The vulnerability hangover

"we’re all struggling, even the people who say they’re doing fine."

"we’re all struggling, even the people who say they’re doing fine." Photo: Getty

When it comes to hangovers, I’m one of those irritating people that just doesn’t seem to suffer from them. I can drink vodka until the cows come home and then skip merrily to the pool in the morning for a few laps (where I swim the length underwater and moan “OH GOD MY HEEEEAAAAD” like the spectre of Davy Jones).


A vulnerability hangover, on the other hand, is something a lot of us have experienced, and sadly there’s no fast-acting gel-cap or Berocca variety that can dispatch one of those in a hurry.



Coined by research professor Dr Brené Brown in her “shame-resilience curriculum” Connections, a vulnerability hangover is “the feeling that sweeps over us after we feel the need to connect… and we share something deeply meaningful. Minutes, hours, or days later, we begin to feel regret sweep over us like a warm wave of nausea.”


(My Dad, rather more concisely, describes something similar as those moments in the shower where you suddenly bark “AAARGGH!” at the memory of a particular emotional indignity.)


Dr Brown herself experienced just that following her wildly popular TED talk, The Power Of Vulnerability, in which she discussed her own breakdown. In a follow-up talk last month, she admitted, “I woke up the morning after I gave that Talk with the worst vulnerability hangover of my life. And I actually didn't leave my house for about three days.”


We’ve all been there: we open up too much on a date, or tell a personal story at a dinner party, or write a heartfelt blog that feels hideously raw when we look back at it a week later and rush to delete it. We’re gripped by regret, and vow to keep a lid on it next time. After all, nobody likes an over-sharer. Have some decorum. We feel the regret because we’re taught that vulnerability is something we should be ashamed of.


So what do you do about persistent vulnerability hangovers? You may or may not be surprised to find that I think the best remedy is to keep sharing - and I’m pretty sure Dr Brown would agree with me.


People sometimes ask if I regret “sharing so much” in my writing. As one of my many fans so charitably noted last week, I write about my life a lot; I’ve written about my sexual and mental health, my dating history, my family, and I did a stand-up comedy show about depression and Healthy Choice meals. So do I regret it? The answer can probably be boiled down to “not really”.


I used to feel intense vulnerability hangovers, until I worked up a resistance to them. (Please don’t take this as an analogy for my drinking habits.) And I did this by keeping on sharing.


The thing is, we’re all struggling, even the people who say they’re doing fine (especially the people who say they’re doing fine). Whenever I read somebody honestly and openly discussing something they’ve been through, I feel a sense of relief. I might not have gone through the same thing, but I appreciate the fact that they’ve shared it with me, even indirectly.


Obviously there’s a difference between a completely unedited 2am existential howl via Facebook status (one of the reasons I’m so proud and relieved to be eight months Facebook clean) or drunken phone message, and a more measured “overshare”, but at the heart of both is a desire to connect with one another.


Up until the end of last year, I spent over a decade working as a music journalist, which was great because the actual act of writing music is completely alien to me. But what became clear after over 650 interviews with musicians was that you can’t set out to write a song that will be universally embraced; only by sharing the personal can people truly connect.


Think about what Dr Brown learned from her vulnerability hangover: “If we're going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it's seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I'm going to go in there and kick some ass when I'm bulletproof and when I'm perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is that never happens.”


If we can embrace vulnerability, by not thinking “Oh, I should probably keep that to myself” next time we want to share something, maybe we’ll make life a little bit easier for each other. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a miracle cure for the vulnerability hangover.


  • Beautiful piece as always Clem. I'm a bit shocked that someone was so angered by you writing about yourself!
    I would not give her any oxygen - she obviously has rage issues. Although this horrible person knows she is bitter - it's her twitter handle for crying out loud! - she may not know how jealous she is of you. And that's the difference. You write with self knowledge - she tweets with none.

    Date and time
    May 30, 2012, 10:12AM
    • Lovely piece Clem, my only suggestion (to you and to us all) is to be aware of what you're sharing - when we sharing details of our own life it will include other people's stories. I have a family member in the media who is very open and though I applaud their capacity to be honest and vulnerable I've never been comfortable with my privacy being breached by my stories being included in that sharing.

      Date and time
      May 30, 2012, 11:53AM
      • Oh yes, it's all fun & games and brings us closer together... until you meet one of those truly hateful 'human beings' that will listen sympathetically and with genuine understanding over a period of months and years, only to turn all that information into ammunition years after they've conned you into thinking they are true, genuine friends... I'm talking about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, folks!

        Date and time
        May 30, 2012, 12:38PM
        • OMG I freakin loved Brene Brown's TED talks!

          Date and time
          May 30, 2012, 1:34PM
          • I hear what you're saying, Clem, and to me it makes sense.
            Unfortunately, however, for most people out there, 'over-sharing' is not an admired trait.
            I recently took a car pooling trip with a stranger and told him my life story.
            He was a good listener, but ultimately I felt like a fool because he didn't share much with me, and by the end of our trip I felt like I was babbling.
            I haven't heard from him since; I can imagine he's probably thinking I'm a self centred nut.
            And I agree with another comment made here that some people can take the personal info you give them and hurt you.
            I guess you don't want to be a stuck up robot, either, but it's best to have a little restraint.

            Date and time
            May 30, 2012, 2:08PM
            • Very thought provoking piece Clem.

              I agree with a couple of commenters here about some nasty pasties who like nothing more than to collect your vulnerabilities and use them as daggers later on down the track when your friendship becomes an "optional extra".

              Its sad when people have to be guarded about their true selves to others, but sometimes its the only option if they don't want to be hurt.

              Date and time
              May 30, 2012, 7:11PM
              • Yes, yes, and did I say YES????
                Apart from the hangover part (because I suffer from them after a tragic two glasses of wine), I agree with every word.
                The more we share our experiences, and our vulnerabilities, the more we know that we are not alone, and the more we break down this ridiculous and destructive need to prove how perfect we all are.

                Kerri Sackville
                Date and time
                May 31, 2012, 8:12AM
                • Who can say they haven't experienced a vulnerability hangover??? Perhaps those who were born wise. Not me...

                  The answer, however, shouldn't be more indiscriminate sharing, but more self and other awareness.

                  Pick your moment and your person.

                  And remember, nobody is interested in another person's life story, chapter and verse.

                  Date and time
                  May 31, 2012, 9:02AM
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