How To Nurse A Vulnerability Hangover, According To Brené Brown

Photographed by ASHLEY ARMITAGE.
A side effect of the human condition is that, every so often, you’ll be overcome with an overwhelming feeling of uncomfortableness and regret after you share something personal with others. It’s a humbling experience, really, the ability to give yourself the ‘ick’
You might’ve felt it after sharing a particularly risky text and consequently having to throw your phone across the room. It could take the form of overstepping during a D’n’M and immediately regretting the word vomit that’s left your lips. Emotional cringe is powerful.
This phenomenon is dubbed a ‘vulnerability hangover’. Parallel to the mental and physical anguish you’re put through after a big night of drinking, a vulnerability hangover is the sense of shame and fear after taking an emotional risk. Researcher and storyteller Dr. Brené Brown, who is known for her groundbreaking work on vulnerability and connection, is said to have coined the term. 
Advertisement
“Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, [means] I won't be worthy of connection?” she says in her TedX talk.
Vulnerability isn’t something we give up easily. Being left in the open, susceptible to attacks and criticism, isn’t a position many of us willingly put ourselves in. Trust is something that’s earned, walls are built around our hearts, and skepticism is regarded as a healthy trait. 
That being said, we also can applaud and see good in others’ expressions of vulnerability. “My stories make me hateable. But other people, oh my goodness, I love when they’re vulnerable with me. But not me, I'm never safe,” shares TikTokker @ayandastood. “[A] girl who share[s] her story so openly [is] so brave and courageous. And I'm so much more inspired by her [and it] makes me connect to her on an even deeper level of meaning… she just took a risk, and she's so courageous.”
Here, it seems like secondhand emotional cringe is not nearly as much as a thing as its mortifying counterpart. Perhaps we are more empathetic and compassionate when it comes to matters of the heart. That’s what I’d like to believe anyway. 
Science backs this up, too. “The ‘beautiful mess effect’ is something that has been coined by psychologists to describe the mismatch between the way that we regard other people's vulnerability as making them more human and interesting and complex and lovable,” @ayandastood continues.
Advertisement
Researchers have found that asking for help can boost learning, admitting to being wrong encourages forgiveness and cultivating openness can increase trust. Being on the other side of the vulnerability hangover is often a rewarding experience. 
In practice, this looks like actively asking for help, being able to set aside ego and be the first to apologise, opening up about your emotions and letting yourself feel without self-criticism or self-judgement.

"Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives… The ability to feel connected is — neurobiologically, that's how we're wired — why we're here."

Think about a time a loved one has opened up to you — a newfound appreciation and understanding often lies on the other side of a vulnerable exchange. There’s power in choosing to be uncomfortable. “Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives… The ability to feel connected is — neurobiologically, that's how we're wired — why we're here,” Brown says. 
Remember that the next time you feel a vulnerability hangover brewing. Instead of looking at it as a consequence of a seemingly regrettable action, remember that it is an act of courage — a privilege — to be able to be painstakingly honest with another human.
Brené Brown waxes lyrical about this terrifying exchange and the electric, life-affirming aftermath that awaits. “To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee, to practise gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we're wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ [is] to say, ‘I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive’.”

More from Relationships

R29 Original Series

Advertisement