How To Be Vulnerable With Friends (And Become Closer)

Ever since Brené Brown made waves with her TED talk on the power of vulnerability, there have been countless articles on why it’s important to be vulnerable.

But being vulnerable is still something so many of us struggle to do.

Just hearing that being vulnerable is a good thing isn’t enough to help us do it. In this article, we’ll share 7 tips to help you be more vulnerable with your friends. We’ll also explain how being vulnerable can help you and the people around you.

Sections

  1. How to be vulnerable with friends
  2. The benefits of being vulnerable with friends
  3. Common questions

How to be vulnerable with friends

You might want to become more vulnerable, but how should you do it? How can you know if you’re being vulnerable or just oversharing? How much should you share and when? Here are 11 steps on learning to be vulnerable with friends.

1. Explore your fears

Before you rush to share your deepest thoughts with people around you, pause to figure out what’s been holding you back in the first place.

Being vulnerable with others means opening ourselves up to rejection, and that’s scary. Identifying your specific fears can help you deal with these fears.

Our fear may even seem less intimidating just by the act of admitting it to ourselves. Saying out loud (or writing down), “I’m afraid that if I tell anyone about this, they’ll leave me,” can be a relief.

You may fear you will get hurt by a comment your friend says after you open up, that your friends will distance themselves from you, or that they won’t understand you, and you’ll end up feeling even more alone. These fears are all common.

Once you’ve written down your fears, you may choose to go further and think about what you’ll do if any of these things end up happening.

For example, “if I feel that my friend didn’t understand me correctly, I’ll tell them I feel misunderstood and try explaining differently.”

Or, “if my friend distances themselves after I share something personal, I will remind myself that it may be a reflection of them rather than me. I’ll still feel proud of myself for trying, and I will try again with someone new.”

2. Recognize the right people to share with

While hurts and betrayals can always surprise us in a relationship, there are ways to learn how to recognize people that are generally less able to handle vulnerability and honesty.

If your friend tends to gossip or put down other people, for example, they are more likely to judge you as well. Look to share with people who are kind, patient, and emotionally mature.

If you’re not sure how to recognize a safe friend, read our article on 36 signs a friend doesn’t respect you. If any of these signs remind you of your friend, refrain from being vulnerable with them until you feel more confident in your ability. Don’t start your vulnerability journey with someone who is disrespectful or emotionally immature.

3. Start by sharing small things

You don’t have to share your biggest fears, dreams, or traumas to be vulnerable. Don’t “go all-in,” but instead, choose to expand your comfort zone slowly.

Here are some examples of small things you could share:

  • Somewhere you’d love to go on vacation, and why it appeals to you (e.g., “I’ve always thought Egypt sounded fascinating. I’ve love to go there and see the pyramids.”)
  • A minor fear; something that makes you uneasy rather than a phobia (e.g., “I’ve always been slightly afraid of snakes. I just don’t like the way they move!”)
  • A funny, slightly embarrassing story (e.g., “I couldn’t remember my neighbor’s first name, so I blurted out “Good morning, Mr. Jones!” instead. At that point, I’d known him for 4 years.”)

4. Talk about something that happened recently

Sharing about things happening in your life is a great way to slowly increase your vulnerability. For example, you can share things like this:

  • Did a recent interaction with a coworker leave you feeling confused?
  • Are you nervous because someone asked you to do something you don’t have any experience in?

5. Share about positive things, too!

When we think about opening up, we often imagine talking about our toughest moments. However, sometimes positive things are just as difficult to speak of as negative ones.

In some cases, we may even feel embarrassed talking about things that make us happy. Sharing our happiness with others is a great way to become closer.

Here are some examples of positive things you could share:

  • “I just got a new puppy! He’s a lot of work, but he’s so cute.”
  • “I got some exciting news yesterday. My sister is getting married and wants me to be her maid of honor.”
  • “I finally finished my diploma. It wasn’t easy, but it feels good to get that certificate!”

6. Share your goals

Talking about our hopes and dreams can be just as scary. We may feel that if we share a dream for the future, we have to commit to going after it. Or we may be afraid that people will look down on us if we can’t meet our goals.

That’s part of being vulnerable.

But being strong enough to share your future goals for other people and why they’re important to you can empower you to go out and get them. Your friend might encourage you in ways you didn’t expect. You may find that just speaking about your goals makes them clearer.

Here are some examples of goals you could share:

  • “I’m determined to retire by 55 because I want to enjoy myself in my later years. It’s going to take a lot of sacrifice, but I think it’ll be worth it.”
  • “This year, I’m going to lose at least 20 lbs. I want to feel fitter and healthier.”
  • “Next spring, I’m going to retrain as a nurse. It was a childhood dream, and I’ve never really let it go. I want a meaningful career that lets me help people.”

7. Dare to try new things

We often find ourselves sticking to things we know we’re good at when we’re around people we want to impress. Try something new that you aren’t particularly good at.

Being vulnerable isn’t just about talking. Doing new and scary things with others is another way to be vulnerable and build closer connections.

For example, you could try a new hobby or learn a new language. Embrace the fact that you’re a complete beginner. Try to enjoy the learning process instead of focusing on the outcome or becoming an “expert.” If possible, go to a beginner’s class or group where you can meet other people who are just getting started. Learning a new skill can be a good way to bond with others and may lead to new friendships.

8. Keep the focus on yourself

When having a vulnerable conversation, make sure you’re talking about your own inner experience.

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Often, what we feel is a response to other people’s behaviors.

Yet we need to separate our own feelings and vulnerabilities, which may be linked to things that happened to us in our past, from what’s happening in the present moment.

Avoid using accusatory language, like “you don’t care about me,” “you abandoned me,” and so on. At first glance, it may seem like you’re being vulnerable, but doing so is actually a way of avoiding the hurtful feelings we’re experiencing by externalizing them.

Work with a feelings wheel to familiarize yourself with your inner world.

9. Maintain your boundaries

Deciding to be more vulnerable doesn’t mean you release your needs for privacy and boundaries. Someone asking you a personal question doesn’t mean you need to give a long, honest answer.

Examples of boundaries include: not disclosing your full financial details with anyone, not sharing your complete sexual history with someone you’re dating until you’re official, and not sharing personal information about your romantic relationship with your family or friends.

For more tips, read how to set boundaries with friends.

10. Consider getting external help

Often, we have enough self-awareness to realize we have a problem but not enough to figure out the solutions ourselves. That’s normal.

Don’t be afraid to utilize external help to practice opening up. Explore your insecurities with a therapist, or consider joining a support group where you can see others practicing their own vulnerability.

11. Be patient with yourself

Change takes time. Knowing that we want to change something about our life is the first step, but it’s common to have setbacks and doubts. Don’t expect yourself to get it right all at once. Remind yourself that learning how to share with others is an ongoing process.

Benefits of being vulnerable with friends

You probably heard that it could help you to be vulnerable with your friends. But how exactly? Here are 7 important benefits of being vulnerable with your friends.

1. Being vulnerable shows trust

Have you ever felt flattered that someone chose to ask you for a favor or came to you with a problem they had?

Opening up to others can make them feel important. It also lets them know you think highly of them.

2. Vulnerability empowers your friends to support you

Prosocial behavior (like helping others) is linked to a sense of well-being and even physical health. And informal helping (such as helping a friend through a difficult time) seems to show more benefits than formal volunteering[1] (like volunteering at a soup kitchen).

So, in a sense, by allowing your friends to support or comfort you, they have an opportunity to feel better about themselves.

3. People are more likely to be more personal back

You can be sure of one thing: you’re not the only person out there who is afraid to be vulnerable (or doesn’t have much experience with it).

Your friends and acquaintances may have grown up in homes where they have never seen anyone being authentically vulnerable. A guy is more likely to have grown up with messages that feelings should be bottled up inside. Sentences like “boys don’t cry” are internalized, and studies have shown that adults assume babies feel different things depending on whether the baby is male or female.[2]

One study that followed children at 40 and 70 months found that parents made more references to emotion while speaking with daughters. By 70 months, girls used words to describe their emotions.[3]

By choosing to get personal with your friends, they are more likely to feel comfortable opening up to you as well.

4. Creating closer and more authentic bonds

When we don’t open ourselves up, our relationships remain superficial. While we can enjoy superficial relationships (it’s nice to have someone to go out and have fun with), most people yearn for closer and deeper relationships.

The openness of vulnerability can upgrade a regular friend into a BFF and create memorable bonds that will last longer. Deep bonds bring deeper meaning into our lives and in turn, greater life satisfaction.

5. You will learn who your real friends are

Sometimes we convince ourselves that if we are vulnerable, we’ll end up alone. The truth is that sometimes your friends will surprise you. Someone can react positively to your share, bringing forth a closer relationship.

Sadly, sometimes people don’t respond the way we’d like. That’s okay, too. We discovered they might not be close friend material. Now we can choose whether we’d like to keep them as a more superficial friend or possibly distance ourselves. Try to make real friends that can match the closeness level that you’re looking for in a friendship.

6. You feel like people really know who you are

When we put up strict boundaries with people or pretend to be someone else so they’ll like us, we can be left with a sense that “if people knew what I was really like, they wouldn’t like me.”

But this can create a situation where one may have many friends and social events to go to but still feel like people don’t know who they really are.

Being vulnerable and showing your whole self to others can give you the validation that you are truly lovable just as you are.

7. It can help you love yourself

Even in a situation where our vulnerability doesn’t seem to have “paid off” (e.g., an occasion where we were vulnerable with someone and they replied in a hurtful way or distanced themselves), it can still increase our self-love.

The knowledge that we were brave and authentic can help us be proud of ourselves and develop a more loving relationship with the one that matters most—ourselves. We walk away feeling no regrets because we acted in a way that was true to who we are.

Common questions

What does it mean to be vulnerable in a friendship?

Being vulnerable means allowing people to see who we really are rather than putting up a shield. That means daring to open up, be honest, and get deep.

Is it okay to be vulnerable to others?

Not only is it okay to be vulnerable, but it’s also the key to building close connections that can last a lifetime. You can be vulnerable with people you have known a long time or people you recently met. Once you get comfortable being vulnerable, you’re unlikely to feel regrets.

How do you start a vulnerable conversation?

To start a vulnerable conversation, make sure the setting is right: that you have enough privacy and time so both parties feel comfortable sharing. Ask the other person if they’re currently available to talk about something important. Focus on “I feel” sentences.

Why is it so hard to be vulnerable?

Being vulnerable is scary because it opens us up to rejection. We all need to feel liked, understood, and accepted. It can feel easier to put up strict boundaries rather than open up and get hurt.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages SocialSelf’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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