Brene Brown caused a big stir when she stood up and started talking about her own vulnerability. As she candidly put it in her TED talk, she did not think that she was supposed to feel vulnerable. Only to discover, that she actually was missing out on some of the best of life—namely intimacy—by being unwilling to surrender to being vulnerable. I am so grateful for her efforts to make the world a little more real and a little more humane.
It takes a lot of discipline to open up when you feel threatened but that is just what vulnerability asks us to do. It asks us to let go of our pride –our need to be right—and open to the greater truth of ourselves, the other, and the situation. When we are vulnerable we loose the stranglehold of our lesser selves. Vulnerability requires that we are able rely on a much deeper and stronger part of our self –one that is not caught up in our ego.
Let me describe the process:
It happens all the time! I get myself into a situation where I can feel myself armoring up. I feel judged, disrespected, misunderstood. It does not matter what the specific situation is, really. Just that I can feel it coming on. This intense desire to protect myself -sometimes, at all cost. My heartbeat goes up, my muscles tense, my thoughts start running away, taking my rational self with them.
I know that nothing good can come with this approach but, it is so automatic sometimes. Can you relate?
It takes everything I’ve got to remember that my reaction is causing the problem not protecting me from it. I remember I have nothing to lose but my pride and I let go. My breath deepens. My muscles soften. I can feel my heart open up. NOW, I can make something good happen.
Now let’s break it down step by step:
Why is this important?
I am going to give you two reasons why this is so critical to our overall fulfillment in life. First, we are unable to develop real relationships that are deeply caring and intimate if we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Second, if we need to pretend that we are not vulnerable then our whole life becomes a charade. We have to work all the time to keep up appearances and in short that makes us miserable.
Short and sweet summary: If you want to be happy, learn how to be vulnerable.
Tune into this weeks Real Answers Radio for more on how to create meaningful relationships through vulnerability. The show is always live and your questions are always welcome!
Relationships are the one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of our life. There are types of personal development that we are unable to do unless we are in relationship and there are ways that relationships push us to do work that we would not be otherwise motivated to do.
One of the greatest challenges in relationship can be our boundaries –maintaining a connection to our self, being open with another, and caring for the relationship that exists between us. We can run into challenges like losing our self in the relationship, over-caretaking, shutting down, passive aggressiveness, or saying things that are hurtful and can’t be taken back. Any of these sound familiar?
In the 1980’s Melody Beattie wrote about co-dependence. This is the pattern of behavior that a person develops when relating to a loved-one who has an addiction. However, Beattie’s writing hit a chord with most people whether they were in a partnership with an addict or not. Chiefly, she focuses on understanding what is ours to deal with and what is another person’s. This level of clarity is essential for other relational skills to develop. It is impossible to create healthy connectedness if we lack the ability to hold onto our self.
Holding onto our self is the ability to stay connected to what we think, feel and want while being in a relationship with another person. This is particularly important when that person is under stress or in a crisis. In intense situations, it is easier to get consumed by another person’s experience. Even sexual intimacy, as positive as it might be, requires not only that we can deeply connect and even merge with another but that we can come back to ourselves as well.
The truth of the matter is, when we do not know or understand something, our ability to be in relationship to it is limited. This means we need to be able to see our self ,or in other words be aware, to “hold onto our self.” The less we are aware of ourselves, the harder it is for us to know when something is us and when it is not. So, this is one of the many ways that personal development work serves you. The more that you know the easier it is to navigate relationships.
It is necessary to know our self to be open to a relationship in a healthy way. Being open in a relationship is both about the ability to connect and to disconnect. However, primarily it is about being able to choose when we want to connect and disconnect. This allows us to be consciously open or to consciously choose not put up a boundary when something is not healthy.
However, what I often hear people struggle with is determining what is healthy or not healthy for them. I have said that self care is anything and everything that is affirming of the entirety of who you are. It comes up here again because determining what is healthy or not healthy is guided by the same concept. Does it affirm or support who you are? If it does then it is healthy for you even if it is difficult. If it is does not, then it is not healthy for you.
Of course, the greatest gift that we can give in a relationship is our willingness to be as respectful with that other person as we have learned to be with our self. This desire to support another person in honoring and caring for themselves and learning and growing in their capacity to know themselves is a beautiful gift of a relationship.
The relationship is the third part of the equation. Relationships take care and time to be able to flourish. It is not enough for people to just invest in their own awareness and growth they also need to invest in the relationship. It becomes another member of the relationship and requires selflessness as much as anything else. What can you give to the relationship? How do you give to the relationship?
Developmentally, we are not able to give to the relationship until we have learned how to take care of ourselves. We are simply too immature to really be able to give what is required. That is why we need to start by doing our own work and understand what it is that supports us as we go through life. When we have done this work, the act of giving selflessly to a relationship is an additional joy rather than something that creates imbalance.
If you find yourself in a relationship and you are questioning your knowledge of your own needs or understanding of the different aspects of who you are, don’t worry too much about it. We are all in a continual process of growth. As you move forward in your relationship you will be called to focus on different aspects of the relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. This process, if you choose to engage in it will be both challenging and deeply rewarding –ultimately offering you one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.
Many of us believe that we should “just know how” to relate in ways that bring us happiness. However, creating healthy and fulfilling relationships is an art and a practice. Before we get into some tools for creating more fulfilling relationships take a moment to look at some of the components of a healthy relationship. The following is not an exhaustive list but it will help set the stage:
Open communication: knowing what you think and feel and being willing to share it.
Trust: behaving in a way that is trustworthy, fostering trust, and being more trusting.
Respect: understanding that the other person is an individual and should not be criticized for not being like you or any other person.
Love: I like the expression, “Love is a verb.” Healthy relationships seek to continually work to foster love through behavior.
Integrity: the understanding that each person has his or her own path and it is not loving to take them off their path.
Partnership: the desire to share life ― its struggles and its joys.
Tool #1: The first tool is to figure out what each one of these categories mean to you –and to your partner. By writing down a sentence or two describing each of these components of a fulfilling relationship you will understand better how to create them in your relationship.
Tool #2: To maintain the love inside and outside of ourselves, we need to give it regular and careful attention. If you find yourself feeling frustrated or disconnected with someone close to you, see if you can take a moment to think of three to five positive traits ― things you love about the person. You can do this with your partner or your friend or a parent. You can even take an extra step and tell the person one or more of the things that you really value about them.
Tool #3: Sometimes we block the love coming from another person because of our own inability to feel worthy of love. If you find that you are disconnected or judgmental, check in with yourself to see if you really love yourself. If you are not sure, what is your self-care like? Are you eating, sleeping, attending to responsibilities, and having fun? If not, the problem might not be with the other person ― it might actually be with you.
Tool #4: Do you feel that a person or certain people should be there for you no matter what? No matter how you act, no matter how you treat them, no matter whether they show up for themselves or not? Sometimes we think that a person showing up in this way means that they truly love us. This is more the case in a parent-child relationship. However, in a peer relationship or partnership, expecting this is not about love ― it is about dependency. Check yourself; see if you want someone to take care of you ― whether it is emotionally, financially, or physically instead of creating true adult relationships and deeper love.
This week on Real Answers Radio, Dr. Kate offers simple tools that you can start using immediately. If you are craving more from your relationships – more caring, more connection, more meaning – then this show is for you!
Dr. Kate always welcomes your questions and this week’s show is the perfect opportunity to call in with your most pressing relationships questions and get the real answers you need.
In the past few years of blogging I’ve written plenty about break ups, the upheaval and uncertainty that can follow in their wake, and I’ve optimistically chimed over and over again, “Things change. Something will happen.” Those phrases are meant to settle some fears and angst about the flux of life, the unexpected, perhaps even the undesirable, and make it at least more acceptable, more manageable, more palatable. One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is my sense that, yes, things change and something will happen.
In response to such changes, I’ve previously referred to the Taoist notion of wu-wei, or effortless action. Simply put, when life is likened to a river with all of its rapids, eddies, and currents, I’ve strongly accepted the wisdom in “going with the flow,” and I’ve applied this insight to my life, especially my relationships. However, thanks to a handful of conversations with a handful of people in the past week, I’ve decided to nuance my appreciation of going with the flow, perhaps in multiple arenas of life, but especially in relationships. Because sometimes, and in some situations, going with the flow is just too easy.
As beings who grow, change, and can even voluntarily grow and change, going with the flow is too easy when it simply involves falling back into old habits, relying on old patterns, and reanimating old ways of doing things. If one is not careful, one can interpret “go with the flow” to mean that one not challenge, push, or try at all. In other words, not trying can also be considered as that which comes most naturally, the most effortless action.
If you were born an exemplar of good human behavior and that good behavior comes very easily to you, you’re amazing, go on with that flow, but this post is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are like almost every other person and have gone through any number of difficult, harsh, or even hurtful experiences throughout your life, then there’s a solid chance that you’ve developed defensive habits, patterns, and ways of doing things that were responses to such pain and hurt, stress and struggle. Such defensive mechanisms are often crucially important at various points in our lives and work to protect us when times get tough. Eventually, like the ol’ fight or flight response, we may not even have to think about such knee-jerk responses because they move us so “naturally.”
Unfortunately, when doing what comes most naturally to us amounts to employing these built up defensive mechanisms in situations that don’t pose imminent threats to our survival and well-being, such are the very habits and patterns that can actually hinder our ability to grow in healthier, happier ways. That is to say, when the river gets a bit turbulent, we already know how to fight or take flight; those things come easily to us.
What we might need to do then, perhaps without actually knowing yet how to do it, is resist the tendency to do what comes most naturally, to not go with the flow.
Here’s an example from the abovementioned conversations: Imagine that one encounters a fork in the relationship river where one can either continue working on the relationship or end it. If one repeats after me, “Well, things always change. Something will happen,” then there might be little incentive to work, to stay, to put in effort to continue with what one has right now. In fact, one might be so astute to know that, even in light of such a big change as the end of a relationship, he or she will ultimately be okay and something else will happen. Of course this is true. If you are alive right now and well enough to tell, then you’ve made it through the changes. What a happy thing to do deduce.
But then again, if one is apt to float away, move on, and go with the flow in that sense – if ending a relationship and leaving to go to the next thing is what comes very easily – then maybe this shouldn’t be the preferred option if what one seeks is growth.
To carry on with the river metaphor, maybe there are times when it is appropriate to paddle, to tread, perhaps even to the point of building up new muscles (which always requires some degree of pain and effort but eventually, as one gets stronger, using those muscles gets easier), to fight the current of our defenses. Maybe there are times when it is better for us, and for those with whom we frequently interact, to not go with the flow of what comes most naturally to us. Because some times, some times, if we’re not careful, we can too easily be hurtful, careless jerks to one another.
Learn more about Cori Wong here