Osher Günsberg On Why Vulnerability And Resilience Are Related

Osher Günsberg on why vulnerability and resilience are connected

In order to live life to the fullest, you need to be prepared to expose yourself to potential pain and discomfort, while equipping yourself with the tools to handle that hardship. No, it’s not easy. Yes, it’s worth it

SINCE 2013 I’VE been speaking publicly about mental health on my podcast, openly discussing my experience with addiction, psychosis and even suicidality. Then and now, either in my inbox or when I’m doing the groceries, people will come up to me and say: “It’s just so nice to see a man being vulnerable.” And while that is lovely, I’ve always wondered: vulnerability by itself doesn’t sound like a good thing.

There’s got to be more to it. This question floated around the back of my head for years, until the other day taking out the compost an idea popped out of my subconscious like a computer punch card from a ’50s sci-fi film. Vulnerability and resilience are two halves of the same whole. They can only exist if both are present. Think about it. Without Big Boi, André 3000 is just making an instrumental flute album. And while it’s a great record, it’s not OutKast. Vulnerability and resilience are two sides of the same piece of toast. There’s a sweet spot where it’s just right.

Too high on the dial and your bread hardens so much that it is at the same time impenetrable to melting butter yet so fragile if you pick it up incorrectly it will disintegrate. (Side note: that is the best toast-related mental health metaphor you’ll read today.)

Vulnerability is how susceptible you are to danger, harm, stress, and damage. Resilience is the capacity to recover from or deal with that harm, danger, stress or damage. They can only exist together.

One without the other leaves you with a suit of brittle armour masquerading as a false sense of safety. It’s almost like you become a plate-glass window. You’re so hard that the nastiest weather can’t touch you, yet when life sends a Mitchell Starc bouncer hurtling towards you at 160km/h, it’s inevitable that the whole facade will shatter and now a thousand razor-sharp slivers are raining down on you.

So many of us go through life far too fragile. In perilous danger of financial or emotional calamity at any moment because we have no resilience. Things might feel secure, but it we aren’t able to form relationships, express our personality, our creativity, or engage with others without thinking everyone’s trying to steal our stuff. From there it’s a slippery slope that can lead to hours of YouTube rabbit-holing, which starts out looking for footage of ’70s piano bars on the upper deck of a 747, yet ends at 3am texting all your friends about the terrible dangers of contrails.

We need to be vulnerable to feel anything worth feeling. We need to be resilient to deal with the full scope of feelings that show up, so we can keep going for ourselves and for others. Usually, we don’t get to choose when vulnerability comes for us. Resilience, however, is something that we can develop. To build within us the knowledge that we will be able to handle whatever comes.

And that’s really, important. How much are we limiting ourselves because our choices are coming from a place that fears negative outcomes? If we actively work on our resilience, that allows us to be vulnerable when needed. We contribute to a super fund so we’ll have financial resilience. We train so we’ll have physical resilience. Yet what about emotional resilience? Without it we can’t be emotionally vulnerable.

How can we enjoy the full spectrum of what it means to be a human if we aren’t emotionally vulnerable? When our youngest child was born, I cradled him to my bare chest for the first time with two equal ideas in my head – “My wife has harnessed the power of the universe to create this pure and perfect manifestation of love in human form. I no longer matter. Everything is now about you” and “HOLY SHIT YOU COULD DIE AT ANY MOMENT, HOW CAN I LIVE ANOTHER SECOND KNOWING THIS?”

We feel the first thing because of the second thing. We can deal with the second thing because of the first thing. That’s the deal. That’s what it means to be equally vulnerable and resilient.

It’s the same with falling in love. It takes vulnerability to fully be in love with someone. If you’re worried about what will happen to you if they ever leave you, are you ever going to fully commit?

In my experience the other person starts to pick up on this, resentments start to creep in, and soon enough that relationship falls apart quicker than a flatpack cupboard on a rainy hard rubbish day. You know, the one you built together when you moved in?

If you’re prepared to be vulnerable, all the joy and growth and experiences that you can only have when you fully put your heart into someone else’s hands, all of those things can be yours.

Yet to do that, you need the resilience to deal with whatever that vulnerability might bring into your life. Including that relationship ending. If you’re vulnerable enough to tell another person that you’re really into them and they say, “Yeah, nah, I don’t feel the same way.” You need resilience to handle that, to be with the hurt and the heartbreak and yet also know you’ll be okay. It might take a little time, you might need to figure out your part of what happened so it doesn’t happen again, but it’ll be okay.

Yet what if someone has no emotional resilience and hears, “It’s been lovely yet, this isn’t for me. Thanks for the pancakes, good night.” We all know what it can look like. You could head off on a week-long drinking binge, set about writing horrible things from fake accounts 72 weeks deep into a new partner’s Instagram, spreading lies, acting out, possibly hurting themselves or hurting someone else, showing up outside their work . . . Those are not the actions of an emotionally resilient person, and none of us want to be in a situation where any of those things feel like a really good idea.

The long-term consequences of making choices like that can cause way bigger problems than someone you’re sweet on not being into you. Vulnerability is imperative in having a deep and loving relationship with another human being, and being okay if it ends. So, what’s the couch to 5K equivalent of emotional resilience? How do you build emotional resilience like a muscle? It’s the simple stuff. It starts with getting decent sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, moving your body, having something to do that’s not about you, and having a small but strong circle of relationships.

If you’re alone, your problems are yours alone to hold. If there’s someone to talk to, it’s immediately half as bad.

Don’t worry we aren’t trying to recreate an Iron Age village here. Yet if you try to cultivate and nurture just two close relationships in your life that aren’t your partner, you’re golden.

How close? Close enough that if you couldn’t make school pick-up in an emergency, this person would drop everything, make sure your kids got home safely, got fed and got to bed okay.

You can never have too many people to call on a bad day, and to make sure that happens, put the work in to start having great days with those same people.

Because that’s the stuff that builds resilience.


Osher Günsberg on reframing your reaction to bad news

Osher Günsberg on the mental burpee everyone needs to do

By Osher Günsberg

A fixture on prime-time TV for two decades, Osher Günsberg is Men’s Health’s growth and personal development expert. Having carefully navigated his own journey of self-discovery and sobriety, Günsberg knows how difficult it can be to make the necessary changes in life that can facilitate inner peace. Now, he wants to help you make transformative changes in your life. For more of Osher’s insights listen to his bi-weekly (every Monday and Friday) podcast, Better Than Yesterday.

More From