Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Some moments tip the balance of our lives more than others, and few more so than how we are treated in our moments of vulnerability.
This vulnerability balance exists between moments when we were loved and nurtured, and moments when we were rejected and harmed. Ideally the scales are tipped with more love than rejection.
The Early Days
As our bodies and minds mature we are able to step away from the unavoidable vulnerability of infancy and make conscious decisions about when, where, how, why, and with whom we choose to be vulnerable.
But growing up we also take our early life experiences with us, and those shape and drive unconscious and automatic choices to not be vulnerable. And for good reason. We need to be able to keep ourselves safe without having to thoroughly think through every decision.
Fortunately our minds and bodies have evolved to be exceptionally skillful at keeping us safe. But unfortunately we sometimes get overly protective or shutdown to opportunities of growth and happiness. We can stop making conscious choices about being vulnerable and rely too heavily upon unconscious impulses.
We’ve all heard stories of the little person who never drew again after their parent ignored the effort and care the child put in to their creation.
We’ve all heard stories about the little person who thinks they can Never be scared after an adult shamed them for not being brave enough.
And we all know an adult who’s terrified of getting into another relationship because their last partner broke their heart.
Lessons in vulnerability happen throughout our life time, and everyone has some unpleasant ones.
When we choose to meet a child’s vulnerability with love we’re helping them to build a foundation of safety they can use as a home-base to explore the world from. This is much the same as a what skilled therapist does for their clients.
When we choose to meet an adolescent’s or adult’s vulnerability with love we are, in all likelihood, helping them to tear down, or at least peak over, the walls they’ve built to protect themselves from more rejection.
Moments of rejection compound on themselves and lead to taller and stronger walls, while moments of love let us know that it might, maybe, possibly, someday, could be ok to try and be vulnerable again… just a little bit.
We can measure our lives by balancing the moments when our vulnerability was met by someone else’s love or rejection.
We can measure our lives by balancing the moments we met another’s vulnerability by loving them or rejecting them.
And, we can measure our lives by balancing the moments we either loved or rejected our own vulnerability.
Whether for ourselves or someone else, making the choice to approach vulnerability with love is a courageous act, and one we should honor in ourselves and others.
To live from a place of courageous vulnerability does not mean that we walk around the world with our heart out and wide open, to everything and everyone. That’s often dangerous. And in the best of moments it can be exhausting.
Courageous vulnerability is about making a choice to open ourselves just a little bit more to the important people in our lives (and to ourselves). To test the waters and see how they respond.
Did they respond by loving me? Great! I might choose to be a bit more vulnerable next time.
Did they respond by rejecting me? Suck! I’m not going to put any more of my energy there.
Did they respond by trying to love me, but fell short and ended up rejecting me? Well that's confusing and frustrating! How can I communicate my needs to them?
Learning To Be Vulnerable
Learning to be courageously vulnerable starts at a young age. The love we get from others lets us know that it’s ok to explore. That safety to explore helps us build self-confidence, which we then get to turn in to a trusted intuition.
Our intuition helps us learns who we can and cannot be vulnerable with. And, we learn to respect our own needs, the needs of others, and to stand up for both when the time calls for it!
When we’re met with love we’re able to learn to trust ourselves enough to know, “If they accept and love me through my vulnerability, I’ll be able to accept and love them through their vulnerability.”
We learn that, “even if they don’t accept me, even if they don’t love me, I can still love myself.”
I hope you’re gentle with yourself today, but I also challenge you to test the waters and be just a little bit vulnerable with someone.
There is no magic button to heal from the moments that others rejected and hurt us, but there are people in the world who are ready, willing, and able to love us. People don’t always respond the way we want or need them to… but sometimes they do.
If you aren’t currently in a position where anyone in your life feels safe enough to be vulnerable with, please consider seeking support at your local community mental health organization, community shelter, support group, or by finding a therapist.
Always remember two things: Healing Is Possible, And It’s When We’re In Connection With Others That We Thrive.
Hudson Wilkins, MA, LPCC, EMDR, IFS. Hudson is a nature and mindfulness based trauma therapist inFort Collins, CO. He operates a private practice with a specialty in supporting folks who have experienced sexual violence first hand, and those that love them to heal and rebalance their lives.