Vulnerability is about being honest, and this includes embracing our dark side. No matter whether we find ourselves on the conservative spectrum or liberal, we often abuse morals and ideals in order to avoid our own shadow. In this turbulent ‘Trump era,’ where values fly high for all sides, vulnerability could become the currency that returns our sanity. My intention here is not political, but recent events coinciding with personal ones have created some urgency around the issue.
In the name of righteousness and higher ideals — personal, social, or political — we often establish a perimeter of comforting beliefs around us. This way we don’t need to face our own fear and insecurity. Instead of taking responsibility for our insufficiencies, we respond with judgment and morality. Fearing to face our simplicity and delicate humanity, we try proving our sophistication through how good, spiritual, or moral we are. Survival at any cost justifies the means to an end, but is basic survival what we really want?
If you’re interested in understanding how comfortable you are with your own vulnerability, take a moment to sense how you respond to abandonment, rejection, judgment, or betrayal.
Vulnerability Wasn’t Top Priority Growing Up
For most of us, childhood experiences left lasting imprints. When we got out of line, according to the values and needs of others, judgment or ridicule often followed. It became unsafe to express feelings and fears. Almost as a natural consequence, we began pretending that we don’t need anything and can do it ourselves. Hiding our true needs became the best strategy and we embarked on a journey of manipulating our way through life. To say the least, we became creative in coming up with ways to keep our true needs hidden — even from ourselves.
We learned to trust that suffering shown through sadness, crying, or pain point to or represent our vulnerability, though even these seemingly obvious markers may not really be signs of such at all. Often they are more representative of (un)conscious of manipulation of our partners. It’s safer to express needs through suffering. Not from bad intentions, but because it’s not as exposing.
What we call a ‘need’ easily turns into ‘demand.’ And what we often call ‘vulnerability’ becomes our personal way of blackmail and punishment. Even waiting silently and lonely for a response after an argument can ‘look and feel’ vulnerable. However, deep down hides a righteous expectation to be seen or heard. If we look close, we can discover pain buried beneath.
Practicing Vulnerability With Those Close to Us Makes Us More Human
When we’re truly vulnerable, we don’t use morality as a weapon in judging who’s right or wrong. What we do is recognize and acknowledge our feelings, fears, and needs. We do not generalize or base our arguments on past events, but respond to the feelings stirred through a specific event. We take off our masks and become available to ourselves and others. In many ways, we actually choose to become choice-less.
Betrayal, sacrifice, and other patterns that result in disappointment become central themes in our close relationships, but this is mainly because we enter those connections protected and guarded in the first place. Sacrifice, for example, is a tricky form of manipulation. We feel pain and righteousness at the same time. Sacrifice always leaves us with anger in our belly and the sense of missed opportunities.
I remember the deep pain I felt when my partner rejected my attempts to ‘help’ her time and time again. My response was to shut down and give her the silent treatment, while at times also throwing some moral judgment her way, such as “I give you everything I have, and what about you?”. But was I open when I gave so much, or rather feeling morally superior by loving ‘more’? I placed myself in an untouchable place and at the same time lost my vulnerability.
In relationships with those close to us we have a rare opportunity to exit the spiral of survival that gives us the illusion of staying on top of our game. That place which makes us believe we’re protected by high ideals, values, and other virtues — and sometimes also by self-judgment that we’re evil beyond repair.
Search for truth is a delicate process and doesn’t follow any defined path other than facing the complexity of our human existence as honestly, responsibly, and sincerely as we can. So long as we choose our personal safety and false importance, we prevent the power of vulnerability to guide us back to our hearts.
Vulnerability Can Be One of Our Greatest Teachers
There’s a big difference between saying and feeling things, and so a sentence like “I don’t need anything and can do it alone” can easily slip off our tongue. Nevertheless, the pain of loneliness and abandonment remains. There is no doubt that we can and could do many things by ourselves, like raising children, being without close friends, a lover, touch, recognition and the list goes on.
But what we really want is to learn to express our fears, and needs. Our demand for acknowledgment, the requirement to have our needs satisfied, or maintaining moral high ground, all leave us in a state of fight, in which receiving becomes impossible. Vulnerability forms the basis for our receptivity.
In expressing true vulnerability we hold the ground for our feelings and needs. We sense it as a state of integrity in which we accept the totality and complexity of our human imperfection. It’s a place of power, in which we accept that we need and thereby acknowledge our dependency on each other. It’s empowering when we connect with our humility and simplicity.
Where to begin being vulnerable?
Vulnerability is best expressed in the “I” form. We take responsibility for our own state of mind and feelings, and don’t hold our partners prisoners to our moral standards and ideals. We don’t use sacrifice, guilt, shame, or judgment to drive our point across.
It’s challenging, since it leaves us with little or no protection other than the acceptance of who we are. The “I” form takes the guessing game out of the relationship, where we expect our partners to ‘know’ what we fear, feel, or need.
This way those close to us can decide to satisfy our needs or not. Everything else turns into an expectations game in which there are no winners, and this triggers resistance. They feel manipulated. And for us, vulnerability holds the key to accepting more parts in ourselves, which forms the basis of coming out of hiding and denial, and into our light.