The Courage To Be Vulnerable

Discover How Vulnerability Can Rapidly Improve Your Confidence

Being vulnerable, especially as a man, can be difficult. We get many messages growing up that we must be strong, in charge, and always “have it together.” Revealing challenges, confusion, or pain can make us feel weak, or worse…
Join Dr. Aziz as he reveals why vulnerability is uncomfortable, how to make it easier to do, and how to transform your life by telling the truth!

Click below to hear this episode!

The Two Controlling Forces

Hey, welcome to today’s episode of Shrink for the Shy Guy! Today’s episode is going to be covering the two most powerful forces that influence you on a daily basis, they absolutely affect your sense of shyness or fear or self-doubt or social anxiety and on the flipside, they strongly affect your sense of confidence, belief in yourself liking and loving who you are.

These things are so powerful that I think if you can get a handle on both of these two areas, you can radically transform from shyness to confidence, in fact that is the path from shyness to confidence.

And these two forces although they’re incredibly powerful are rarely talked about.

There are things that we don’t really want to talk about, we don’t really want to think about it and the last thing we want to do is share one of these things with someone else. And if you have a guess at this point what these forces are but I’ll share them with you now, it’s shame and vulnerability.

Shame is that sense of I’m not good enough. And if you listen to one of the earlier podcast episodes when I talked about the cause of shyness, I believe shame is the cause of shyness or it’s at the root of shyness.

And shame is an experience of feeling in your body, squeezing, dropping heavy tight feeling, usually in your throat, chest, solar plexus or stomach; and a mental thought stream about why you’re not good enough.

Perhaps you replay an incident in your mind where you fell short and you have this cringe sensation. And combined with that is just this overwhelming sensation, the feelings, this knowing, ah, I’m not good enough, I am wrong, I am bad, I’m unlovable, people won’t like me, what’s wrong with me and that’s shame.

And shame occurs when we fall short of some way that we believe we’re supposed to be and we’ll get into what triggers shame in a little bit here but first we have to identify it and define it. And the interesting thing about shame is the Latin word from which it’s derived means to cover. And that’s exactly what we want to do when we feel shame. We want to cover it up. We want to, you know, I had one friend who described it, she was a guitarist, and she said, you know, sometimes I go out there and it’s amazing and I love what I do and sometimes I feel like I just want to crawl into a deep dark hole where no one will ever find me and I deserve to be in that hole.

And that was her description of shame. And maybe you felt that, maybe you felt that after you try to talk to a woman and she’s not interested and you feel like I just want to crawl into a deep dark hole, I belong there, no one loves me, no one could love me, I’m a wretch. Maybe it’s been another incident but I know you know what I’m talking about. And it’s also a little uncomfortable. It’s like urgh, I don’t want to feel that, in fact most of the time we spend most of our day trying to get away from that feeling, don’t we? Like oh God, I don’t feel good enough, I better work harder.

Ah, I don’t, you know, is someone doesn’t like me, I feel the sense of shame so I better make sure everyone likes me. So we have all these strategies, all these ways that we try to overcome shame and not touch it, not feel it, not talk about it but that’s what I want to do today. Let’s talk about it because it’s only through talking about it that you can identify it and then become free of it.

And I want to attribute a lot of this podcast was influenced by a researcher named Brene Brown. And if you haven’t heard of her, I strongly suggest go into Google and just type in her name. Brene, B-R-E-N-E, Brown as in the color and watch one of her ted talks or better yet get one of her books, the Daring Greatly is a great one, it just came out not too long ago. She really goes in-depth into shame and vulnerability and it’s very influential, very powerful, very inspiring, especially this is something that you struggle with, you know, feeling low about yourself and at the same time not wanting to share that, wanting to keep that hidden. So that’s actually getting to the second piece which is vulnerability.

So vulnerability, what is that? Shame is that sense that I’m not good enough, vulnerability is a willingness to share. In fact the actual definition of vulnerability in a dictionary is something along the lines of being open to attack or having an opening or a weak, or vulnerable and an exposed to attack. And that’s really what we feel like, right, and if we’re going to be vulnerable is that we could be hurt, we could be attacked. So what is being vulnerable? Well being vulnerable is really putting yourself out there knowing that someone could reject you, knowing that you could experience some sort of pain.

That’s really what I distil vulnerability down to, is doing something even though you know you could feel pain. And that means many things can be cause for a feeling of vulnerability, for just putting or sharing what you’re really thinking in a conversation can be vulnerable because you could be judged. Sharing who you are and perhaps the sexual preference if you’re gay or something other than what, you know, the sort of straight and narrow norm of heterosexuality is. People feel a lot of fear around being judged around that.
And unfortunate with good cause because there is a lot of people that were really harshly criticized someone for being gay.

Falling in love is vulnerable, isn’t it, because you put yourself out there and, hey, what if this person doesn’t like me back? That’s pain or, you know, what if they like me back but then, geez, now we’re together but geez, what if they break up with me or, you know, you’re married, you love each other, you’re in it for the long hall but what if they die? How I love this person knowing that they could die at any moment? That’s just incredible vulnerability.

That’s actually my vulnerability edge right now, is with my wife and then when we’re having a new son and just loving these people so much but knowing on some level that, you know, I can’t control what happens and that she could die, my wife could die, my son could die and yet how to love fully, wholeheartedly, opening my heart fully and giving myself to them knowing that that could happen. Tremendous — just in living is tremendous vulnerability. So it’s up to really live is to be vulnerable and that’s how – I mean, and I can go on with list.

I’m hoping you’re thinking of what causes vulnerability for you, asking someone out for a date, trying to initiate sex with your partner, giving a talk, giving a presentation, sharing your ideas at work, taking on a new business, taking on a new position, anything in that realm that you put yourself out there requires vulnerability.

What Stops Us From Being Vulnerable?

So we have shame and we have vulnerability and they’re so related, aren’t they, because what stops us form being vulnerable? What would stop you from, you know, asking that woman out or from stepping up and giving that presentation, is shame right, fear of doing it wrong, fear of that feeling that you’d have afterwards of being terrible and unlovable and not good enough and bad and wrong.

So our fear of that feeling causes us to not be vulnerable, causes us to hold back, restrict ourselves, tighten ourselves, not share ourselves. And my question for you is, is that bad? Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything lost when we don’t share ourselves?

How does that affect your life to be holding back in inhibiting yourself? And if you’re listening to this and you identify what, you know what, I want to have my confidence, I’m holding myself back, I’m shy or I have self-doubt and I’m not taking on the next big project or really doing what I really want to do and following that with a passion, then my guess is we have a vulnerability problem on our hands.

Actually it’s probably a vulnerability willingness problem, a willingness to be vulnerable problem. And so the first thing we need to address is, well, why on earth would someone want to be vulnerable? In fact when I’ve talked about this with the few clients, they kind of get this like grimiest look on their face. I remember one guy, I was sharing something with him and I’ll get into this in the next section here about a way to be more vulnerable with his wife. And as I was sharing this, he just started to shake his head like he wasn’t saying anything and he was kind of doing it unconsciously like his mouth was slightly open, he was just shaking his head like, oh no, oh no.

And so that’s our reaction to vulnerability, so we got to look at that because if we’re that scared of vulnerability means we’re that scared of shame, it means we’re buying into shame. So the next section here I’m going to talk about, we know the thoughts around vulnerability, its value and what gets in the way of us being vulnerable and really how to deal with shame because if you can’t deal with shame, then you’re not going to let yourself be vulnerable. So we have to learn how to manage that feeling, overcome that feeling, free your self from the grips of fear of shame.

So stay with me, we’re going to have one little break right now and we’re going to get back in all those things right after this.

Fears Of Vulnerability

Let’s start with a question. Why is it better to not be vulnerable? Right, because that’s how we operate and we don’t — we aren’t vulnerable. So on some level we think it’s better to not as better to keep our front up, it’s better to keep looking, put together. And the reason that often we think it’s better to not vulnerable is because we think to be vulnerable to share when, you know, something tender, or that we’re not sure about or that we’re struggling with equals what and you know the word, starts with the W.

Especially for men, we’re trained to think that vulnerability equals weakness, right? Weakness, ah don’t be weak, suck it up, be strong, you know. So if a little kid is crying on a soccer field, you know, pull it together, stop being so weak, you know, or if you are talking with your buddies and you’re like, you know, you’re in high school or something and you’re like, ah, I want to talk to her but I’m so nervous, I just feel so full of self-doubt. And what your buddy say? Oh come on man, don’t be a wuz, you know, don’t be weak in other words. Just go do it.

And overtime we condition, we get conditioned by the world around us to think that to not know how to do something, to fear rejection, to get rejected, to “fail” in any way is weakness and if we do that, we’re mocked by our peers, we’re ridiculed, we have the fear that we’re going to be fully out-casted, rejected wholesale. And we want to avoid that vulnerability at all cost. But my question for you is what is the cost of avoiding that vulnerability, what is the downside? And I was working with a client and he made major strides, I mean he started out in a place of he could not even make eye-contact.

Remember one of our earliest sessions, I had us just look at each other in silence for 60 seconds, I timed it because I noticed that before then he could not really sustain any eye-contact with me in sessions. And he is wanting to work on being more confident and connecting with people and I was stepping in to himself and I was thinking, well if he can’t make eye-contact, then he’s not going to be able to be confident in the world. So the first place to start was with eye-contact and with me. So we did a little experiment where he just looked at me and I looked at him for 60 seconds.

And I mean, it would like this guy was going through some sort of G-force experiment in the Air Force or training for NASA or something like he was gripping his seat and his knuckles were turning white, he was kind of tilting his head a little and his lips were shaking and, you know, starting to sweat and then afterwards I asked him and he made it, he made to 60 seconds and I asked him what and he said, I felt I was starting to have a panic attack and I had to like to start focusing my breathing and he’d actually experienced some panic attacks and we’d work on that earlier.

So he knew some techniques to help calm his panic but he was almost going to have a panic attack, doing this eye-contact exercise. And actually after that, you know, session, I thought like I spent the next like 10 minutes just basically talking him down and helping through a panic attack and I remember thinking after that session like, urgh geez, you know, I broke him I pushed him too far. I pushed him too hard and it actually turns out it was a turning point because he came back the next session and he just had a profound realization and something snapped in that session that allowed him throughout that week to just look at people a lot more, something clicked and it was very powerful for him.

So he’d broken through that, he was making more eye-contact, he was starting to interact with people more. In fact he really started to develop a deeper, a broader friend network. And he actually started to be the hub of his friend group where he would organize things. Before he was always the guy on the outside, he was kind of just waiting, if people really liked me, they would invite me but then through our conversations, he realized oh I can invite people, I can take the initiative. It’s vulnerable though, right? So he was developing some vulnerability, willing to ask for what he wanted.

And, you know, you’re just starting to get in the realm of dating and relationships but, you know, one thing he came to me and he said, I don’t have any deep friends. You know, I got more people I know now, more people I call friends but I don’t have anyone I can talk to when stuff is going wrong. I don’t really want to have anyone who I know he’s got my back. I don’t know — I mean if I’m doing great and I’m happy and I’m upbeat and I want to go drinking or whatever, I have a dozen people I can call. But if I just want to talk about what’s going on in my life, I don’t have anyone.

And I said okay, well that’s great. You know, you’ve overcome the first hurdle of putting yourself out there. Now you got to go to the next level which is develop those deep connections. And we talked about how that might happen and V word came up, the dreaded V word, vulnerability. You know, how do you develop a connection where, you know, you can talk about what’s going on in your life with someone. The only way to do that is to find a person that you imagine is going to be receptive, that has earned that right, you know, someone you’ve hangout with a number of times and you like their vibes, they don’t seem overly judgmental or harsh.

And you take a risk, you take a shot. You say something like, you know, and at this time the reason you want to develop his friendships, one of the reason was, he was really struggling with dating and relationships, terrified to talk to woman. And I always encouraged him like, you know, if you do this stuff with a buddy, not just talking to a woman but just little social experiments that I talk all about, you know, kind of like my action steps like go out and ask 10 people what time it is kind of thing. You know, if you do that with a friend, it’s a lot more fun.

You know, don’t feel like work, it’s kind of a game and he’s like, well I have a friend that I can go to that stuff with. And I said, really, you know, you’re a young guy. I know a lot of men at any age but especially in their early 20’s don’t feel like they have a handle on talking to women. I mean that’s the norm, not the exception. And so I bet if you talk to one of your acquaintances or friends that they would be happy to. And he just kind of stared me as I said that and, you know, blinked a few times and he’s like wait, you want me to tell one of my friends that I am too anxious to talk to women?

And I said, yeah, right, you know, I mean, you don’t have to end at there, you could say, I’m wanting to work on it and I’d love, you know, do some experiments or try some things with you, what’s your experience with women? Are you satisfied in your confidence and ability to talk to them? Again, I got a blank stare. And I thought from on, I was like, am I speaking unclearly or am I not communicating well? And then I realized that he got it. It just produced so much fear in him that he kind of have like a freeze reaction, you know, fighter flight, fighter freeze, he has a freeze reaction to this, like oh my God, you actually want me to just share that with someone?

So tremendous fear about vulnerable and this isn’t unique to him, this is a problem for many people in our society including women but I think especially for men, this tremendous fear around being vulnerable and you would not believe how many men I talked to who have friends. People they would even consider their best buddies but they can’t talk to them about what’s really going on. They can’t talk to them if they’re having a challenge with their girlfriend or wife or partner. They can’t talk to them if their single and they’re feeling lonely and they really want to meet someone but they can’t or they can’t talk them if they feel like they’re falling short at their job and they’re worried about getting fired.

They can’t talk to them if they were just connected with a woman and they’re going to make love but they had a problem with her in keeping an erection because they used a condom. I mean these are really vulnerable things, right, but so it’s like, oh my God, I could never ever share that. If I share that with my friends, you know what they would do to me? They would never let me leave it down. And if that’s your set up which is what my set up was when I was younger, you know, in my — in the high school and into college, if I just shared anything with my friends, if would have been ridiculed mercilessly.

And I just thought that’s how it is. In fact to the South Park Episode, whether you say that’s just how guys are, that’s just what guys do and I really challenge that. I disagree, I mean, sure, you know, kind of bust involves and teasing each other, something I do with my friends now and it’s great but my friends can tell me anything about what’s going on with them and I feel the same way. And when you have that in your life, then you’re held, you’re supported, you know, that sense of not being good enough, not being lovable, that sense of shame is healed when you can reveal something that you’re stuck with, that you’re challenging with and a person that you — or a friend that you know and love can hear you and support you and not criticize or attack you or dissents himself by saying, it has never happen to me.

You know, I remember when I was, geez, this must have been early college and I was — I didn’t sleep with a woman until I got to college. I was a late bloomer and a lot of social anxiety but I remember I had an experience with a woman and we got together and there is that experience I described where it would seem like it’s going well and then I reached for a condom and then lost my erection. And that never happened to me before not because I’m such a stud but because I haven’t slept with that many women and it was just my second woman that I slept with.

And I remember feeling flooded with shame. Oh my God, because how many messages that we get as man about sex and, you know, there’s a powerful book called The New Male Sexuality by Dr. Barry Zimmerman where he talks about all the myths that we absorb from our culture as man about how we’re supposed to be sexually. And one of them is, he calls the chapter, and it was two-feet long, you know, hard as steel or something like that and that’s this idea that we’re supposed to be this virile man who’s, you know, always ready for sex and always performs and all this stuff.

And so I had all those messages in my head and this thing happens to me and she was okay with it, she didn’t shame me or mock me. I just felt this like, I got to get out of here, I’m a failure. So, you know, I think I held it together for a while and I left and then a few days later, I was talking to all my friends and this was in my non-vulnerable friend days but I was like so distressed, I had to tell someone. And so I didn’t tell him actually, I asked him because I don’t want to be that vulnerable and he said, have you ever, you know, been with a woman, you know, tried to use a condom and then, you know, lost your erection?

And he’s like, pft, no, and I was like, oh, cool, you know. And I was like, I just felt too embarrassed and who know maybe he felt embarrassed but I remember the stats but I remember I was looking at them all back and it’s a very high number. And I’ve learned so much about how much that that is related, you know, our ability to get erection is related to, connected to my heart and my feelings towards a person I’m with and there’s so much there to get into and that’s probably a whole another episode but this is just an example of that level of vulnerability.

And I know that there are some of you out there who are listening right now and your jaw is slightly open and you’re just kind of subtly shaking your head, you’re like no F-ing way and am I going to say anything like that to anyone. And that’s fine. That is totally your choice, that is totally your right but here is the thing, if you keep all that stuff inside and you don’t share it with anyone, you are continuing to feed the shame monster. And we’re going to get into that in the next segment, we’re going to talk about the same monster, what triggers shame and how to break free of it.

How to be free of that sense that you’re not good enough? So stay with it, we’ll be right back in one second.

Shame Triggers

Now we’re going to talk about shame triggers, what causes you to feel shame? Shame is caused by when you do something and it falls short of an expectation that you have for yourself. An expectation that was set by your parents, by society, by your family, by your religious organizations, by your school, by the culture, the general kind of media and culture that you’ve absorbed around you. These can be things like, the example I said before like a man, should always be ready for sex, a man should never have any problems maintaining an erection.

Maybe you have the expectation for yourself, I should never desire another woman if I’m in a relationship. Maybe you have the expectation of I should not be afraid to go talk to a woman or if I do go talk to a woman, she should give me her number and I don’t get her number, it means I’m a failure. So you really want to look at what are the expectations you have for yourself and the best way to find out what these are is to notice when you feel shame. If you, you know, if you’re — all of a sudden you noticed and the first thing to do is just feel to identify it.

You’re just — you’re having a bad feeling, you feel bad, you feel really, really shitty, that’s what shame feels like. If you’re rotten, you feel like I’m worthless, I can’t do anything, my life’s not going anywhere, I’m unlovable, take a moment and say, am I feeling shame and look for it? Is there a sense of I am bad, I’m wrong, I’m unlovable? And then look for what expectation am I not meeting? And you’ll find it. Maybe you should, you know, be making more money, maybe you should, you know, when you leave work, you should be happy and upbeat, you shouldn’t be stressed out.

Maybe you should never be upset with anyone. Maybe you should never feel annoyed, maybe you should have been more assertive and not, you know, been passive in the way you were. Maybe you shouldn’t have been so assertive and you come across as too forceful and you feel shame around that. I mean, it can endless and you can have multiple triggers. So the key is to start to identify what are those shame triggers? What makes me feel shame, what expectation I just break? And then really look at that expectation. Is that really realistic that I should never get upset?

Is that realistic that I should never feel stressed out or never feel anxious? You know, look at it and questioning it, but that’s only part of it because the true antidote to shame is being able to identify it and then here is the part that you’re not going to like if you don’t like the V word is to be vulnerable and share that with someone else. We heal together. You know, I’ve read, geez, over the last 12 years, maybe 150 to 200 book in a graduate school and also this veracious habit of self-help and listening to audios and everything, these hundreds of books.

And they’ve been really powerful information that I’ve really shared that I used in my whole life to help me and share with others to really a positive effects. But none of those books produced transformation, they were just information or ideas, transformation comes between other people. My true transformations came in my life when I was working with a therapist or working with a coach or in a men’s group and I was sharing myself and what challenges were and the other person could hear me and respond with empathy rather than judgment.

That is what cured and healed so much of my shame. And here is the thing, it’s an ongoing process, it’s not like, oh I’m healed and now I’m shame-free. No shame comes back and even you change your life, shame could back but now I’ve learned that the process is, oh okay, identified I’m feeling shame, oh okay, let me work with this. What expectation did I fall short of? Oh that seems pretty unrealistic. Okay, let me talk about this with someone and I have a list of people in my life that I’ve cultivated starting with my wife. I chose a woman who has an incredible capacity.

I mean she was my teacher, my coach before we got together. So she’s at the next level and I am just always grateful for that but I can talk about this stuff with her or I have a number of close male that I’ve cultivated on relationships of honesty and vulnerability where we can talk about this stuff. And we kind of get in this mode, it’s like always going to tell me something, oh it can be vulnerable, okay, let me relate to that. And if you wanted to happen to be on the other end of this, if someone is sharing something with you that they clearly can feel shame around or you could guess that they’re feeling shame around, here is what not to do which is the most common response.

Give like some really bad advice and kind of as if they’re messed up. Oh well geez, you should have just done X,Y and Z because that just feels terrible. You need to empathize and the way they say in men’s groups and other things is identify what they’re feeling. Find something in what they’re saying that you too can identify with like, oh man, I’ve been that way before too or your friend sharing like how he’s going to talk to this woman and he did and then, you know, he asked on a date and she said like, uh no and instead of saying, oh well, geez man, why didn’t you do this instead?

You say, oh God, I’ve been there and hopefully you have find that place in your experience where you can identify. And this is a much, much deeper topics so far to get into this in another episode but these are just some general tips for how to start addressing the same, finding your shame triggers, letting go the expectations and then revealing it, being vulnerable. I hope that’s one thing you’re going to take away from this episode is the power of being vulnerable and what that can do in your life and how it transform your relationships and also your own relationship with your self, how you feel about yourself. So as we get to the end of this episode here, it is time for your action step.

Time For Action!

The most powerful action of all… be vulnerable. That’s actually what today’s action step is. I want you to think of someone in your life, your closest friend, your wife, your girlfriend, a sibling that you’re close to. Someone that you maybe, someone you work with that you have a really good relationship with. And I want you to do, take a risk and be vulnerable with this person. Look for that opportunity, look for that thing, you know, like you, you’re feeling really down that day and you go up to meet up with your friend and he says how is it going?

And instead of saying, you know, you kind of pop yourself up before you hangout with him, say, I was doing pretty good man, just grab beer yeah. And you say, oh man, it’s been a rough day, I’ve been down all day, and see how they respond. See how people respond, really start to put yourself out there. And the biggest fear I hear from people is, well what it goes poorly? What if they say something that makes me feel terrible? What if they say, oh come on man, suck it up, have a beer. That’s good information. That is a good information because if you are truly being yourself.

And sharing who you are in the world and you get negative responses ad make you feel bad, you’re going to start to question do I want to be vulnerable with this person again? And it doesn’t mean you have to cut off friendship, you might just have a more superficial friendship but you are also, you’re getting information about what level you can have that friendship at and if you’re anything like me, I think you know on some deep level that you want those close friends, those chosen family members, people that got your back no matter what and then you have there as in there this deep bond and that’s only cultivated through vulnerability and through you taking the first risk.

So that’s your action step for today, is take that first risk and let me know how it goes, send an email to DrAziz-at-ShrinkForTheShyGuy-dot-com. I’d love to hear how it goes, I always love the vulnerability stories, good or bad, it’s always information either way, it’s just an experiment. So thanks for listening and until we speak again… KNOW that you’re awesome.

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