“Vulnerability is at the core, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
Learning to be vulnerable is a pretty big undertaking, but it’s also a necessary step in the direction of healthy relationships. Self-care has become a priority for me, and having connections with people I can count on is a huge part of taking care of me. In midlife, I find myself reflecting on the past to develop an understanding of what to tweak for creating a healthier, happier future.
One big area needing improvement is my love life. Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, has become my mentor, although she is unaware of this. She speaks about allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to truly be able to connect with others.
According to the Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary, the definition of vulnerable is:
1:capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
2:open to attack or damage :assailable
Sounds a bit dangerous and scary, this thing called vulnerability. No wonder I’ve been dodging the dating scene.
Trust is a difficult thing for me. Hurt and disappointment in my love life have left me with a fear of vulnerability. Over time a protective wall has gone up–one that I built to avoid emotional pain. My focus now is on taking it down. The isolation chamber I constructed over the years has become a damn lonely place!
Connection, according to Brené, gives our lives purpose and meaning. She even goes so far as to say connection is the reason we are all here.
In order for us to allow for connection, we must first feel worthy. Here’s the problem. As a therapist, this is the number one issue I see in 99% of my clients–I am not good enough is a common thread that weaves through our society.
If we’re raised to feel worthy, we have a strong sense of love and belonging. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for many people. I will even go out on my own limb and say, this is the core of what ails our society. A lack of self-worth leads to fear, shame, and a struggle for connection.
How do most of us cope with these terrible feelings? By numbing out the pain. Because if we are numb, we can no longer feel afraid, disappointed, sad, or unloved. Avoidance allows us to not have to address the deep shit mucking up our core.
We become addicted to one or two, maybe even more, of the many available substances or activities that numb. Maybe its alcohol or drugs, shopping, sex, gambling or eating. Or, how about perfectionism? Whatever it looks like, our goal is to stop the pain.
Blaming others is one way to discharge the discomfort we experience. When we don’t own our own stuff we avoid taking responsibility, and also creating our own destiny.
Of course, this avoidance of responsibility and numbing the pain also keeps us from feeling the good stuff, like joy, belonging, creativity, and love. We may feel a glimmer of these, desperately seeking out love, but it’s not possible to truly feel it when we are numb.
So, how do we un-numb ourselves?
To embrace vulnerability, courage is needed. We must be able to tell our story, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly parts of it, with our whole heart. To trust it will be okay. Taking off the mask and exposing our true selves, imperfections and all–what a scary concept!
Compassion is another aspect of vulnerability. This begins with being kind to ourselves. We cannot experience true empathy for another if we don’t first have the ability to show compassion to ourselves. Once we love ourselves unconditionally, we are able to be there for others in a healthy way.
Brené emphasizes the hardest part of vulnerability is connection, because this requires authenticity–to be who you are versus who you think you should be. Letting go of all of the messages from the past that have been internalized and created the mindset I am not good enough the way I am.
What if I told you what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful? Try incorporating this message into your mindset. This is a process that takes time and lots of affirmations. I have 54 years of vulnerability avoidance to overcome. Patience, not one of my strengths, is a necessity here.
Yes, this is all personal.
After ten, yes, ten, years of cutting myself off from the dating scene, I now realize I don’t want to become an isolated cat lady. The cat lady part is fine and lovely, but isolated is a sad word if you ask me. It doesn’t go well with happy, healthy and loved.
Dating makes me feel terribly vulnerable. The thought of investing in a relationship that may or may not work out is frightening. To say I love you before the other person does? I will have to think about that one!
I encourage you to be authentic. Embrace your imperfections, we all have them. This is what makes us unique human beings. Allow yourself to love with your whole heart, while knowing this leaves you vulnerable. Be kind to yourself, be joyful and grateful. Explore creativity, whether it’s painting, writing, singing, cooking, or gardening. Say to yourself often I am enough.
Watching Brené Brown speak has made an impact on me. I am not alone; her 20 minute TED Talks video on the Power of Vulnerability is incredible, and has had 31,232,145 views.
I encourage you to take the time to watch it, I promise you will be glad you did.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”