The Power of Vulnerability and Why Fighting Avoids this!
We are all vulnerable in love. It goes with the territory. We are more “emotionally naked” with those we love and more susceptible to hurting each other. This hypersensitivity is formed by moments in a person’s past or current relationships when an attachment need has been repeatedly neglected, ignored or dismissed. We are naturally reluctant to confront our vulnerabilities. We live in a society that says we are supposed to be strong and invulnerable. Our inclination is to ignore or deny our frailty, rather than face sadness, hurt and longing. Sometimes we resort to anger, defensiveness, shame, or withdrawal in an attempt to numb the pain. We fear getting stuck in our own pain.
With respect to our lover, we are more reluctant to confess our vulnerabilities. We think, it will make us less attractive and or this person will also have power over us when we are vulnerable. Therefore, the instinct is to protect ourselves. However, intimacy requires vulnerability and we need courage to trust, show our hurt, and express our grief and sadness, fear, shame and disappointment. This will lead to a place of connection and a sense of belonging.
The key to this fear of loss of connection is built into our survival program. The ”attachment alarm” (the amygdala) gets switched on by a sense of abandonment, or a feeling that “no one is there for me”. Underneath this lies a feeling of rejection and longing. That attachment alarm signals a “fight” or “flight” or “freeze” response, designed to protect our vulnerability. What you may perceive on the outside is your partner resorting to fighting, defending, attacking, withdrawing, shaming, and blaming in an effort to avoid the painful feelings underneath. There is a cost. The cost of numbing or suppressing these feelings also means that we also numb joy, gratitude and happiness. By embracing our vulnerability with one another, we open to creativity, love, and a sense of belonging.
Watch this captivating 20 minute talk by Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability!
What do we require in order to be vulnerable? With respect to relationships and love, a sense of connection aided by a responsive attuned partner can help us deal with the painful feelings and restore our sense of belonging. An emotionally safe place where we are seen, valued and received without judgement is necessary. Couples will exhaust themselves in an effort to avoid taking the risk of sharing and witnessing those tender places within, therefore maintaining the status quo of disconnection and lack of belonging. To be vulnerable, means to take a “risk”, embrace your own uncomfortable feelings with courage and compassion. You might start slow and say…. “It’s hard for me to share this….”
I will often see this in my own practice when working with couples as well as in my own relationship. To take the risk, to reach out when I feel hurt, to listen and drop my defenses, takes huge courage versus the well-ingrained pattern of continuing to avoid and attack my partner, holding him responsible or holding back. When either one of us takes the leap to slow down, and offer a “caring tool” of listening with concern, we invite the vulnerability out in the other. Ending the pattern of disconnection may also mean that one of us says “I am sorry”, makes a gesture of touch, initiates a hug or love-making, or any means of lowering our defenses, in order to invite the return of connection and empathy. Yes, being vulnerable with my lover, takes courage and risk, however, the rewards are tremendous. Learning to create the space for these tender vulnerabilities and the associated feelings fosters the return of joy and connectedness, what we’ve been seeking all along!