Living with this uncertainty is when the vulnerability hangover actually begins to crop up. In this anticipation of what we worry is a the fallout of our emotional risk (or dealing with the actual result), we undergo a wave of emotional backlash. The more significant the investment in terms of the self-disclosure, it is often believed that the greater is the fear is of backlash. Let’s look at it this way. You need to cook up something for yourself. If you spend a few minutes putting together something into the microwave, you’d probably not be really phased out if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. However, if you end up spending hours trying to carefully craft out an elaborate meal, you are going to feel far more upset if the meal doesn’t turn out as you hoped it would. To put simply, the more vulnerable you are, the heavier the outcome will weigh on you.
All that being said, there is a bright side in that we can find ways to cope so we can overcome the vulnerability hangover. Some of the ways we can do this are:
Plan beforehand - Before we choose to let down our guard with someone, we can do an internal risk assessment, weighing up the pros and cons. If you feel the pros outweigh cons, there is merit in going ahead. You may also want to think over the person you choose to speak keeping in mind your comfort with them and the feeling of safety you get from them. If you do however feel a sense of judgement or dismissal from the person you’re being vulnerable with, you may want to then reconsider whether they are the right person to speak to, and if you have any alternatives.
Identify and name your emotions - During times of adversity we end up focussing on negative emotions and that too can be helpful provided we can recognise them, name them and ensure we are not able to get lost into them. Our emotional state can often take over our entire behaviour and especially during a time of a vulnerability hangover, we need to keep that in check by naming our emotions. Rather than being lost in a tailspin, you can reclaim the driver’s seat. While this perhaps won’t immediately end your vulnerability hangover, but it will certainly help to see pathways out of it. Naming what you are feeling can help you have more control over your behaviour as well.
Try embrace the discomfort - We all want to improve but we all want it to be easy, but sometimes, to get there, we might need to ride the train which may not always be the most comfortable. There will be times on the ride which will involve vulnerability hangovers, and that’s ok too. Be compassionate with yourself and be patient, know that you are on the path to healing and recovery right now and you will get there. It’s crucial during a vulnerability hangover to remind yourself that you’ve got a lot of positives in your life as well even if you don’t feel like it in the moment.
Do something for yourself - No matter how positive your self-talk might be, sometimes a vulnerability hangover can be tough to shake off and it is in these times that it can be helpful to look to things which you find enjoyable, aid your self-care of boost your self-confidence. This follows the principle that sometimes the best thing we can do to get over a negative emotion is to introduce an entirely separate, positive one. You can break out of the cycle of going over and over what you’ve done in your head with something which is soothing for you or that gives you a lot of meaning and joy. Maybe you go to a yoga class, connect with a friend, cook a nice meal, get outside if you can or perhaps you tap into your strengths through work or volunteering. The essence of this lies in trying to focus on getting away from what you’re stressing about.
Keep the bigger picture in mind - Vulnerability is a powerful tool to build trust and to help us move ahead in our journey of healing and recovery. It can be helpful to reframe our views around vulnerability and look at it as not something that we need to combat, but instead accept with boldness and grace. It is in this place that we have a greater sense of peace and connection. In this regard, it can also help if we zoom-out a bit and reframe out views. While vulnerability hangovers feel awful, we often fear that it will not end - and this thought cycle is something we get trapped into and don’t see a way out for very often. Remind yourself that realistically you know that you’ll survive – whatever the circumstance might be. Yes, it might initially seem uncomfortable, but you know what makes it less uncomfortable? Doing it. It is help. Being vulnerable stirs up all sorts of dramatic, seemingly impossible emotion. However, if you can step back, you can take a broader perspective on your life and see that you will, in fact, make it out alive and it will get better. Changing your self-talk can do wonders for your mood. Remind yourself that you are loved, that there is someone you know who cares for you will have your back and that it will all be ok. It can really help to challenge your inner critic making you feel like a fool – that little voice just likes to see you squirm, don’t give it the satisfaction.
Remind yourself of your ‘Why’ - During a vulnerability hangover, one way we can better tackle our state is to think over what made us take the step in the first place. Think over your act of vulnerability and instead of focusing on the uncertain outcome, look to concentrate on why you did it in the first place. Remind yourself of the reason behind your initial action, because it is likely to have been something that made it worth it for you to take a risk. Even if the risk doesn’t pan out exactly as you hoped, the act of doing it is critical.
Reach out for support - If you are feeling yourself having a hard time coping with these feelings, know that you can reach out and talk to someone and it does get better. You may choose to connect to a loved one, a helpline or a Mental Health professional.
Wrapping up, it is always helpful to remember that beyond the feelings of doubt, fear, and embarrassment, being true to ourselves and valuing our needs is a vital part of the steps we take towards a better sense of Mental Health and wellbeing. Know that if vulnerability hangovers have stopped you in your tracks before, try to acknowledge them as a normal stage in your journey to recovery, and keep your focus on the horizon of recovery.
Written by: Vedica Podar
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