Why 'Never Let Them See You Sweat' Is Bad Advice

As contemporary women, we're entrepreneurs, students, travelers, moms, artists, and professionals. We make our voices heard, we vote, we run companies, all while wielding a sword of compassion. But much of the work landscape is still led by cisgender, straight men, and as such, many men are socialized not to remove a stoic mask or show a hint of emotion or vulnerability. As women navigating the world of work, we find ourselves sometimes mirroring the dominant culture as a survival mechanism.

This artificial bottling of normal human responses, let's face it, doesn't work so well for men. And it's a catastrophe for women. Stuffing down our feelings (not expressing them, eating or drinking them away) leads to stress and anxiety. Unchecked stress ravages the body with chemicals, specifically stress hormones like cortisol, leading to inflammation, and inflammation is behind most disease processes. Unmanaged emotional stress can lead to real mental health issues.

Although it's still only a minority of companies, in the past few years some leaders have finally started to honor human emotional needs within an office setting. A company called Ubiquity Retirement + Savings has employees push happy, sad, or three other emotional buttons as they leave work to capture how the day affects them. They use the data to help them understand their people and adjust their culture. This is progress,  but yet, on a personal level, some of us still need to learn how to embrace our emotional vulnerability and be more expressive with our feelings.

Benefits of being vulnerable and visibly emotional

There are both personal and professional benefits to being more emotionally open or vulnerable. But the first step is to actually allow ourselves to feel and tune into our emotions. While that may sound obvious, if someone's spent years publicly performing a kind of denial ritual of their natural emotional waves, it can take some compassionate work, like meditation or speaking with a counselor, to allow access to one's inner life. Allowing yourself to cry is also essential because emotional tears contain chemicals, including hormones, that help us reduce stress — that's why we often feel better after crying.

Socially and professionally, a great benefit of emotional self-expression or vulnerability is that it's bonding and almost instantly creates connection and intimacy. What emerges from an emotional connection is trust, and trust builds relationships. Relationships are a powerful form of currency; they have great value in constructing a career, supporting others, meeting a partner, and falling in love. As we express ourselves emotionally, we signal who we are and what we value.

Fuller expression includes setting boundaries. Psychiatrist Leela R. Magavi shared with Real Simple that to signal our comfort or discomfort levels, "Individuals could use succinct, clear phrases to address and clarify their comfort level and needs." When we're clear about our boundaries, people respect us more.

An important distinction: vulnerability vs. oversharing

There is a huge difference between allowing authentic feelings of sadness, anger, or joy versus oversharing. Oversharing is forced, over-the-top vulnerability, a revelation of personal details, or a trauma story that burdens the listener and makes them feel obligated to take care of you or solve a complex problem it's inappropriate for them to solve.

Where vulnerability forges a real spark of connection, oversharing pushes people away and can feel uneasy. When you're on the phone with your best friend and reveal a story about SA and how you healed from it, that's appropriately expressive. Bringing that story to a networking meeting where you're meeting people for the first time qualifies as extreme oversharing. 

Vulnerability and the idea of bringing your whole self to work does not mean intensely sobbing in public. But it can mean allowing emotional responses to arise, acknowledging them, and letting them pass, like a storm front. Pro tip: if you're in an emotional wave at work and you feel terrified of it being witnessed so you resist it, it will try even harder to burst through — we're taught to suppress what is in fact a natural process. Drawing a line between your personal and professional life will help you eliminate oversharing and strike the right tone.