Vulnerability the Key to Connection
We all want connection we long for it.
It is such a primal drive, a call into the wild that we can’t ignore. A guttural scream that echoes from our core. Yet why do we see less of it today in this world of technology supposedly connecting us? We want to be seen and to have intimacy on a deeper level with those around us,to be loved and accepted as the human beings we are and to allow ourselves to be laid bare, exposed, vulnerable. Yet we stop these connections from taking place. Why? It seems so counter intuitive.
I’ll tell you a story that is still at play. I find myself seeing a psychologist and talking to her about how did I miss reading the signs again, how did I get it so wrong when I thought things were finally falling into place and that I had my shit together. Why did I repeat old patterns and not be clear on my wants, needs, boundaries and have higher expectations. Now this isn’t going to be all about my therapy session or childhood trauma etc etc I said to her I think I’m addicted to being in love. I think I’m a love addict, I keep chasing these men that need fixing, are emotionally not avaialbe or not giving me what I need. I put them on this pedestal and see how amazing they are, all the qualities they embody and think, wow aren’t you just amazing.
For us to keep doing something it must serve us on some level, be giving us something we think we can’t get anywhere else. For me this man was intelligent, fit, attractive, he thought deeply about the world, taught me about quantum physics etc and like myself he wanted to make the world a better place. He thinks on a bigger game, a deeper level, is strong in his convictions and morals. And I absolutely loved all of that, my soul relished in these deeper conversations that made me think and want to DO more and BE more! And yet he is aloof, misanthropic, emotionally unavailable, damaged, his heart if not open, he is incredibly selfish and lacks the maturity of emotional understanding and compassion when not on a grand scale. Now saying all this I identified my piece in the puzzle & I’m still working on somethings etc etc But what I had convinced myself this whole time was I wanted a committed loving relationship with him. Of course who doesn’t? I have longed for this deeper connection, someone to really see me and love all of me and it be this amazing reciprocal love and connection. AND YET when it came to me signing up and committing to at least two more sessions in a row with my psychologist, I was freaking out at the commitment of this. The penny dropped and I realised, I am actually scared of commitment.
How does this lead us into talking about vulnerability and shame? Well in order to have connection we have to be prepared to be stripped bare and come close to what we are ashamed of in ourselves. Work I am still doing. But only by being vulnerable will we allow someone to see us in our entirety and allow love in, be vulnerable enough to allow it to see our flaws with our strengths.
We all experience shame. It is a very real part of the human experience and yet when do we sit and talk about our shame? We don’t because we aren’t proud of it we are ASHAMED of it. Exactly as its name suggests we want to cover it up. Now if you don’t experience it then you have no capacity for human empathy and compassion (welcome to the narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths whatever name you feel like substituting in here for these people, but it’s all talking about the same kind of person and we all have encountered one before).
I’m not enough.... is the underpinning feature in vulnerability and shame.
Shame is correlated with depression, aggression, anxiety, bullying, suicide, addiction and so the list goes on and on and on. We have to start talking about our shame. We know when shame is at play because when we go to do something new and exciting that will serve us it’s the voice that says:
”You’re never good enough” and if that fails to get your attention it tries “And who do you think you are”.
We often get shame and guilt mixed up in our use of the words in everyday life. But these are two very different beasts.
Shame is a focus on self eg. I AM bad
Guilt is a focus on behaviour eg. I DID something bad.
Guilt is actually inversely correlated with those things such as depression, anxiety etc etc that I listed above as being associated with shame. Guilt maybe uncomfortable but it is adaptive. Whereas shame is a focus on you instead of “I’m sorry I did that” shame says “I’m a bad person for doing that”.
Shame may feel the same for men and women but it can be expressed in different ways.
Shame for women is the competing pritoirites to:
“ Do it all, do it perfect and never let them see you sweat.”
For men it comes down to one thing:
Do not be perceived as weak.
Doesn’t that just feed into the social normals we are all trying to subcouisiously live up to. They surveyed people in America to define what do women need to do to conform to social norms? It came out as they need to be nice, thin, modest, use all available resources on their appearance. What did it say for men? To always show emotional control, primacy of work, pursuit of status and violence. And we wonder why we have a problem with having happy family lives and things such as violence against women when we express it as a determinant of being a man in an unbridled fashion. (This is different to violence in the form of martial arts and combat sports which requires discipline etc-which I am a big fan of ).
Great so we have this shame. What can we do to sort it out?
There is an antidote.
Empathy is the antidote to shame.
Secrecy, silence and judgement is what is needed for shame to grow.
We think that in order to be seen, to be ready to take on the world we need to get bulletproof and perfect. Only then are we ready to share our work and talents with everyone. But that’s not what we are all longing to see and there is no such thing as perfection, we will never be perfect. What the people in the world want is to be with you and across from you doing greatly. To feel like it is real and attainable and we are involved.
For connection to happen we have to:
be really seen, in our entirety.
have a sense of courage to do so.
tell our story with our whole heart.
The courage to be imperfect and be compassionate to ourselves before we give that to others. People that have connection do so due to their authenticity. They have let go of who they thought they should be and embraced who they truly were. They embraced vulnerability. They believed what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. People with good connection describe vulnerability not as comfortable or excruciating ( whereas people in shame describe vulnerability as excruciating) but necessary. They have a willingness to say “I love you” first for example, to do something where there are no guarantees.
The idea of being vulnerable to let go of control and this may cause some of you to feel like having a breakdown. But I challenge you to reframe the word breakdown to be re-written as spiritual awakening
Breakdown = Spiritual Awakening.
Vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and the struggle of worthiness. But it is also the birth place of joy, creativity, of belonging and of love. Creativity, innovation and change come from this place. To create something that has never been before requires the idea and creation to be vulnerable to criticism and failure. And adaptability to change is all about vulnerability.
Some people embrace the tenderness of vulnerability, some people just surrender into it. Whereas some of us fight like we are in fight club. Trying to out smart and out punch it, but it will eventually win.
In Brene Browns TED talk where she did a lot of research into this topic she looked at what the differences were between those that had a strong sense of worth/belonging and those that did not. The only difference is that those who have a strong sense of love and belonging BELIEVE they are worthy of it. The FEAR we are not worthy is the only thing stopping us from having connection.
We try different ways to avoid being vulnerable:
We numb vulnerability- Alcohol, food, buy things, medicate, addictions, push people away, try & make everything logical & deny our emotions etc. We can’t selectively numb our emotions- here is grief, here is shame, here is vulnerability, we don’t want to feel them. So we try to numb them. But we can’t numb them without numbing other emotions. Thus we numb joy, gratitude and happiness in the process. This makes us miserable so we start looking for purpose and meaning. This search for purpose and meaning makes us feel vulnerable again so we seek something to numb & distract ourselves from these emotions. And round and around we go.
We make everything that is uncertain certain- religion is a great example of this, it went from a wonder and belief in the unknown to “I’m right you’re wrong shut up”. The more afraid we are the more vulnerable we are, then the more afraid we become. And so we blame.
Blame=A way to discharge pain and discomfort.
We perfect- we try and perfect ourselves, our bodies , our children etc If we have it perfect we will be ok and we are capable of being accepted and loved. But we are imperfect and wired for struggle yet still worthy of love and belonging.
We pretend- we pretend that our actions and the things we say don’t affect people. But it does and can cause real damage if we do it from an unconscious space such as shame or blame.
As much as we work hard to get out there & get our message/work into the world and be seen there is a part of us working equally hard sometimes to stay small. To not be seen. As this is deemed safe. Our subconscious will always try and do what is best to keep us safe and “comfortable”. See this sabotage for what it is and work through it.
So ok enough of the shame already! Let talk about how we can get this connection we are seeking.
Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen is the only way .
Love with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantees.
Practice gratitude and joy when we are terrified that we might loose something. Be grateful that I have this (whatever this is for you) in your life. Because to feel this vulnerable, is what it means to be alive.
Believe you are enough. We stop screaming and start listening when we finally realise we are enough as we are. When we believe we are enough we are also kinder and gentler to people around us and ourselves.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable, all comfort does is maintain the status quo. Speak hard truths to bring change. Did you mean it? Can you defend it? Can you say it with love? Let truth pass through these three gates before you say it to someone. If it meets all three then you know it is genuine and you are speaking your truth, then let things come as they will.
Realise vulnerability is not weakness. Emotional risk, exposure and uncertainty fuels our daily lives. The most accurate measurement of courage is vulnerability. So be honest with yourself have the courage to take a closer look.