Vulnerability Hangovers in Christian Community

Living in community allows us to share intimately without shame

I’ve got a crazy knack for oversharing. Put me into a social setting – usually a dinner party or our home group – and I silently hedge my bets on when the words will come tumbling out in slightly embarrassing ways. My inner monologue coaches me to keep quiet, to let others tell their stories in the hopes they’ll skip right over mine.

Nevertheless, the words, they do fall… In the moment, it feels wonderful to laugh and unload and share the burdens bubbling up within. I usually head straight for bed with exhausted relief.

But sometime in the night I awake with a start, worrying and wondering if I said too much, tossing and turning and cursing my inner genetic default that somehow gets me into trouble every. single. time.

Author Brené Brown calls this a vulnerability hangover, the result of letting down one’s guard and allowing too much of ourselves to be seen by others. Padraig O'Morain, in an article for the The Irish Times, refers to something similar as an introvert hangover. 

‘It’s about getting too much stimulation from too close and intense an involvement with other people,’ writes O’Morain. ‘Some people… talk about getting headachey and nauseous just like with a real hangover until they get enough time alone.’

These reactions are true for me, with an additional dose of regret. My remedy for this inner shame is sending apologetic texts littered with emojis from my hiding place under the duvet. These introverted tendencies, and my attempts to make up for them with an overdose of gregariousness, seem to hang over me like a weeping willow.  

Apparently this reaction is normal, according to Brown. ‘If we always expect to feel victorious after being vulnerable, we will be disappointed. In our culture, wholeheartedness is often a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.’ 

O’Morain agrees, writing that many introverts may feel like they’ve let down themselves or others ‘through their “failure” to play a full role in the social arena. But extroversion and introversion have nothing to do with failure or success as a person.’  

He then uses a lot of sciency words to describe how our brains function, the types of stimulation we need, and how to shake off the types we don’t. And most importantly, he writes how uniquely wired each person is, and why who we are (and how we are made) isn’t wrong or bad, at all.

There’s no shame in the introvert hangover, he writes.

And I believe that's true. 

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about my own vulnerability hangovers: the only one who is embarrassed by them is me. My friends don’t care; they’re not the least bit embarrassed and cringey on my behalf (okay, maybe I can think of one time…). They’re just as thankful for my burden-baring as I am for theirs. I want our kitchen table to be a safe place, the tea in our mugs a potion for authentic vulnerability.  

The faces in our inner circles prove that oft-quoted axiom: there is strength in numbers. We know as much to be true when Jesus reminds us that it only takes two or three of us gathered together to feel His presence, too.

So, if you’re an uncomfortable over-sharer like me: congratulations! I have a feeling we’d have great craic at a dinner party (once we finally started talking).

But more than that, don’t regret the sharing, and don’t toss and turn over what you did – or didn’t – say. I’ve a feeling it’s not the Holy Spirit waking you up in the night, shaming you for sharing your soul. We were created to be more than introverts and extroverts, over-sharers and late night worriers. Living in community with others will bring about occasional vulnerability hangovers.  

Lucky for us, the cause and the cure go hand-in-hand.  

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Karen Huber

Originally from Kansas City, Karen is a freelance writer and expat mom now living in Dublin, Ireland. Together with her husband and three children, they work in community development, the local church and creative arts.