“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen… to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’”
Vulnerability is a powerful, yet misunderstood concept. In our society, vulnerability is viewed as a weakness–something we should avoid and not learn about. When I think of vulnerable individuals, however, I do not think of downtrodden, susceptible, needy, or neglected beings. Instead, I think of my amazing clients: a husband leaning on his wife for support while he battles debilitating depression; sex-addicts relearning how to have an emotionally intimate relationship with their partners; battered women re-adjusting their paradigms to see themselves as valuable; or teens challenging peer pressure to realize their worth. I see those who are “vulnerable” as brave, open, and authentic; willing to be comfortable in their own imperfect skin and take life on as they are. It is this vulnerability that allows these individuals to have meaningful, honest relationships–both with themselves and with others. I refer to vulnerability as the “underlying, ever-present, under-current of our natural state,” as David Whyte puts it; the ability to show our raw, true selves–flaws and all. My purpose of this post is to explain how welcoming, instead of numbing, vulnerability can cure most relationship ailments.
Brené Brown did a quick poll on Twitter asking people what made them feel vulnerable; within 90 minutes, she received 150 answers of common situations we can all relate to–having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. You will notice that each of those are interpersonal examples–meaning each is an instance where at least two people are interacting. This is because vulnerability is at the very core of relationships! Unfortunately, too often we become consumed by how others perceive us or how we measure up compared to those around us…so we let our automatic defense mechanism kick in: we numb our emotions. We block out painful feelings like embarrassment, grief, shame, fear, and disappointment to combat being vulnerable. The issue with doing this, however, is that there is no such thing as “selective numbing”–it is physically impossible to block out only negative emotions without blocking all emotions. Brené says, “When we numb those [hard emotions], we [also] numb joy, we numb gratitude,…we numb happiness.”
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one of my areas of expertise is relationships; I find fulfillment in helping my clients strengthen and improve their relationships with others and with themselves. I have seen countless clients who have resorted to numbing their emotions because they do not know how to care for themselves when they experience pain. Consequently, they miss out on the full spectrum of feelings that meaningful relationships offer, including and especially positive emotions. Yes, being vulnerable opens us up to feelings of hurt, rejection and sadness, but it also means we can have more happiness and satisfaction in our relationships. Our relationships can be so much more fulfilling as we welcome our imperfections and allow ourselves to truly be seen!
How does one begin to welcome vulnerability? First, adopt the unquestionable notion that you are worthy of love. There is nothing you had to do to earn it, and thus there is nothing you can do to take that worthiness away. Second, know that you (and your friend/sister/partner/spouse) are imperfect beings, prone to mistakes, misdeeds, and miscommunication; expecting perfection is the quickest way to extinguish vulnerability. I will expand on these ideas further in upcoming blog posts.
Brené says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” Believing this will give us the courage we need to be authentic (read: vulnerable) in our relationships–to be honest about who and how we are. I have seen firsthand how numbing emotion to curb vulnerability stifles relationships, whereas welcoming vulnerability makes relationships thrive and progress. If you would like to learn how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, contact me today to set up your first session.