The Vulnerability Hangover

Have you ever told someone more than you planned and then walked away wishing you could take it all back?  

It happens to me most when I want to make a connection with someone, normally a close friend or family member.  I share a piece of me that’s struggling, open up about a crazy dream, or express a deep desire.  It feels good and right in the moment, but once the conversation ends I can’t stop asking myself, “Why the hell did I say that?”  I then fight off the violent urge to hide in a hole, or watch The Lord of the Rings Trilogy back to back for 12 hours straight.

Last week, this feeling was finally described to me in a term I plan to use for the rest of my life: Vulnerability Hangover.

Dr. Brene’ Brown is a research professor who dove into the study of shame, worthiness, and courage.  You may have heard of her.  Her TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame are among the most watched on with more than eight million views.  Last Friday, she spoke at the Global Leadership Summit.  The Summit is a massive event where the best in business and leadership are asked to speak to thousands in a Chicago church and thousands more across the globe via live simulcast.  


Dr. Brown’s talk was exactly what I needed to here.

She spoke of how love and belonging are the two irreducible needs of men, women, and children.  In their absence is always suffering.  In order to get these needs met, we need connection.  To get connection - real connection - we have to be vulnerable.  

Dr. Brown explained that the rules are simple: to be here and be loved.  That requires bravery, but good news...we were born to be brave.  It’s when we feel the most alive.  Unfortunately, like how Dr. Brown described how she felt after being vulnerable while giving her first TED talk...that bravery, can give us one hell of a vulnerability hangover.

For me, when I open up to people, I open myself for rejection, criticism, and ridicule.   Yes, I also open myself to love, acceptance, and affirmation, but the opposite can happen just as easily.  When I open up for an audience of more than one, I can often get a confusing mix of both.  And when one person says something negative, even if it’s surrounded by a sea of love and support, it stings like nothing else.  So the next time I choose to be vulnerable, it’s terrifying, and the vulnerability hangover hits worse than a night of beer before liquor.  

Dr. Brown says that’s when we have to make a choice.  Comfort or Courage.  You can’t have both.  


Comfort says to stay a little smaller, perhaps just under the radar, for fear of what people will say.  Open up less.  Share less.  Pull back.

But courage...Courage says you are signing up to get your butt kicked, and that sucks, but you are brave.  And even better, you’re in the arena.  An idea best expressed by the quote Dr. Brown left us with from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly...

I’ve posted links to both of Dr. Brown’s TED talks below.  They’re about 20 minutes long, but trust me (and eight million others), they're well worth watching.