Embracing—not judging or hiding—our flaws and vulnerabilities makes us happier and more relatable, a research-supported concept called the beautiful mess effect. What we think are negatives or weaknesses, others see as courageous. Showing vulnerability can lead to stronger relationships, increased self-esteem, and better mental health.

What the Research Tells Us

Vulnerability has historically been viewed as a sign of weakness and fragility, but researcher Brené Brown showed that the opposite is true. Vulnerability is an essential quality for nurses and beneficial in everyday life.

Bruk et al. defined vulnerability as “the willingness to expose yourself emotionally to another person despite being afraid and despite the risks” and demonstrated that others perceive it as a redeeming quality.

As nurses, we care for vulnerable people every day. Recognizing that humanizes our patients to us and helps us empathize with their needs. When nurses are equally vulnerable with their patients, they build strong, trusting relationships.

The list of vulnerability’s benefits doesn’t stop there. It helps us better enjoy social interactions, facilitates forgiveness, and may decrease anger. In the short term, we feel more accepted, overcome our fears, have higher self-esteem, and are more creative. In the longer term, that translates to feeling belonging, being seen as trustworthy, better mental health, overall emotional growth, and resilience.

Being vulnerable can trigger tough emotions, and fear of negative consequences is the main reason people decide to continue to hide themselves. However, risking the possibility of being hurt can lead to more meaningful interactions and relationships.

How to Practice

You must make a conscious choice to be open with other human beings. It cannot be experienced alone because it is a feeling shared between people. Here are some tips to help you practice vulnerability:

  • Ask for advice or help.
  • Be the first to apologize.
  • Share your feelings with others.
  • Be open to connecting with other human beings.
  • Own up to your mistakes instead of holding onto them. We all make them.
  • Be present in the moment with other people.
  • Recognize when you become defensive or critical of yourself and others, and try to reframe your thinking.

You can choose to be open, or you can choose to disengage. The next time you have the opportunity to be vulnerable, I hope you take that leap and experience the vast benefits that come from showing the world your beautiful mess.