ERP 112: What Makes Being Vulnerable So Hard?
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Over the last couple of weeks, I have been discussing the challenge of maintaining closeness and intimacy with your partner, as well as maintaining your sense of self in a long-term commitment, love relationship. In last week’s episode, I talked about how to seek validation and intimacy within your relationship. I offered 4 keys to doing this successfully: safety, ownership, vulnerability, and transparency.
Relationship security and individual authenticity working together
Within an intimate relationship, we often feel the constant tension between upholding the harmony and security of the bond as well as staying honest and real about our individual desires and preferences. Both relationship security and individual authenticity are important. While they feel conflicting, they actually work together supporting the development of both. Having a more secure base, provides a safer foundation to launch from (explore and take risks). Opening up more and revealing what is true and real with a loved one (within a safe container), creates intimacy, connection, and safety.
Please check out episode ERP 110 and ERP 111 out to learn more.
In an article titled, Courage in Relationships: Conquering Vulnerability and Fear, Leon F Seltzer Ph.D. writes “Unfortunately, in many instances we simply can’t feel secure enough with our partner to approach anything we sense could endanger this bond. And so our “security” (such as it is) is really shallow and tenuous; untested. We’re just not willing—courageously—to risk feeling refused or rejected in the effort to move toward a more genuinely secure relationship:”
Vulnerability – “A diamond in the rough”
Why is vulnerability so hard? We want to feel strong. We want to be loved and accepted. We want to feel competent and able. We want to feel empowered and that we can overcome obstacles. We value achievement, perseverance, and resiliency. We say things like “Don’t wallow.” “Don’t be a victim.” “Don’t let your circumstances define you.” Given the appropriate context, I agree with the sentiments of these statements. But have we gone too far?
Do we attempt to bypass pain to exercise strength and resilience? Of course, we would all probably prefer to not feel pain. However, have we truncated or cut off the process entirely? Sure, we do not want to get stuck in a deep hole or downward spiral for months and months. But when do we get the chance to feel? Feel what is real?
In Vulnerability the Key to Close Relationships, Karen Young writes “Somewhere along the way, the need to protect ourselves from being vulnerable has trumped the need to connect. I understand that. Few things hurt as deeply and completely as the heartache that comes from relationships. But heartache and uncertainty is part of being human and it’s avoidance is getting in our way. In response to this, we’ve stopped allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. We’ve toughened up. We’ve turned vulnerability into a weakness and guardedness into a strength”
Vulnerability creates an opening.
Dr. Brené Brown, a renowned expert on vulnerability, has been doing a lot to help us redefine vulnerability. Through her research, she has found the value of vulnerability.
In Vulnerability the Key to Close Relationships, Karen Young, writes “Vulnerability is the driving force of connection. It’s brave. It’s tender. It’s impossible to connect without it. But we’ve turned it into a weakness. We’ve made ourselves ‘strong’. We’ve toughened up, hardened up and protected ourselves from being hurt. We’ve protected ourselves from vulnerability and disallowed the surrender. Here’s the problem. When we close down our vulnerability we are shielded from hurt, but we are also shielded from love, intimacy and connection. They come to us through the same door. When we close it to one, we close it to all.”
Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear my story, explanations, and examples.
What makes being vulnerability so hard?:
Pain is too much:
- Can’t deal.
- Isn’t within our awareness.
What we say, feel, believe about ourselves:
- Shame: “I failed.”
- Insecure: “Nobody really cares about me.”
- Unworthy: “I don’t feel good enough.” “If I was smarter, more success, more attractive, than I would be worthy.”
- Unloveable: “I am toxic. I am deficient.”
- Inadequate: “I am not good at relationship”
We fear our partner’s response:
- Rejection: “You don’t know what you are talking about.” “I don’t feel the same way about you.”
- Criticism: “You are too needy.” “That is ridiculous. You are just being selfish.”
- Abandonment: “I don’t care how you feel or what you think.” “Your partner shakes their head and turns away from you.”
- Attacked: “Stop being childish.” “In response, to your sharing a sexual desire, that’s perverted”
- Betrayal: “I don’t need you.” “I don’t want you anymore.”
(uncared for, dismissed, or even humiliated)
Previous hurt, pain, and/or trauma (old feelings)
What makes being vulnerable even harder?
Our attempts to protect:
- Afraid of upsetting the “perceived relationship harmony” (rocking the boat).
- Fear of upsetting partner.
- Fear of upsetting the relationship flow and dynamic.
- Don’t feel safe.
- Avoidance. It is natural and understandable to want to avoid feeling pain and to try to prevent pain from happening. We are wired up to protect ourselves.
In the article, Yes, Being Vulnerable Is Terrifying—But Here’s Why It’s So Worth by Katherine Schrehber, she writes “We’ve all struggled to open up to others at some point in our lives, says Jeffry Simpson, Ph.D., a social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. If you’ve ever balked at the mere thought of getting close to someone new, rest assured: That’s normal. It’s instinctual and natural to avoid situations where we might get injured, he explains, even if that injury is “only” psychological.”
Accept instead of fight against pain
Radical Acceptance by Brent Menninger writes “Pain can be almost impossible to bear, but suffering is even more difficult. When you refuse to accept pain, you will suffer. Fighting reality, opposing the inevitable or struggling against what is – causes suffering. SUFFERING = PAIN X NON-ACCEPTANCE OF THE PAIN”
Brent Menninger also writes about 3 myths about acceptance:
- “1.If you don’t accept something, it will magically change and you won’t have to deal with it.
- 2. If you accept your painful situation, you will give in to it or it will take over your life.
- 3. If you accept your painful situation, you are accepting a life of pain without end. (Actually, with acceptance, you can move on to problem solving).”
In Vulnerability the Key to Close Relationships, Karen Young writes ‘Occasionally we get hurt. Relationship pain is an unavoidable part of being human. When it happens it can steal you. I know. But we can see this for what it is – a mismatch of people, a redirection, a learning, a happening – or we can take it as a warning and protect ourselves from the possibility of being hurt again. In this case, we make the decision to not be vulnerable. We shut it down. By shutting down to the risks of being vulnerable, we also shut down to the possibilities – the possibility of joy, intimacy, closeness, gratitude and connection.”
How do you handle being vulnerable?
Can you be with your own pain?
Can you make space to see it and acknowledge it?
Are you willing to be seen… willing to reveal parts or yourself you are not sure will be accepted?
Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 112: What Makes Being Vulnerable So Hard? [Transcript]
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If you are interested in developing new skills to overcome relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or doing relationship coaching work with me.