In early August, Erin Pedati told a group of friends that she was struggling with depression at a tiki bar in Washington, DC. They were good friends, and they responded with empathy and compassion, but the next day Pedati, 40, felt weird.
She said part of me was relieved because it is important to have these discussions. But another part was like, Oh my god, what did I say? You replay the conversation in your head and you re like, They haven't replied to my text, did I tell them too much? Instead of a hangover from too many Mai Tais which would have been easier to treat, she joked that Pedati was experiencing a vulnerability hangover, a term coined by Bren Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, to describe the anxiety, shame and regret after divulging something personal.
Emma Seppala, science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, said that humans have competing needs to connect with other people by being our real selves, but also to conform to social norms, like not sharing too much.
It can be tricky to balance those needs at the same time. Sharing brings the potential boon of intimacy, but it also leaves us open to fears of judgement or rejection, according to Dr Seppala. Is that person now thinking less of me? Is there weakness in me? A vulnerability hangover may be uncomfortable, but it can be helpful and it doesn't have to be debilitating.
First, know that other people probably aren't thinking about your disclosure as much as you are. We tend to view our displays of vulnerability more negatively than those of others because of a phenomenon called the beautiful mess effect.
"Think about how you react to other people's vulnerable moments," Seppala said. Do you feel more connected to a party guest who is pontificating and posturing or someone who spills something down your shirt and gets embarrassed about it? She said that for most of us, it is because they are being natural. It gives us permission to be natural when someone is being natural.