I am extremely passionate I about what I do; however, I confess that I sometimes experience some fear of being vulnerable as I share my personal thoughts and beliefs with others. To share something that I hold so dearly, to put it on the chopping block for others to critique or challenge; to open my heart in a public forum is to expose myself with no guarantee of approval or acceptance. I hope you will read my work with the understanding that these thoughts are based on my research, experience and passion for helping others grow. Check out the image to the left. It is a perfect depiction of what I am about to discuss.
Now, do you see what I did there? I admitted my insecurity and fear in an effort to gain connection with you. In order for you to consider what I am saying we must have some level of connection; whether that be a previously established level of trust, a willingness to consider something new or simply a level of respect for one another. Connection requires vulnerability. Yes, I said that awful, icky word from which we all want to run. Vulnerability means that we are exposed in some way and that there is no guarantee that we will be accepted. Shame, the belief that we are “less than” or not good enough, keeps us running from that cursed vulnerability.
“If they never see the true me, then I can’t be rejected.”
“If I don’t let him into my heart, then he can’t break it.”
“They don’t actually want to know what I have to say.”
“I know I’m a good artist but what if someone doesn’t like my work? I just won’t share it.”
“I know dad hates weak people. I just won’t ask him for help and pretend everything is fine.”
“If I always keep the lights off during sex then he won’t be able to see all of my flaws.”
These are just a few examples of the dreadful messages that shame drives within us; the basis of each being, “I am not enough”. Well, here’s the problem with that: if you allow your shame to control your thinking and your actions, vulnerability becomes nearly impossible. Vulnerability is vital to establishing genuine connection and trust with others. Brene Brown describes connection as the foundation for purpose and meaning in our lives; we are neurobiologically wired for it. Are you still with me? That means it’s time to deconstruct shame, walk courageously into the spotlight of vulnerability and connect with others. Let’s take a look at how this affects our intimate relationships.
Can you think back to an argument with a significant other where perhaps you did not express what was truly going on inside of you? Maybe you expressed anger instead of the pain and fear that you were actually experiencing. Maybe you appeared invincible despite the turmoil and confusion beneath your surface. Maybe you selectively chose facts to prove your innocence when you knew that you were in the wrong. A lot of these games can be extinguished if both parties in the relationship can refocus on the actual principle communication. It is apparent, throughout our society, that this principle has been long forgotten. As evidenced by our political discourse, religious arguments, etc. the usual intention of communication is to prove to the other party that you are right and they are wrong, right? WRONG. So wrong. Communication is used in effort connect and understand one another, to experience compassion and empathy. In the examples that I just used, do you see much connection happening as a result of their discussions? I think not. As long as this is the goal of their communication, there will be no resolution nor compromise. In your personal relationships, think about occasions when you have acted this way in an argument; were you trying to be heard or were you trying to be right? Were you coming from a place of fear and ego? Did you begin tactfully forming your rebuttal while they were still speaking, rather than listening and trying to understand their view? If we, as individuals, seek to adhere to the principles of connection and communication, we will see a significant shift in the depth of relationships and the compassion we show for ourselves and others. I know, it’s scary to be vulnerable. As I stated in the beginning, I feel it just by writing this! But does that discomfort mean that I shouldn’t do it? That fear that pops up when you are about to share you a piece of yourself with a new significant other- is it telling you not to do it? Nope! Unfortunately, that’s just a part of vulnerability. It’s uncomfortable in the beginning.
In order to begin this change in your life, you have to start practicing compassion with yourself. You have to raise your awareness around the thoughts that dictate your actions. Have you ever taken a look at how many of your decisions are fear-based? Think about it for a minute. How many times throughout the day do you make decisions in order to prevent something from happening to you or to protect yourself from being vulnerable? Most of those thoughts slip by without our awareness and are fairly reflexive. These thoughts are formed over time, based on beliefs we have about ourselves and the world. Raising your awareness around these thoughts is the first step to getting rid of them and living a life in healthy vulnerability.
There are well-researched methods to accelerate you in the process of “learning self-compassion and vulnerability”. Try journaling when you are experiencing fear and anxiety and evaluating the trends that you see in regards to negative self talk. Evaluate the negative beliefs that fuel your fear based thinking and see if you can begin deconstructing them. Practice mindful-based meditation, which is proven to decrease anxiety, depression and increase presence of mind. Consider seeing a well-qualified psychotherapist; it can help tremendously when you have trouble showing yourself love and compassion because they can help to see where your perspective is inaccurate.
Your brain has had many years to form these negative pathways in your brain that tell you to maintain safety by avoiding vulnerability but the great news is that, with time, you can form new brain paths and automatic thoughts! In order to change your personal relationships it is imperative that you start to make these changes. If you are with a partner that is not doing their own work it will become apparent that they are not capable of connection you are seeking and you will have some decisions to make. If one of our most inherent needs is connection, then you might want to get started. A life behind those walls that you have built can be quite lonely and exhausting to maintain.
Your brain has had many years to form these negative pathways and to build “walls” that (incorrectly) tell you to maintain your personal safety by avoiding vulnerability. The great news is that you can, over time, re-train your brain! Our brains can form new pathways and create new and improved automatic thoughts! Changing our interpersonal relationships requires time and effort, but is very much worth the hard work. Life behind the “walls” that we create in our minds can be quite lonely and exhausting to maintain. In order to change your personal relationships it is imperative that you begin to make changes in the way you communicate. Connecting with others is one of our most inherent needs as human beings, so let’s get started down the “pathway” to deeper and more fulfilling relationships!
The Shame Game by Janice Gaunt, is a wonderful resource for raising awareness around negative self-talk and deconstructing lifelong shame. In a future blog I will delve deeper into the technicalities of communication with others.