Vulnerability on social media is having A Moment.
More than ever before, people are posting photos of their real, untouched bodies on Instagram – fat rolls, stretch marks, and all.
People are posting photos of themselves without makeup, or crying. They’re sharing their stories of recovery from trauma, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and more.
In this post, I’ll explore vulnerability on social media, for better or worse. I encourage you to add your thoughtful feedback to the comments.
What is vulnerability?
The definition of vulnerability is being susceptible to harm.
Emotional vulnerability, which I’m focusing on in this post, means to share personal information or feelings that may be hard to talk about.
The potential harm of emotional vulnerability in any context is judgment, ridicule, or at worst, threats.
Emotional vulnerability builds trust with others, and allows us to let go of some of our own shame.
Vulnerability is personal
Every person has a different perception of the topics and depth of those topics that feels vulnerable to them.
Some people may not even feel comfortable disclosing to others that they’re married or have kids. Others will dish about their dating life to someone they just met.
There’s no right or wrong; it’s all about what you and the people in your relationships are comfortable with.
Why has vulnerability on social media become a huge phenomenon?
Opening yourself up to others allows you to connect with them on a deeper level. Implicitly, it invite others to open up to you.
In short, vulnerability builds trusting relationships.
Vulnerability on social media hits this ‘sweet spot’ where it fulfills two aims simultaneously.
Being vulnerable genuinely helps people create meaningful connections. At the same time, it helps the poster gain followers, likes, and popularity (as this article from Entrepreneur explains). It’s a win-win.
Can vulnerability be performative?
To me, performative vulnerability refers to opening up on social media for the sake of getting more comments, likes, or followers, or in an effort to try to sell something.
The nature of vulnerability is sharing parts of yourself that are difficult or scary to share.
If you’re truly digging deep, the impact you’re having will be the same no matter the reasons. You’ll build connections. You’ll help people feel less alone.
On the other hand, if you’re writing in such a way to make yourself sound vulnerable just for the sake of doing so, people will sniff it out. My guess is, this doesn’t happen that often, and when it does, the efforts are pretty unsuccessful.
How vulnerable should I get on social media?
There is not one easy answer to this question. Your boundaries are your own to create and re-create using your best judgment.
Here are some pros and cons of being vulnerable on social media:
- Unfollows by people who are uncomfortable with self-disclosure.
- The possibility of a “vulnerability hangover” (regrets and self-doubt about how much you’re divulged).
- Everything you put on the internet is permanent. (Remember, even if you delete the post, someone else could have already screenshot and post it elsewhere).
- Judgment, ridicule, hate mail, or, worst case scenario, death threats.
- Potential anger or shock from people in your personal life.
- Other: ___________________________________________
- Spread awareness about a topic or issue.
- Release some of your own shame and self-stigma.
- Normalize an issue to others.
- Encourage others to seek help or resources.
- Decrease pressure on yourself to be or appear perfect.
- Help others realize they don’t have to be perfect.
- Increase followers’ trust and connection with you.
- Boost traffic, followers and likes.
- Other: ____________________________________________
Additional thoughts for your consideration
- There is a huge gradient of how much to share, in how much detail, and how deep to go with it. Play around with those gradients until you figure out what works for you.
- If you’re feeling wary, consider: can you use a different approach than social media to achieve your same purposes?
- Talk to a trusted loved one
- Write in a private journal
- See a therapist
How to cope with negative feedback to vulnerable posts
- Do not respond as soon as you see the feedback, especially if it triggers strong emotions in you. Give yourself some time to consider how you want to proceed.
- It’s normal to get defensive in response to feedback. Before responding, try to understand where the other person is coming from. There could be something to learn.
- If they’re just being a jerk, don’t engage.
- Delete their comments (you can ALWAYS do this. You have a right to make your social media space safer for you and your followers).
- Block the user.
- Seek support from people in your inner circle, on or offline.
- Remember that your worth is not dependent on others’ opinions of you.
- Keep in mind: negative feedback often says more about the giver of the feedback than the receiver.
Are you working on becoming less or more vulnerable on social media? If so, why? Let me know in the comments.
Rebecca Ogle is a licensed therapist who practices teletherapy with millennials who live in Illinois and internationally. Rebecca empowers her clients to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems using their strengths and inner wisdom.