If you’re like some of my clients who feel vulnerable at a smaller size, you might be confusing “physical” with “emotional” vulnerability and find it difficult to shed pounds or remain at a healthy weight because of it. Do vulnerability and thinness necessarily go together? Do all thin individuals feel emotionally at risk? Does being overweight ensure that someone won’t feel vulnerable?

People who’ve been physically abused, molested, raped, or who otherwise have been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances, often feel threatened bodily when they’re thinner. This pairing makes sense because they may not have had the might and muscle to fend off a perpetrator in the past. They might even have been chosen as prey because of their physical vulnerability. Additionally, when people are thinner, they really may receive more unwanted sexual attention, and more weight can keep them from having to handle it. They also may fear dealing with their own heightened desires when a lower weight makes them “feel sexier.” When they talk about feeling vulnerable, it may be their own lusting which scares them most.

Even without suffering physical or sexual abuse, some people feel a sense of vulnerability when they lose weight. This not a fear of actual physical weakness, but of not being emotionally equipped to take care of themselves. They harbor a sense of inadequacy and incompetence to stand up for themselves, set clear boundaries, remove themselves from harm’s way when threatening situations arise, and keep themselves emotionally safe.

But, the fact is, weight is not a determinant of emotional resourcefulness or resilience. People of all sizes run the continuum of self-care. Qualities such as assertiveness, self-pride, putting yourself first, saying no, pleasing yourself rather than others, sensing danger, and boundary setting are internally generated. They are essential life skills no matter what you weigh or how large or small you are.

If you feel emotionally vulnerable at lower weights, it’s time to acknowledge what would make you feel more safe and secure. By acknowledging what skills you’re missing and becoming competent in them, you’ll markedly reduce your sense of vulnerability. Rather than make weight the issue, identify the skills you need to reduce emotional vulnerability, then go out and learn and practice them. When you feel that you can take care of yourself—at any weight—you will be freer to be whatever size you choose.