4 Reasons Vulnerability Earns Respect

Man with arms open

 By: Amy Maricle

When things are not right in a relationship, sometimes saying what you feel seems like the worst thing you could do. What if someone uses the information against you? While this is an understandable concern, I suggest that unless you are dealing with someone who is emotionally or physically dangerous, saying what you truly feel, need, and want, could win you more respect, appreciation, and satisfaction in your relationships.


The Office Bully

Consider the following scenario: Several years ago I was a clinician at a residential treatment center for teens. Every time I interacted with the head residential staff, she talked down to me, belittling my efforts, my degree, and my interventions. She did this regardless of who was present. It was embarrassing and infuriating. I tried to demonstrate that I was a team player who saw her assets, and wanted her input, but her disrespectful and uncooperative behavior continued. After months of this, I felt resentful, angry, and intimidated in her presence.


Sticking my neck out

I came across a book called, Difficult Conversations, by Stone, Heen, and Patton, which suggested something radical, and I decided to give it a shot.  It was one of the scariest things I have ever done. In a completely transparent way, I shared my feelings, fears, and perceptions. I admitted that I felt intimidated and belittled by her. I told her I was scared to talk to her about it, but wanted to improve the relationship, and hoped she did too.


She listened, which seemed encouraging, but denied any ill will towards me, or feeling any tension in our relationship, which struck me as untruthful. Given her response, I feared nothing would change, or worse, having made myself vulnerable, that she would use the information to play to my weaknesses. However, after that day, her behavior completely changed. She stopped putting me down, shared information about the students, and even began asking for my opinion and assistance. We ultimately developed a solid and enjoyable working relationship.


Setting Limits

I felt that I had stood up to a bully and triumphed. It was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. In sharing my feelings and wishes, I set an expectation for how I would like to be treated, and she respected it.



Why is being vulnerable so effective?


  • Most people respond positively when someone is forthcoming about their feelings because you can’t argue about what someone feels. Imagine this conversation: “I’m upset about what happened.” “No you’re not, you liar!”


  • Perceptions of situations vary. While you feel that someone is being hurtful/rude/disrespectful, they may have a totally different view of the situation and have no idea that you feel hurt.


  • Pent up feelings can make us check out, lash out, or run out. You risk causing more hurt, confusion, and resentment than if you calmly, compassionately, and clearly say what you feel upfront.


  • Stuffing our feelings can lead to self-destructive behaviors. Many of us try to numb the overwhelming wave of feelings by abusing food, sex, substances, or ourselves.


 Can You Be More Vulnerable?

Think about a relationship issue that makes you feel the most uncomfortable. Can you be more honest about your feelings and needs? Have you had success being vulnerable in your relationships? Share your successes and struggles with us in the comments!


If you liked this post, you might like this one on the benefits of honesty in relationships and on your self-esteem.


DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Maricle Counseling and Amy Maricle, LMHC, ATR-BC is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read here.




*Image credit: maxfx / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC

    Amy, I love this post and can so relate to it! When I was working at a for profit psychiatric hospital, half my job was clinical and half of it was marketing-related. Every week, for the marketing piece I was required (as part of the marketing team) to attend a marketing meeting. At that meeting the marketing director would publicly yell at team members who had not met their assigned quotas – humiliating and shaming us in front of our peers. It was awful!

    At the time, I was in my early 20’s and couldn’t imagine standing up to this loud, abusive, and powerful man. Today, when confronted with bullies, I know to do it differently and stand up for myself . . . and for others who have yet to find their courage.

    On a different note, when I find that I am nervous and getting up in front of an audience (whether it is an audience of two or two hundred), I now start out by telling them . . . “I’m a little nervous about standing here in front of you guys . . . . ” And, every single time, just by owning (instead of trying to hide) my feelings, the anxiety quells and I’m able to do my job.

    I love that you have posted this great advice – as a reminder to me and as new information for others. Keep up the good work!

    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Tamara:

      Thanks for reading! I too find that just naming my nerves, annoyance, or sadness can really help me feel better. As you say, when you feel bad, pretending that you don’t can intensify your feelings sometimes. I think your example of saying that you feel nervous when speaking in public is a great example of the usefulness of vulnerability. Thanks for sharing!

      All the best,

  2. Laura Query

    Ah! Vulnerability! It is so powerful, but so scary. Yet stepping into it and seeing positive results in our relationships can be so very empowering. I love Brené Brown’s research and writing on this topic. I’d like to share a link to her site for anyone interested in checking her out. Her books are amazing reads on this topic. She also deals a lot with the relationship between shame and vulnerability.


    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      Laura: It’s great that you made this connection with Brene Brown’s work. I have seen parts of her TED talk and really connected with it too. It’s probably time that I went back to watch it fully. Shame is such a powerful emotion in us. We need to be wary of allowing it to be in the driver’s seat – it can be very destructive at times. The more shame we feel, the more we tend to hide, the more isolated we feel, the worse our shame seems to get. It can be a vicious cycle.
      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Laura Query

    She actually has a second, newer TED talk on shame!

    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      Sounds like I have more homework! 🙂 Amy



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