Monday, November 6, 2017

The Power of Vulnerability

What does it mean to be vulnerable with others?  How does such influence our relationships and in what ways?  And why is vulnerability so hard?

Vulnerability is the willingness to open yourself, to expose your inner self to someone else. To share the depths of your heart, your inner emotional state and feelings with another.  Being vulnerable also means embracing a certain degree of uncertainty and risk, because with vulnerability often comes fear of rejection or hurt.  When we choose to be vulnerable, there is a risk of someone reacting in such a way that we hadn't hoped for.  At its worst, being vulnerable could entail being turned away from or rejected. 

Thus, many people choose, instead of being vulnerable with others, to remain more reserved and guarded.  They do this as a means of avoiding the potential hurt, disappointment and disheartenment that can come with opening up to someone and not receiving the response you hoped for, or even being outright rejected.  So for many, it seems easier not to risk it at all.

However, this is where you lose out, big time.  Remaining guarded will, in a sense, provide some protection, that is true, but at what cost?  The cost is: poignant, emotionally close, fulfilling relationships.  Because when one remains guarded, their relationships with others can only go so deep.  This results in sort of watered down, half hearted connections to others.  Those that, sure can be somewhat satisfying and sating in the moment, but that over the long term and in the big picture, leave something not insignificant to be desired.

Being vulnerable requires bravery, risk, resilience and trust.  But with it can come the most extraordinary, resonating, awesome connections of your life.

First off, what sorts of situations or behaviors are displays of being vulnerable and open?

Some examples, to name just a few:

-asking for help.
-standing up for yourself, even when its tough and you risk unintentionally hurting the feelings of another.
-falling in love.
-apologizing and taking responsibility for somewhere you may have messed up.
-asking for forgiveness.
-admitting youre afraid.
-telling someone about something caused you to feel embarrassed or insecure.
-telling someone about a difficult life experience you have had.
-saying to someone, "I like you," "I love you," "you are special to me," "I miss you," or whatever the strong emotional sentiment youre feeling might be.
-going for something you want, even though it scares you.

So, why is it that choosing vulnerability instead is often the far more emotionally rewarding path?  Even though its the riskier, scarier one.

Many people are surprised to find that often, instead of pushing people away when they reveal inner parts of themselves, it tends towards having the opposite effect.  When people let their guards down, remove their masks, share their inner selves (and this includes whats real, so not just strengths and good points, but even more so, ones personal challenges, struggles, fears, etc), this results in those around them feeling courage and inclination towards doing the same. 

It very often results in others feeling more comfortable and more real themselves around you, when you are able to dare being real with them.

Vulnerability, more often than not, instead of pushing people away, actually draws them closer. 

Believe it or not, vulnerability is actually the secret to emotionally close, poignant relationships.

Imagine the peace and power of learning/knowing that in being completely authentic and open with another person, that in sharing with them your most intimate dreams, fears and inner layers, that you wouldn't be ridiculed or rejected but instead, would be met with acceptance, love, interest and care.  That instead, you will be embraced instead of rejected.

This can be your reality.  Imagine being completely vulnerable and exposed, and instead of pushing someone away, it does the opposite.  It brings you closer. 

There are people, many of whom, you can have just that with.

Yes, there is a of course a flip side to this dilemma.  There will be times in which we might choose to risk the route of vulnerability and find ourselves regretting it.  Having chosen the wrong person with whom to open ourselves up to, and not knowing such until it was too late.  This can and will happen in life.  Too often though, people take these singular experiences and with them, shut away their hearts to all future vulnerability.  Having fallen off the bike once, twice or three times and scrapped their knee, resulting in their swiftly deciding on never riding again, tucking it away in the depths of their garage to collect dust in the back.

This is a mistake.

Each person, relationship, and situation throughout life, are different.  No two people or situations are the same, even if they seem similar.  Just because something happened once with someone, does not mean the same result will actualize in every other relationship or situation.  This is an all too common approach in relationships.  Deciding that because something happened in one friendship/relationship/situation, that its going to happen in a similar way again. Not only is this insulting and unfair, not allowing a new person to show you whom they are before making sweeping assumptions and taking away their ability to surprise you and prove their own uniqueness, but its also a self sabotaging action in friendships/relationships as well.  Smothering much magic, potential and possibility with your own narrow perceptions, now layered atop and skewing the potential for truly seeing what this new life situation might have to offer, in its full kaleidoscope of colors and varying shades. 

When people operate like this, they miss out.

Vulnerability strengthens relationships, when exercised with the right people.
Most humans crave close connections with others, but we avoid risking vulnerability, the very trait that makes close connection possible.  In our culture, which praises being thick skinned, staying strong and self contained, and an unshakable sense of individualism, this doesn't exactly encourage or point towards authentic, deep emotional connection or vulnerability with/to others.  In fact, it subtly encourages the opposite, which is a major loss.

When people are emotionally open and vulnerable with one another, they come to know each other intimately.  Thousands of invisible small threads, reaching between each other and intertwining.  Feelings of understanding, empathy, closeness, attachment, and love, grow and flourish between two people (friends, lovers, familial connections, any of the above) who practice and dare to be vulnerable, emotionally available and open with one another. 

"To be truly loved, one must be seen."  Therefore, if one is unwilling to reveal themselves, both their light and their dark, this makes truly emotionally deep relationships not fully possible.  There will always be a bit of a road block lying in the way.  Its easy to love light and surface reflections, the beautiful shimmering glow one sees on top.  However, you must be willing to go deeper, to show both to those whom you wish to be close.  The light, as well as the darkness, depth and challenges, the not so flattering or easy stuff as well.  This is the pathway to real closeness and love.  And how to get there?  Vulnerability.

In terms of literally how to be vulnerable, this means potentially feeling uncomfortable or afraid, but being willing to risk sharing parts of yourself anyway.  Pushing forward and being brave, and still going for it despite feeling scared.  It means trusting someone with your revelation.  That they will treat such with love and openness.  This can also mean bouncing back from when someone did not treat your revelation with the care and honor it deserved.  Not applying such a disappointment and hurt to all future close connections but remaining courageous and treating each new one as such: different and totally new.  With potential for surprise, a different response, and awe.

On the flip side, when being the recipient of someone else's emotional vulnerability, this means treating whatever they are giving you with honor and respect.  Realizing that such is an immense gift, a declaration of trust, a risk on their end.  That they want to know they will be seen and still accepted and thought highly of.  It means if they sense you may be distracted, bothered, indifferent or disengaged, they are likely to retreat, to put up protective walls, to potentially regret having risked such with you and may not do so in the future. 

Also know, vulnerability is a two way street.  It should be a shared mutual experience, in general, over the big picture of a relationship.  Involving both people sharing personal emotional experiences, dreams, longings, fears and feelings.

Lastly, with regards to practicing such, being vulnerable with another does not mean putting pressure on them to do so in return.  Attempting to elicit such from their end just because you chose to do so.  Trying to persuade or influence someone into moving at a speed that isn't their own or opening up more so than they might feel ready to, simply by means of helping yourself to feel more comfortable and validated.  This isn't being vulnerable.  Its being pushy.  Being vulnerable means sharing your own feelings openly, bravely, but also having the guts to allow the other person to go at their own pace, even if you are anxious for them to move quicker.  It means being patient, trusting, allowing the other their own experience.  It means enjoying, appreciating and reveling in their vulnerability, as it comes about by their own accord, even if it differs from your own. 

This is what makes another persons vulnerability with you authentic and beautiful.  Because it isn't being pushed or prompted, but instead is coming about via their own emotional experience, decision to share, their growing comfort level with and feelings towards you, and a result of their own bravery.

Ill never forget a letter I received from one of my closest friends, upon moving from Frankfurt, Germany back to the US just three months ago.  This friend of mine is not particularly affectionate or emotional verbally.  She tends more towards showing her feelings of loyalty and love via her actions.  Gifts, thoughtful gestures, effortful intent on her end.  All equally as meaningful, but just a different approach.  Myself, while I too love gestures, am inclined towards verbal/written.  At least in terms of my friendships.  Its how I most express myself, with regards to my feelings of affection, caring and thankfulness towards them.  I love writing my close friends heartfelt letters, telling them what they personally and their friendship means to me, my feelings for them, etc.  I have no issue with telling a close friend, "I love you," if I actually feel such for that particular person.

Therefore, I tend towards saying affectionate things to my friends, not often but certainly not irregularly either.  Somewhere comfortably in the middle.  So I was humbled, deeply moved and stunned when, upon my moving away, this friend presented me with a heartfelt, emotionally open letter.  Within which, she wrote that I was "like the sister she never had."  That whenever anything funny, crazy or emotional happened, I am "one of the first people she thinks of to tell."  That my coming into her life has been a very special thing.  That I add immensely to her life.  I still have the letter, tucked away in my room, and have read it several times since.

The point being, this friend of mine isn't particularly emotionally expressive, thus, receiving this letter was incredibly moving.  Now imagine if I had prompted or pushed for such.  Having said to her something along the lines of, "hey, lets both write each other letters about what our friendship means to one another before my leaving."  Or even commenting to her sometime, "man, I wish you would tell me what you feel for me."  Sure, that's a fair thing to express, but on the flip side, it would have taken away ever so slightly from the poignancy of the letter.  Because it had been slightly prompted, pushed and elicited for from my end.

It was so powerful because it was a completely pure, freely given expression on her end.  And not in a way she usually tends towards expressing herself but in a much more vulnerable and open sense with regards to her letter.  All of this making the gesture especially moving, awesome, authentic, and special.

Being vulnerable, both revealing ones inner self as well as being patient and trusting in others, is one of the more emotionally challenging, anxiety provoking aspects of life.  It entails trust, courage and guts.  Vulnerability can occasionally result in being let down or deeply hurt, as this is par for the course though in any close, emotional relationship.  Hurt can, and will, happen.  Vulnerability also has the power to transform your relationships from satisfying and good enough, to emotionally close, poignant, deeply fulfilling ones.  The decision lies with you, on what types of relationships you prefer, want in your own life and thus, embrace the bravery towards creating.

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