Vulnerability hangover is a term used to describe the unpleasant feelings you may have after sharing your deepest emotions, needs, or desires. Opening your heart to others can be scary, and it’s normal to have doubts and second thoughts about being so honest. Vulnerability hangovers often include feelings of anxiety, so developing healthy coping skills is beneficial.
What Is a Vulnerability Hangover?
A vulnerability hangover, a term first coined by Brené Brown, occurs after one is open and honest with others about how they are feeling.1 While it’s generally good to express one’s emotions truthfully, sometimes a person may feel that they have shared too much. They may experience bouts of anxiety related to fears that they’ve risked too much exposure. For some, vulnerability is so scary that they pull back from others in order to protect themselves. Being open can generate physiological responses including a rapid heartbeat, sweating, shakiness, or feelings of nausea.
Weighing the pros and cons of being vulnerable can be emotionally exhausting due to the potential weight and fallout that exposure can carry. Once we’ve put our words out there, we can’t take them back. The worry about having said too much can take a heavy emotional toll. It’s not unusual to experience a vulnerability hangover, although some people are more prone to them than others, including introverts and highly sensitive people
Revealing our true selves can take a great deal of courage. It’s important to have self-compassion when you experience these symptoms, as you are your own most important tool for decreasing your anxiety.
Why Do Vulnerability Hangovers Happen?
Some people believe vulnerability is a weakness or fear being rejected and made fun of for their thoughts and feelings. Others may suffer from imposter syndrome, which describes the self-doubt a person has about their own competence or ability. Individuals may experience vulnerability hangovers after sharing not only with people they don’t know well, but with family, friends, helping professionals, and other loved ones. Individuals with low self-esteem or rejection sensitive dysphoria may be more prone to vulnerability hangovers.
Signs of a Vulnerability Hangover
There are a variety of signs that indicate one is experiencing a vulnerability hangover, but these differ based on the person. Some signs may include blaming oneself for being open, doubting one’s ability to “read the room,” or a desire to retreat from people for a while.
Other symptoms include extreme worry about what others are thinking, or fears that one will be rejected by those who had always accepted them. Just as a vulnerability hangover might show up immediately or days after sharing, there is variability in how the symptoms appear and how long they last. They are typically similar to symptoms of anxiety.
Signs of a vulnerability hangover may include:
- Rumination on a conversation
- Extreme shame about sharing information
- Self-doubt about your decision to share
- Anxiety about your next encounter with the person you shared with
- Worry about what others are thinking about you
- Fear of abandonment or being laughed at
10 Ways to Cope With a Vulnerability Hangover
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to ease a vulnerability hangover. Just reminding yourself that this is a common occurrence can be the first push toward recovery. While you may feel sick at heart and want to hide away from others, there are ways to turn this experience into an opportunity for personal growth.
Here are 10 tips for coping with a vulnerability hangover:
1. Find a Safe Space
When you are overwhelmed by emotions, it’s essential that you find a safe space to explore and manage them. This could be an actual physical space or simply a psychological one where you give yourself permission to be fully present. By creating and naming this safe space, you train yourself to use it as a retreat where you can let yourself decompress safely. Sometimes having a quiet room and a few minutes to yourself is helpful.
Another way to create safety is to have a person with whom you can be honest and authentic about your vulnerabilities without feeling judged. Emotions can be complex, so taking time to cool down, focus on the present rather than the past, and collect yourself can help you minimize a vulnerability hangover.
2. Identify Your Emotions
When you enter your safe space, take time to explore exactly what you are feeling. Break down your thoughts into separate, identifiable emotions. You can gain a sense of control simply by naming what you are experiencing. When a person is unsure about what is going on inside their heads and hearts, it can be scary and provoke anxiety. By acknowledging each emotion, a person takes their feelings and responses into their own hands.
3. Reflect on Your Emotions
Once you’ve had time to sort through your emotions, take time to identify where they are coming from. Ask yourself questions such as, “What aspect of being vulnerable was disconcerting,” or “What areas of your life are hard for you to be honest about.” By figuring out what leads you to feel discomfort, you gain a better understanding of yourself. Use your experience as a tool for better self-awareness and understanding.
4. Practice Relaxation Techniques
One of the best ways to re-group and gain a sense of control over runaway emotions is through relaxation techniques. When you constantly catastrophize the possible results of oversharing, practicing relaxation can refocus your brain and pull it away from this exaggerated cliff. Try deep breathing, meditating, or progressive muscle relaxation.
5. Put Your Inner Critic on Pause
A person is often harder on themselves than other people would be. When your inner critic takes over, it can be hard to silence it. If you are especially prone to negative self-talk and insecurity, you are probably well familiar with your inner critic and may also have a higher susceptibility to a vulnerability hangover. When you start berating yourself, try to intercept negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Remind yourself of your strengths and kind words that others have shared about you.
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6. Distract Yourself
When we see a child become frustrated or upset with a situation, we know instinctively to distract them with something more pleasant. We should treat ourselves in a similar manner. When feeling upset at yourself or worried about future encounters with others, engage in an activity that brings you joy. Whether it’s going for a walk, playing with your children, spending time with your pets, or some other pastime, focus solely on the activity and the pleasure it provides. Let yourself enjoy the moment without worry.
7. View Discomfort as Growth
Counselors often remind clients that change can be painful as humans tend to prefer familiar routines and responses. When a person feels discomfort after being vulnerable, this can be an indicator that they have found an opportunity for growth.
To be vulnerable with another person is a display of trust–both trust and healthy communication are essential for building relationships. Acknowledge the strength you exhibited by being vulnerable with another person. Also, remind yourself that this discomfort is a sign of personal growth and that over time, discomfort lessens.
8. Reframe Vulnerability as a Strength
In many cultures, vulnerability is viewed as a weakness. However, being willing to share your true self with others takes courage–this fact alone makes vulnerability a strength. Honesty is essential to healthy relationships. When you’re able to be honest about who you are, you show just how strongly invested you are in another person.
If you are feeling weak after being open with someone, focus on all of the ways that vulnerability exemplifies strength and embrace this mindset. This can help you learn to love yourself as you are. To be vulnerable is to take a risk and put yourself out there. It is only through doing so that we move out of our comfort zone and push through existing barriers.
9. Recognize That Perspectives Differ
It helps to remember that your feelings and memories about a moment of vulnerability are likely more intense than those of others who were there. People tend to obsess over their own issues, meaning that who you shared with will likely forget about the incident before you will. The relative importance of our vulnerability differs greatly based on our perspective.
10. Take a Long-Range View
Rather than getting caught up in a short-term perspective, step back and take a long-range view. Having been vulnerable with another actually serves to build up your inner strength and helps prepare you for future relationship opportunities. Your honesty also modeled positive behavior, which may have shaped the path of another person. Recognize that feelings are fleeting and that the awful way you feel today will likely be a fading memory or forgotten entirely in a short while.
Things to Consider Before Being Vulnerable With Others
While being vulnerable with others is an opportunity for growth and the deepening of relationships, it is also important to choose when and how to be vulnerable. Be selective about the people with whom you are vulnerable and be intentional in choosing appropriate moments to share. Opening a window into your inner self is encouraged when you are with trustworthy and caring people. Don’t give away this precious gift to those who cannot appreciate its worth.
Before being vulnerable with someone, it is important to:
- Consider your audience: Ask yourself if the people you’re with will be supportive of you and if they would be equally vulnerable with you. Relationships are built on mutual trust, honesty, and respect. If your audience does not offer these to you, you may want to re-consider being vulnerable with them.
- Perform a risk assessment: This refers both to the content and the audience involved. Ask yourself what would happen if what you share isn’t received in the way it was meant to be, or is considered to be “too much, too soon.”
- Find a safe place: It’s important to feel comfortable when being vulnerable, so choose a place where you can feel psychologically and physically safe.
- Prepare and practice your message: Rehearsing can allow you to feel more in control of a conversation, helping to ease the anxiety that being open can bring. Knowing exactly what you want to say can lessen the chance of saying too much.
- Accept the discomfort: By planning ahead for discomfort and anxiety, you can have a game plan in place for managing this. Try using positive self-talk beforehand, and intentionally slowing down your breath during the discussion.
When to Seek Professional Help
When you feel paralyzed with anxiety or shame from a vulnerability hangover, or symptoms are disrupting your life in significant ways, you may want to consider seeking professional support. If fears of negative repercussions are keeping you from enjoying life, speaking with a therapist can help you overcome these setbacks, either face-to-face or via online therapy. Warning signs that may signal a need for therapy include being uncomfortable around other people and anxiety about being open with loved ones. Working with a therapist can provide a non-judgmental space where vulnerability and authenticity can be practiced.
In My Experience
In my experience, vulnerability hangovers are not uncommon. By shifting your perspective, you can view them as confirmation of your strength. Being able to let down your guard and share your true self takes real courage. While a vulnerability hangover can be difficult to overcome, there are steps you can take to move forward. If the self-help steps aren’t as effective as you’d like, consider reaching out for professional support.