Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More on Vulnerability

This question came to my email...

What does it feel like to be vulnerable, how will I know?

The Oxford dictionary defines vulnerable as that which may be “wounded or harmed”. At first glance then, vulnerability appears as a weakness as in “my computer is vulnerable to viruses without adequate protection.” However, when used in the context of humans, admitting one’s vulnerabilities is actually a sign of strength.

Vulnerability begins with opening our heart — opening our heart to all our inner parts, the ones full of light and the ones mired in shadows. It is saying: “This is who I am. I may not be proud of all these parts but they are all a part of me.” For example, I have a part of me that goes into self pity ever so often. I am not proud of that but with an open heart I can acknowledge when I feel self pity and say: “A part of me needs attention right now. How can I give it the attention it needs in a healthy way?” With an open heart, pride steps aside for compassion to enter.

It can feel vulnerable to say we have needs, especially if those needs have been ignored, denied or judged in the past. To express our needs opens our self to the possibility of rejection. To avoid this, we often reject ourselves — we deny our needs — before another can do so. This may feel like we are protecting our self, or being “strong”, but, in reality, self rejection weakens us.

Ironically, when we deny our vulnerabilities we become more vulnerable to life’s challenges. Denial does not make the problems disappear, in fact, they usually increase. In denial, using the above example, the part of our self wanting attention will still try to get its needs met but will do so without our full awareness. We may end up doing unhealthy things to get attention or, alternatively, may try to drown our needs in addiction: drugs, alcohol, work and shopping, to name a few.

I feel most people feel safer, at first, in being vulnerable with another.. Many of us come from codependent backgrounds and, as such, we have come to rely on others for not only self validity but a sense of safety (I have written about self trust and inner safety in other blogs. Check out May blogs) Because of this, it sometimes requires another to help us open our heart to self compassion and to begin building the foundation for our own internal safety. We confide our worst fears to our best friend, therapist, spiritual advisor or even our pet before we can actually go within to explore. It is like testing the waters. If this person I trust accepts me without judgment, perhaps I, too, can accept myself and stop judging.

Being vulnerable with a trusted individual can eventually allow one to accept and love themselves regardless of what or who they have been. And this is not about evading responsibility. Being vulnerable includes admitting our wrongs and making amends where needed. It is vulnerable to admit how we have hurt another but only in acceptance of what we have done and the taking of appropriate responsibility can we transform guilt and shame into gifts from which we can learn.

And finally, it is a gift to ourselves to choose when and how to be vulnerable with others. If we are vulnerable to a person who is filled with self judgment it will be doubtful whether we will encounter an open heart. It is not that their judgment need necessarily hurt us — those with a strong sense of internal safety can withstand quite a lot of external judgment — but who needs it? Healthy vulnerability means having strong but flexible boundaries that help you choose when and how to express.

Here are some self reflective questions to help explore our more vulnerable parts:

• Do I judge myself for having a part of myself that feels/behaves/thinks a certain way?
• In judging this part am I denying my feelings but still acting on this part’s needs?
• What can this part teach me?
• Can I thank this part for perhaps getting me through a difficult time in life?
• Did this part hurt myself or others while trying to get its needs met?
• Can I forgive myself for these hurts and make appropriate amends?

Accepting our vulnerabilities is about coming out of denial and living life with an open heart. As such, it is a strength rather than a weakness. How will you know you are being vulnerable? For everyone it is different but for me, I can tell you when I am not being vulnerable. As soon as I pass judgment on another or myself, I have closed my heart. When I do that I ask: What is happening for you right now, Jo-Ann? And with that I am once more being vulnerable.

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