Why Am I So Afraid of Vulnerability?

afraid of vulnerability
Vulnerability is key to building real and meaningful relationships

My friends at Corinth, our hearts are wide open to you and we speak freely, holding nothing back from you. [12] If there is a block in our relationship, it is not with us, for we carry you in our hearts with great love, yet you still withhold your affections from us. [13] So I speak to you as our children. Make room in your hearts for us as we have done for you.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 TPT

As Paul explains in this scripture, vulnerability – or as he puts it, “opening wide our hearts and holding nothing back” – is key to building real and meaningful relationships.

Yet, so many of us hide and even feel uneasy just hearing that word. My friends and I sometimes joke about how it makes us physically uncomfortable just saying the word out loud. But what we are really uncomfortable with is the unaddressed fears that we associate with the concept of opening wide our hearts.

The scripture above is an example of vulnerability in a relationship. There’s Paul, who opens up his heart in love and gives his all, knowing there’s a risk that the other party won’t reciprocate. And then there are his friends, who hold back.

A block in a relationship happens when we’ve decided to hold back our emotions or real thoughts and choose instead to pretend and perform (Proverbs 27:6).

In this study, we hope to share our own fears of what holds us back and blocks us from being fully known, along with how the Bible and Jesus can teach us the value in being vulnerable.

Fear of rejection makes us hidden

One of my greatest fears is being rejected and feeling alone. That scares me more than spiders, public speaking, or watching a scary movie.

I usually try to avoid acknowledging this fear at all costs. It makes me feel weak, embarrassed, and insecure. It brings up a question I don’t like facing: Am I really liked or loved?

Being vulnerable involves the possibility of rejection. So instead of embracing vulnerability, I can often hide who I really am or reject other people before they have the chance to reject me.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he knelt in front of Jesus and said, “Leave me, Lord! I’m a sinful person!” 9 Simon and everyone who was with him were amazed to see the large number of fish they had caught. 10 James and John, who were Zebedee’s sons and Simon’s partners, were also amazed. Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch people instead of fish.”

Luke 5:8-10 GW

After Peter saw a glimpse of Jesus’ power and realized his own weaknesses, he quickly pushed Jesus away. However, Jesus addressed the deeper issue underlying Peter’s reaction – his fear. Jesus reassured Peter by inspiring him to see a purpose bigger than himself.

Like Peter, I can use different tactics in relationships that communicate for people to leave me alone. When I am talking to my husband and he asks about things in my past that I feel ashamed about, I can hide my true feelings about those things by getting angry at him, blaming him, changing the subject, or just bluntly saying I don’t want to talk about those things.

I refuse to be vulnerable and known in these times and choose instead to be hidden, which blocks my relationship with God and my husband. There are even times I start to get emotional in front of him or friends, and I tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal. Don’t cry!”

1 O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am; 2 You even know the small details like when I take a seat and when I stand up again. Even when I am far away, You know what I’m thinking. […]

23 Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am. Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain. 24 Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me, and guide me down Your path forever.

Psalm 139:1-2, 23-24

As this scripture teaches us, God is intimately involved in our lives. He cares about even the smallest details and knows us inside and out, so we don’t need to be afraid of rejection.

When we believe that God wants to know the real us, we will allow Him to explore and dig deep into our hearts. This means we will be honest about our sins, emotions, thoughts, motives and desires.

Reflection questions

  • What do you hide that you should choose to be vulnerable about instead?
  • Do you let God, your family, and your friends know what you are really feeling?
  • Who could you be closer to if you were honest?

Choosing humility over our fears

Even in the midst of what should be relaxing and fun times with friends, I have often been told that I am stoic and in my “professional mode” rather than just being myself, even if that means “messy”. When I am like this with God or people, I am performing rather than authentic, which is what creates intimacy.

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Psalm 51:17 MSG

As this scripture teaches, in order to have an intimate relationship with God, we have to allow our pride to be shattered. This shows us that God doesn’t want us to be flawless.

He just wants us to be honest about where we are at and what has shattered our hearts. Being honest takes humility, and Jesus was the perfect example of this. We will learn how to be vulnerable if we look at his example.

He humbled himself and became vulnerable, choosing to be revealed as a man and was obedient. He was a perfect example, even in his death—a criminal’s death by crucifixion!

Philippians 2:8 TPT

Jesus chose to be humble and vulnerable approaching his death on the cross. In Matthew 26:37-39, Jesus demonstrates an amazing example of how to be vulnerable. In this passage, he was honest with his friends about how he felt going through the most painful moments of his life. He also allowed God into the depths of his emotions as he wrestled in his prayer.

It’s a choice to be vulnerable. I can often avoid vulnerability when I’m afraid to feel pain, lose respect in the sight of people, or face my weaknesses. We have to choose each day to be honest with God about our sins, our emotions, our desires, and our motives.

We also have to choose to be honest with our family and friends, even when it’s uncomfortable. Jesus chose to be vulnerable, understanding that vulnerability was the pathway to finding his strength in God to live out his purpose.

He would never crush a broken heart nor disregard the weak and vulnerable. He will make sure justice comes to those who are wronged.

Isaiah 42:3 TPT

God promises to pay attention to us. He promises he won’t reject or disregard us when we’re vulnerable even though we feel weak.

When we believe this promise, then being honest doesn’t seem as scary. In fact, it gives us the confidence to be ourselves because we feel fully accepted.

Reflection questions

  • How can you “go through the motions” or perform in your relationship with God?
  • What do you need to be honest about with God?
  • What do you need to change about the way you think about God so that you can have the courage to be known?

Fear of inadequacy leads to shame

Evil surrounds me; problems greater than I can solve come one after another. Without you, I know I can’t make it. My sins are so many! I’m so ashamed to lift my face to you. For my guilt grabs me and stings my soul until I am weakened and spent.

Psalm 40:12 TPT

This scripture describes how I feel more often than I’d like to admit. When I think of being vulnerable and completely known for who I am, I immediately feel a sense of overwhelming shame that comes from guilt and fear.

I already have a corrosive fear in the back of my mind that I will never be good enough for any of the relationships around me, including God.

There’s guilt that I replay from relationships in the past – how I’ve hurt and nearly destroyed friends with jealousy and envy, and how my obsession with self has not only driven me to an eating disorder but encouraged others to focus on their own bodies and be trapped by the same sin.

And then there are my weaknesses. I have a hard time making friends and being honest with others, so I would rather perform than be close.

These sins and weaknesses are ones that truly sting my soul as mentioned in the scripture. The unconfessed guilt towards God produces shame and painful distress, just like the psalmist describes.

It blocks my relationship with God and others as I start to believe my emotions over the Bible:

  • How could anyone ever want to be close to me if they knew who I really was?
  • Why would God ever accept me, let alone love me?
  • I’ve failed too many times.
  • I’m too sinful, too fearful, too weak.

These kinds of thoughts plague me, and I believe them. However, keeping them inside and pretending the guilt and weaknesses don’t exist only weakens me and brings more shame.

What I end up missing out on is the rest of the scripture:

[13] Please, Lord! Come quickly and rescue me! Take pleasure in showing me your favor and restore me. [17] Lord, in my place of weakness and need, I ask again: Will you come and help me? I know I’m always in your thoughts. You are my true Savior and hero, so don’t delay to deliver me now, for you are my God.

Psalm 40:13,17 TPT

Vulnerability, from what I see in the scriptures, seems to be an honest humility and need for intimacy that starts with God. Honesty and humility – two things I desperately need.

But the psalmist’s ability to be humble came from a belief that God desired to take pleasure in him and wanted to help him, not reject him!

God doesn’t see our weakness and deem us “not good enough” for his help. Rather, that weakness creates a need for God and therefore an opportunity for intimacy and vulnerability in our relationship with him.

Reflection questions

  • In what areas of your life do you feel inadequate – spiritually, physically, relationally, intellectually, etc? Why?
  • What guilt and shame is holding you back from being known by God and friends?

Trust in God builds intimacy

Jesus taught his disciples that no matter how needy, weak, or inadequate they felt, the only thing needed was to trust in God.

[2] He released them with these instructions: “The harvest is huge and ripe. But there are not enough harvesters to bring it all in. As you go, plead with the Owner of the Harvest to drive out into his harvest fields many more workers. [3] Now, off you go! I am sending you out even though you feel as vulnerable as lambs going into a pack of wolves. [4] You won’t need to take anything with you—trust in God alone. And don’t get distracted from my purpose by anyone you might meet along the way.”

Luke 10:2-4 TPT

I imagine the disciples must have felt pretty inadequate and ill-equipped as they were tasked with a mission that felt way over their heads. Jesus reassured them that no matter what they faced, their trust in God would be enough.

It’s comforting to remember Jesus knew we would feel inadequate and never good enough. But that feeling of inadequacy also reveals where I’m putting my trust.

If it’s in myself, I will never be enough and always fearful of being known. But, if I put my trust in God, there’s no need to be afraid to be myself or not be enough because God makes up for it in so many ways. Vulnerability becomes freeing and refreshing – it’s the way out of shame and fear.

[5] Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions. With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make. [6] Become intimate with him in whatever you do, and he will lead you wherever you go. Don’t think for a moment that you know it all…[8] Then you will find the healing refreshment your body and spirit long for.

Proverbs 3:5-6, 8 TPT

Trusting in God alone creates intimacy with Him – trust that God can handle the sins, weaknesses, and emotions, as well as trust that God will lead us to build a close relationship with Him and others if we obey.

Choose to believe in the scriptures over your emotions, to listen to spiritual friends over your opinions, and to trust and obey God even when it feels hard. This is what can make us fearless in relationships around us to be known and loved.

Reflection questions

  • What are the ways you put trust in yourself over God? 
  • Does it make you more secure or insecure when you rely on yourself? How?

Take action

Here are some steps you can take to start building intimacy in your relationship with God:

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