How to make friends with vulnerability
Recently a Connection Essentials (online course) participant sent me this request.
“I’d like it if you keep reminding me about the ‘need’ for vulnerability in its different forms and shapes. I sense it’s something I have run from in the past and now, scary tho’ it be, I want to learn when and how to ‘make friends’ with vulnerability.”
I’m going to answer it here because what they have expressed, is what so many of us experience.
The dictionary says vulnerability is “The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”.
Yikes. Right? It sounds risky?
Usually, rather than our physical self being threatened, it’s our self image we are protecting. How we are seen and valued by those around us is wired into us as vital to our survival. After all we want to belong, be loved and safe. Understandably.
It’s possible this instinct may be in overdrive to protect us.
The rest of this article is based on looking at vulnerability and my invitation for how you might bring it into more of your life.
Firstly, vulnerability is a way of meeting many needs
My take: Vulnerability is that it is either a super need because it allows many other needs to be better met OR it could, for that reason be seen as a strategy of behaving which allows important needs to be met.
As an adult who can take care of themselves and is able to adapt their vulnerability to a situation, vulnerability is a way of being, which naturally allows intimacy in connection. It better enables us to meet needs for example to see and be seen, to be fully heard and understood and more. Certainly a powerful quality to open into and embrace.
Secondly, let’s check … go gently
Let’s not make a should here. i.e. I should be vulnerable. Our survival instinct is wild and strong. It is informed through past events, environment and primal instinct to keep us safe. If you aren’t being as vulnerable as you’d like, check what your fear is and bring compassion to yourself. You make sense. Your response makes sense EVEN if you’d like to adapt. Self-acceptance is the first vulnerablity – it is vulnerability with ourselves.
Imagine having a guard dog which won’t let you have a family and friends visit?Let’s say it keeps you from getting to know and be known. Gets in the way of intimacy, social connection, play, empathy, and support. Zero-ing out or adeptly avoiding vulnerability – that feeling of exposure.
Any guarded heart is worthy of gentle exploration rather than critical condemnation. The guardedness is serving a perceived purpose. Although this may or may not be current, useful and valid.
Choose wisely with whom you are vulnerable
and what degree of vulnerability you extend,
go at your own pace
Thirdly, investigate your vulnerability
- How do you feel about our deeper emotions? It is often more comfortable to complain or criticise rather than share one’s deeper feelings hiding underneath this screen.
- What is it like to look into your partner’s eyes whilst you share your feelings, needs or whilst making love? Some couples find one or more of these really disconcerting. Do you?
- Do you withhold saying something for fear of another’s reaction? This involves withholding your own inner world, feelings, and needs… an essential ingredient for connection, especially intimate relationship.
- How much energy do you give to trying to shape what other’s might think of you? This distraction is major and sees us guarding our identity and gets in the way of connection… Is it your standard to say ‘yes’ when your response is really a ‘no’. Or to get angry if you think someone is about to adversely impact how others see you?
Example: It’s raining outside as I here writing in my local cafe. Four men (‘Tradies’) are bantering about whether it’s possible to work today. Loud laughter and jeering suddenly erupt (still friendly).
I look their way. “I knew I shouldn’t tell you,” says one. I’m writing about vulnerability 🙂 so I ask… He just told them he plays golf when there is no surf.
They all surf together. They see golf as a gentlemen’s sport. He withheld telling them until now. My guess is he wants to belong.
Something in the friendly banter or somehow today was different and he cracked open his protection and let them into his authenticity. Showed up regardless of the fallout.
It’s not a biggie. But you get the idea from this example, of everyday vulnerability.
Do you carry a fear of a past experience repeating itself? Our survival instincts endeavouring to protect us from past pain we imagine will be re-experienced. This could be the most common veil over vulnerability that I see.
There are degrees of vulnerability and disclosure. Different situations and people offer varying degrees of space and presence. It as important to discern this at one’s own pace, rather than to perceive that vulnerability is right and what you should do period.
Expanding your vulnerability range
- Vulnerability feels uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone and into the unknown – that’s normal 🙂
- It’s ok to be messy and not have it all together in vulnerability – stay open
- Uncertainty, anxiety, fear, grief are included in vulnerability.
- Joy and playfulness are also part of vulnerability – truly.
- Share your feelings and needs, fears, dreams – talk about yourself, so your vulnerability is clear of any blame
- Blaming or criticising is more protection and defence, plus it’s harder to hear your heart.
- Owning the impact of our actions and apologising involves listening to other vulnerably (free of defence) and expressing vulnerability.
I have a sense of adventuring with vulnerability every time I write and post a blog like this; send emails to hundreds of people (like now!); share publicly, let a friend know what doesn’t work for me … etc. It’s part of everyday life.
Be Brave and True 🙂 this is my maxim which generally results in me experiencing vulnerability!