What Is A 'Vulnerability Hangover' - And Why Do You Always Feel Weird After Opening Up?

Vulnerability is a big concept with even bigger benefits. In her book, "Daring Greatly," Brené Brown, a researcher known for her work on vulnerability, defined it thusly: "Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process," (via Oprah.com). Divulging embarrassing details from a first date gone wrong or admitting that you need help navigating a setback can bring you closer to the people in your life.

Being on the receiving end of someone else's vulnerability can also strengthen relationships. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people tend to admire when someone opens up to them. But, by contrast, they may view their own vulnerability negatively, or even see it as a sign of weakness.

This tendency to appreciate others' vulnerability but not our own is known as the "beautiful mess effect," and it might explain why you sometimes notice an undeniable feeling of ickiness after revealing too much to somebody you love. Here's what's behind your "vulnerability hangover" and how to deal with the discomfort in a healthy way. 

A 'vulnerability hangover' can trigger feelings of shame and regret

According to Choosing Therapy, a "vulnerability hangover" — a term actually coined by Brené Brown — is the uncomfortable feeling you get after sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with someone else. Just like the morning after a night of overindulging in margaritas and vodka sodas, a vulnerability hangover can leave you feeling emotionally and even physically off after baring your soul.

This reaction may be rooted in a fear of rejection, similar to social anxiety, and you may notice yourself worrying about the aftermath of your vulnerability. "We may think, 'Is that person now going to think less of me? Did I display a weakness? Am I safe?'" Dr. Emma Seppala, science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University and author of "The Happiness Track," explained to The New York Times

Long after you overshared at dinner or were a smidge too honest with your boss, your brain may continue to fixate on what happened. And even though this hangover (probably) has nothing to do with downing too many cocktails, you might notice some shame and regret after emotionally exposing yourself, similar to if you had acted out of character while intoxicated.

How to cope after oversharing

If you're nursing a vulnerability hangover the morning after divulging a few too many personal details, you might take it as a sign to never open up again. But as Megan Sherer, a therapist and life coach, asserts above, vulnerability is important and not something we should prevent ourselves from experiencing. She suggests letting yourself feel those uncomfortable "hangover" symptoms and challenging the thoughts driving them. 

For example, if you're ashamed after opening up because you believe your friends will judge you and no longer want to hang out, consider if you have any evidence to support this assumption or if it's just your anxiety talking. You can even reach out to a trusted loved one to work through those lingering feelings of awkwardness — they'll likely confirm that your vulnerability wasn't so socially awkward after all. And, if you discover that you did, in fact, overshare, gain some perspective by zooming out. 

Amy Summerville, a research scientist who studies regret, told The New York Times that our actions may seem embarrassing now, but over time, they — and the regret associated with them — will eventually fade. It's also crucial to reflect on the motives behind your vulnerability binge. Sometimes, people overshare to create intimacy prematurely or to encourage the other person to open up, according to psychotherapist Amy Morin (via Psychology Today). Next time, pause and check your reasons for divulging before doing so.