Mental Illness and Emotional Vulnerability


This week I opened myself up to some close friends who didn’t yet know about my bipolar and alcoholism. The conversation shifted to topics where it became convenient for me to disclose this information to them in a natural way versus making some sort of out of the blue “announcement.”

They received the news quite graciously, and I felt neither judgment nor fear from them, but more support and curiosity than anything. They asked some questions about my experiences and shared some stories of other people they have known with the same conditions.

Yet, as I lay in bed that night, I couldn’t help but worry about the possible effects my disclosure may have on our friendship. Will their behavior change towards me in the future, even if subtly? Will they think differently of me? Will they be wary of me? Distrust me? Fear me? Worry about me?

Ironically, I am worried that I may lose the intimate connection I have with them due to me sharing one of the most intimate things I could have shared! I feel very emotional vulnerable. Most people avoid being emotionally vulnerable, myself included, because we don’t want to be rejected or hurt. But then I got to thinking…

When we put on a façade or hide who we really are so as not to be rejected or hurt, aren’t we in a sense already rejecting and hurting ourselves? If I am not being my authentic self then I am rejecting who I really am. That is so sad to me. Oh, how I don’t want to treat myself that way! To not allow myself to be who I truly am hurts my self-esteem and confidence, which in turn hinders my ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships.

When we do it to avoid being uncomfortable, aren’t we already uncomfortable? Now, I realize being uncomfortable comes in different degrees, and maybe putting on a façade is less uncomfortable than being real, but I think there comes a time in every relationship where the façade has to be dropped in order for true joy to occur. If your goal is to merely have a warm body next to you then keep the façade, I suppose. If, however, you want more than that, consider being emotionally vulnerable at some point in time.

When we hide who we really are to avoid losing friendships or relationships, if that were to happen, do we really want those types of relationships to begin with? Like I mentioned above, if your goal is to have someone, anyone, in your life then maybe so. If, however, you want the real thing, the good stuff, then love yourself and be real.

This brings me to a final point. In order to be our authentic selves, to be emotional vulnerable without the risk of wanting to harm ourselves if rejection were to happen, we first must have some level of self-love and self compassion in place. Getting to this point is not easy. It took years of therapy for me to get to this level, and even now I still have a fear of vulnerability, but I know I will be ok if I do lose those friendships.

If your fear is great, I suggest you work with a counselor or therapist or spiritual advisor. It is definitely worth the effort to be able to be emotionally vulnerable. Your life will be much better for it.