Two weeks ago, I woke up with the worst hangover – not from drinking too much, but from sharing too much. I had what Brene Brown, acclaimed author and research professor at the University of Houston, calls a vulnerability hangover.
“A vulnerability hangover is a gut-wrenching feeling that happens the moment we decide to get real about who we are, what we want and how we express it.”
As I told him how much I loved him – how it was both scary and exhilarating – as I opened my heart to unprecedented levels, I felt as if I had ripped through all three layers of skin, exposing myself to the bone.
The morning after, I wrestled with the gut-wrenching feeling that something was off and, in an effort to escape that feeling, I tried to soothe myself, “Amy, everything is fine. You’re good. It’s OK.”
But it didn’t feel OK and slowly, like little bits of paper burning at the top of the fire, scraps of conversation from the previous day began to rain ash on my still fresh morning.
I gave a small cough as I began to choke on the memory of making myself utterly vulnerable to him.
My head began to thump wildly as I recounted the fears and worries that I’d never be enough for him and he’d return to his wild life of serial dating.
My tongue began to paste over the thick words, “I could see myself spending the rest of my life with you”, near choking that I shared that much.
I could feel the intense nauseating feeling rise from the pit of my stomach to my throat.
Taking a deep breath, I recognized this feeling. It was a vulnerability hangover – a feeling I’ve only experienced two other times in my life. In all my vulnerability and sharing, the only two times I had really bared my heart in this way was when I first came out to the girl I was head over heels for eight years ago and when I openly came to terms with my sexuality (what I understood it to be at that time in my life) at a life coaching weekend six years ago.
A vulnerability hangover is the emotional equivalent of the swimsuit portion of your very first beauty pageant in front of every single person you have ever known in your whole life
without the swimsuit
and the makeup
and with the extra ten pounds of winter weight
As I sat with the nauseating feeling of my vulnerability hangover, I thought about the stark contrast of how I felt the previous day. As intense and deep as our conversation was – as he equally shared his fears – I felt grounded, secure and even more connected to this person who I feel like I’ve known in another lifetime. There was real freedom knowing we could, and did talk, about everything. But here I was, the day after, struck with the pang of oversharing and perhaps exposing myself so much it would burn me and leave me broken beyond repair.
We live in a culture where making yourself vulnerable -exposing your fears and uncertainties, taking emotional risks – is considered a form of weakness. It’s something most of us run from. Even if you consider yourself to be open and vulnerable, this level of heart opening is scary AF.
But, Brene’s research reveals hugely positive outcomes that emerge from stepping into the arena of vulnerability.
It’s precisely when we expose ourselves – perhaps in a relationship or at work – that we create experiences that bring meaning and purpose to our lives.
While vulnerability is positively impactful, that doesn’t mean it’s all unicorns, butterflies and rainbows. If you really take the step, and I mean completely give up controlling or filtering what you share, if you really make yourself vulnerable, it’s pretty likely – almost inevitable – that the next morning you’ll wake up with that gut-wrenching feeling thinking, “Why did I share that? What was I thinking?” In fact, if you don’t have a vulnerability hangover the next morning, you probably didn’t go far enough.
As I settled into my 5th cup of coffee and my morning, I began to consider that perhaps really owning our story – the whole damn thing and not just the edited and scripted parts – is the bravest thing we can do…and what feels like a vulnerability hangover or a little like a heart flu is really just courage in action.
Feeling stretched and exposed is a good thing. It means we said something that matters, something true in our hearts. It’s a sign we’re more invested in living life rather than curating it.
When You Find Yourself Up Against A Brave Moment:
Don’t be a bunny
You know the chocolate bunnies you’d find in your Easter basket as a kid – the kind that each year you’d start to drool over as you examined its beautifully colored foil – the kind that you’d bite into only to find out it was a hollow shell? The beautiful foil always offered the promise of what was inside but without fail, it was always hollow and empty.
The lesson? Bring the real you to the table. We are waiting and we can take it. Because guess what? We have our own junk too. And, if you’re sitting at a table where your real self and your vulnerability is “too much”? Change tables.
When you find yourself with the Holy shit what did I do?, go easy on yourself and call on your tools for self-care:
Ask friends for witnessing, not fixing
Welcome the waves of intense feelings without focusing on them
Release tension in your body with a workout or a nap – what does your physical body need for release?
Do whatever you need except believe the voice in your head that wants to use the gut-wrenching feeling as reason to not put your heart out there.
Keep showing up
It’s easy to retreat into your cocoon after a highly vulnerable moment. Fight the urge to hide and instead, continue to show up wholeheartedly.
Loving with your whole heart is petrifying, but it’s worth it every time. Each time you open your heart, you learn something new about yourself while simultaneously understanding that you have the capacity to courageously and passionately live life without limit.
To heart-opening adventures and brave moments,