In my last post, I shared about an experience that I had with vulnerability and how it left me feeling anxious and sick to my stomach. Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable. One thing we don’t realize is that vulnerability isn’t an all or nothing thing. There are times when putting yourself in a position of feeling vulnerable isn’t necessarily a good idea. How do we decide when to open ourselves up and be vulnerable and when not to? How do we set healthy boundaries around vulnerability?

Like most things in life, we often learn this lesson the hard way.

There have been times in my life when I decided to be vulnerable and open myself up to share something really important to me and then regretted it. I’m sure you can relate to a time when you shared some personal information about yourself and then that person shared it with others without your consent and you were left feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Or those times when you decided to share your opinion on something, step out of your comfort zone, feel vulnerable, use your voice and it comes out completely different than you would have liked.

This happened to me when I was in nursing school. When I was growing up, the common message was that “children should be seen and not heard.” As a result, I never learned how to express my opinions in a constructive way; or at all for that matter. So one day in nursing school I went out on a limb, feeling really vulnerable and shared an opinion. After class, my teacher took me aside and said: “It was great that I was sharing, but maybe I could be a little less forceful in my opinions so I didn’t intimidate others.” After that, I totally clammed up!

There are also those times when you are starting to percolate about a new idea or something that is outside of your comfort zone. Like perhaps going back to school, or leaving your job that you’re not satisfied with, or dating someone that others don’t approve of, or going on a big trip around the world, or cutting your hair in a totally new way.

When you have an idea that’s in the budding stage and is very fragile, it can be destroyed pretty quickly when you open up and receive the judgment from others. That fear and judgment that comes from others based on their fears and vulnerabilities, might just choke out your courage for moving forward in a way that you’re meant to move forward.

Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” No wonder it’s not comfortable feeling vulnerable. How then, do you decide when to be vulnerable and open yourself up and when not to?

Here are 3 suggestions that I have found helpful in my own life.

1. Relationship Boundaries

In a relationship, it is really critical that we are able to be vulnerable in order to feel connected. But that doesn’t mean we are meant to be vulnerable in ALL relationships and that we meant to have a deep connection with EVERYONE. I found what Brene Brown said about this to be really helpful in my own life. “When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them-people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. Is there trust? Is there mutual empathy? Is there reciprocal sharing? Can we ask for what we need?”

When I went wrong in my own life, was when I took the all or nothing approach with vulnerability. I shared stories and was vulnerable with people who hadn’t earned the right to hear them and that I didn’t necessarily trust.

2. Expressing Your Opinions

When you find yourself in a situation that you have something to say, are biting your tongue and afraid to say it because you may be judged, is a good time to be mindful about what you’re afraid of? Being mindful of these situations and pushing past your comfort zone to open up and share is very empowering. The more we do it the better and more comfortable we become with it. And knowing that when you first start sharing and using your voice, you may not be skilled at it. Unlike me that clammed up when it came out wrong, stick with it! Like all skills, we improve with practice.

Remember that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

3. Matters of your Soul

We all know that feeling that arises when there is something that we are meant to do and it is coming from someplace within us that is hard to describe. We feel the urge, a push or pull in a certain direction and we can’t really explain it very well.

Most of us have a really hard time trusting and acting on that urge especially when it doesn’t make sense intellectually or it requires we make some changes in our lives. Knowing at a deep level that we need to make some changes or do something courageous often elicits fear. When we share this with the wrong people, their fear can compound our fear and all of a sudden we’ve got the brakes on when we need to put the gas on.

These urges are meant to be listened to and acted upon. Be cautious about whom you open up to in these situations. Surround yourself and be vulnerable with people that will nurture your dreams even though they don’t make sense at the time.

Being mindful about vulnerability and setting some boundaries around it, will ultimately enable us to be vulnerable in the right situations, with the appropriate people, and for the right reasons.