For years I have been experiencing a confusing state that I had no name for. It would creep in after I’d do something that took me out of my comfort zone. It was a bit of dread, a kind of “what the heck did I just do?” gut wrenching feeling.

Recently, I learned that Brené Brown has named this phenomenon. It’s called a “vulnerability hangover.”

I’m grateful have a name for it. Naming things drags them out of the shadows and into the light of awareness where we can examine them more closely. Naming things helps cast them into the realm of the familiar where we feel less lonely about our experiences, where they are transformed from being something that creates separation to something that opens the door to connection.

Vulnerability hangovers are on my mind because I just delivered three presentations this past week.

One of the most memorable hangovers that I’ve experienced came right after a similar presentation. It was a talk that I delivered to about 50 people. It had been about two years since I spoke to an audience that large… well, an audience of any size for that matter.

I got through the presentation just fine. Everyone seemed pleased. People even teared up (in a good way!)

But as I was driving home, I was flooded with anxiety. I had to scream to release it. I screamed so loud that I wondered if the other drivers would hear and assume that I was having some sort of panic attack. It wasn’t that I wasn’t pleased with the presentation, just that I felt so out of sorts.

Brené’s language, vulnerability hangover, has now helped me to put that episode into perspective.

Brené connects vulnerability with shame, or the fear of disconnection. Shame, she says, “is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

It is a slippery slope. Connection can only come when we allow ourselves to be seen, and yet it’s when we allow ourselves to be seen that we become most vulnerable. As a shame researcher, Brené has intimately studied the differences between people who successfully navigate connectedness and those who struggle for it.

Those best able to connect have fully embraced vulnerability. The thing that empowers them to do that is a profound sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging. This sense of worthiness gives them the courage to be imperfect and the compassion to be kind to themselves. 

So, despite the awkward feelings that it brings, a vulnerability hangover is an indicator of something good.

To understand a vulnerability hangover, consider the rubber band. Imagine that you are at a rock called Point A. You desire to be at another rock, Point B, instead. Your desire is represented by a rubber band which we will stretch out from Point A to Point B. The tension in the rubber band is your motivation to change, and that motivation is what will pull you from Point A to Point B. To resolve the tension, you either need move toward your goal or drop the desire.

Now let’s assume that we successfully get to Point B. Point B is the new starting point for us. But what has happened to the rubber band? It has stretched out from the experience of being attached to our desire. You could say that we’ve expanded our comfort zone a little bit, but we’re not yet accustomed to this new, larger comfort zone. Temporarily, it is going to feel like clothes that are too big for us.

Remember, a vulnerability hangover is an awesome thing. It arises when we’ve put ourselves out there yet are evaluating the experience from our old accustomed limited view of ourselves. We look at what we’ve done from the perspective of this smaller self and it feels like it doesn’t fit. That’s where the discomfort comes from. It is the discomfort that accompanies change and ultimately it is something to be embraced. It represents growth.

So, when you find yourself confronting your own vulnerability hangover, know that it’s a good thing. It’s a sign that you made yourself vulnerable and that’s the only way that we can make ourselves available for connection. You’ve stretched out your rubber band a little bit and now it feels out of shape. That’s a good thing!

Want some techniques for welcoming in that uncomfortable sensation of vulnerability? Check out my free guide, 5 Ways to Embrace Vulnerability.

I’m a mindset coach for entrepreneurs and creatives who find that the old ways of bigger, faster, more are no longer satisfying. Instead, they favor simpler, smarter, better. They’re looking for creative and sustainable responses to the increasingly chaotic world around them. I help them shift their perspective and tap the power of their own wisdom to unveil new ways to thrive in these complex times. If you’re interested in one to one coaching please contact me at kira@kiraswanson.com or check out my services at kiraswanson.com/services/.

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