Have You Ever Experienced a “Vulnerability Hangover”?
If you’ve been vulnerable, chances are you’ve experienced this phenomenon
A couple of months ago, I wrote a short story and shared it with a close friend. To her, it was no big deal — but to me, it felt like I was chipping off a little part of my soul and handing it over.
The vulnerability I felt at that moment probably had to do with the circumstances — it’s been a long time since I’ve done any creative writing, let alone finished an actual story. I was opening a door I thought I’d locked and dead-bolted a while ago.
Afterward, all I could feel was a weird mixture of fear and regret — I couldn’t believe I’d actually let her read that. It wasn’t even good — why did I do that? Even after she told me she liked the story, I couldn't shake the gnawing pit in my stomach.
That’s not the only time I’ve felt this way either. In the past, I’ve drawn or written things for people — only to immediately regret it. To me, these gifts feel all too personal — it’s like I’m opening up my chest cavity with a scalpel and letting someone else poke around.
When someone casts aside a drawing I just spent six hours on with barely a “thank you,” it only makes the situation worse. I knew I should’ve just bought that $20 scarf and been done with it.
For a long time, I didn’t realize there was a term for the cocktail of fear and regret I experience after being vulnerable. I thought it was just a me thing, but as it turns out, it’s a people thing.
Researcher Brené Brown referred to this feeling as a “vulnerability hangover” in a TED talk. According to her, this uncertainty and fear only pops up after we’ve just gotten real about who we are and what we want.
Maybe you’ve just told someone an intimate detail about your life or finally wrote that blog post about your speckled past — either way, it’s natural to experience a vulnerability hangover.
Vulnerability hangovers don’t mean you’ve done anything wrong
Just because a vulnerability hangover is making you feel a little regretful doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vulnerable.
Most of the time, our vulnerability hangover and anxiety is going to try and frame the situation in the worst way. After sharing an intimate part of your life with a friend, you might be filled with doubt and regret. Meanwhile, your friend sees the situation completely differently. They might feel glad you opened up.
The point here is that you shouldn’t let a vulnerability hangover be the judge of your actions. The hangover is probably going to always happen — we just have to accept that it’s a natural part of personal growth and opening up.
Why do vulnerability hangovers happen?
If vulnerability hangovers don’t mean we’ve made a faux pas, why do they happen in the first place? Well, good question. I suppose you could lump vulnerability hangovers into the same boat as anxiety and doubt.
Being vulnerable is not easy. It takes a lot of guts to put your foot down and share who you truly are with someone else. We’re opening ourselves up to human connection, but we’re also opening ourselves up to rejection. That can be incredibly scary, depending on the situation.
You can think of your vulnerability hangover like post-op pain. You might’ve gone through a life-changing surgery that’s going to make your life better, but the initial aftermath sucks. Vulnerability hangovers work the same way. They don’t feel great, but they’re apart of the process.
There’s a weird misconception out there that being vulnerable makes us weak. Our vulnerability hangovers often reiterate this misconception since we feel “weak” for opening up.
That’s not true.
In her TED talk, Brown describes vulnerability hangovers as the, “most accurate measure of courage.” Vulnerability hangovers only happen when we tap into the deepest parts ourselves — the parts we want to hide, the parts that are scary, and the parts that define who we are.