I’ve been hurt
We all get hurt. It is an inevitable part of life. Hurts accumulate throughout our lives if we don’t deal with them, they create and reinforce negative feelings and beliefs about ourselves and how others see us.
It’s easy to carry childhood hurts with you for a whole lifetime. The feelings never really go away. The negative self talk that develops around them (I’m a failure; I’m not worth being loved; people won’t accept me if they know who I really am) can have profound a profound negative impact on the rest of your life.
What do we do with these hurts?
Do we try to ignore them or suppress them?
Do we let the negative feelings and self talk control our lives (often without even being aware of it)?
Do we blame others and become angry and resentful?
Do we blame ourselves and become depressed, hopeless, despairing, even suicidal?
Do we inflict the same hurts on our children or other people and perpetuate our hurts in them?
Do we strive for power and control over others to placate the insecurity in ourselves?
Do we avoid opportunities and challenges in our lives because we fear the pain and rejection that failure might bring?
Most important of all…
Do we stop ourselves from truly connecting with other people, even our loved ones, because we fear rejection if they see us for who we truly are?
We long for connection
Meaningful relationships are fundamental to a healthy, fulfilling life. Genuine connection with others is fundamental to meaningful relationships. Honesty and openness, integrity and trust, are the substance of true connection with others… without these things you can associate with others, but not have real relationships with them.
We all hunger for true connection with others. We all hunger for relationships in which we are free to be honest about our deepest fears and wildest dreams, knowing that the other person will love, accept and support us regardless. This hunger can never be satisfied by connection with just one other person (e.g. your partner); we need real connection with a range of people.
Research has shown that true connection with others comes from a willingness to be open and honest with others about ourselves and the issues we face. And this means being vulnerable (ref 1).
But we fear being vulnerable… all of those unresolved hurts rise up and say “Don’t be vulnerable! What if you get rejected?” The scripting built into us by society says “Being open and honest about the issues you face is weakness. You must be strong, not weak!” So we shy away from vulnerability because of the clamour of fear inside us. But if we allow this fear to stop us taking the risk of being vulnerable, we miss out on we really need and long for… true connection.
How difficult is it to be honest with another person about deep issues in your life, especially if they involve failure or shame? Sometimes being open and honest with your partner or your family is the hardest of all.
How difficult is it for men to ring other men just to say hi, or arrange a coffee… let alone say “I’m up against a tough issue, I’d like to bounce it off you”? Most men freak at this (whereas most women do it far more easily).
How difficult is it to be open about your highest hopes and greatest dreams with another person? “What if they laugh at me or tell me it’s impossible?”
Even for couples who have a meaningful relationship, how difficult is it say, “I’m finding something that you do annoying, I’d like to talk about it with you”?
Another very common issue in relationships… How awkward is it for many partners beyond the honeymoon years to say “I’m really longing for intimacy with you. How about having sex??”
Each of these examples involves taking the risk of being open and honest about what you are thinking and feeling. Sure, if you take the risk there’s a chance of being rejected (probably much smaller than our fears would have us believe). However, if you take the risk, the reward can be a profoundly fulfilling connection with the other person. In reality, the potential benefits of being vulnerable far outweigh the possible risks.
Dealing with hurt
Past hurts are the birthplace of the fear of being vulnerable. This fear deprives us of the freedom to be seen as who we really are and blocks our ability to connect with others in fulfilling relationships.
So how do we deal with these hurts and the fear of vulnerability? The answer may seem paradoxical: We need to be vulnerable.
We need to be vulnerable with ourselves. No hurt can be resolved unless we allow ourselves to face it, feel the feelings that may have long been held back, and identify and deal with the negative self talk and beliefs that flow from them.
If we want to build real relationships and experience connection we need to take the risk of being vulnerable with other people also. If we cannot be authentic in our relationships they will forever be shallow and unfulfilling.
Sometimes we need to be vulnerable with others who have the wisdom, life experience, and if needed professional training, to assist us work on our life issues to resolve them or at least manage their ongoing impacts. This may involve being honest and open with a close, trusted friend, or seeking professional assistance. Note: Seeking professional help is not weakness, far from it. It is actually a demonstration of your courage to face life and deal with the issues holding you back.
Vulnerability and authenticity set you free to be who you really are and enable you to live a meaningful, fulfilling, wholehearted life founded on a healthy self understanding and real connection with other people.
Vulnerability does not mean indiscriminately sharing everything with everyone who comes along… this would be foolishness. It means being prepared to take a risk and honestly share personal aspects of your life with appropriate others. This requires discernment as to whether or not the person and the current time and situation are suitable.
Can being vulnerable with others sometimes backfire? Yes, there is a chance this can happen. Being vulnerable is like many other things in life… if you’re not prepared to take a (reasonable) risk you will gain nothing and miss out on a lot… the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable the better you get at doing it.
Mostly our fears of being vulnerable are unfounded. If another person shared a deep issue with you, knowing that you would keep their confidence, what is your most likely response? Will you laugh at them, berate them, tell them they’re a failure, or reject them? No, you are likely to respect them even more and admire them for their courage and honesty and their willingness to put their trust in you. Vulnerability tends to prompt the exact opposite of rejection.
When you are open and honest with another person, they will feel confident that they can be open and honest with you too, knowing that you will respect and accept them. This is the point where real connection and friendship begin.
My own experience
Being vulnerable is changing my life in profoundly positive and healthy ways.
It is helping me face and deal with the hurts arising from the early childhood trauma of being separated from my parents for my first 2 years, and to address other deep hurts throughout my life. Professional assistance, and sharing with others who I am very close to, have both played essential roles in this.
Being vulnerable has enabled me to develop deep supportive relationships… precisely what I have needed to see me through these last few very difficult years of Rosie’s cancer and dying, and now this time of grief and huge adjustment. Most of these relationships started by initiating having coffee with men who I felt could become possible friends. During our conversation I would share something personal (but not too heavy) from my own experience. Almost without fail the response has been them sharing something significant with me in turn. In many cases this has been the beginning of a genuine friendship and sometimes a close ongoing relationship where we are free to share the deep stuff of our lives and support one another in it. These relationships are like gold.
Being appropriately vulnerable has deepened my relationships with women too… but great care is needed here.
Being vulnerable has significantly deepened my relationships with my children… this is immeasurably valuable to me. I never experienced real connection with my own father. When he was alive neither of us understood how important connection was or how to achieve it. No doubt he was prohibited from being vulnerable by the social norms of the post-war era, and I was constrained by fear of being real with my Dad. This is not the experience I want for my own children. I will always have a role as their father, but I am also working on developing authentic, connected relationships with each them.
Being vulnerable has given me practical ways to deal with my grief of losing Rosie. It has given me the freedom to share my journey with others across a wide circle via facebook and email. Writing assists me with processing my own experiences,feelings and thoughts; it allows me to distill out the life lessons that are really important to me and identify the steps I can take to move forward. I have also been greatly encouraged by the support and feedback I have received. When other people tell me that what I have shared is helping in their own lives I am greatly encouraged and inspired to continue writing and sharing.
Being vulnerable with a wide range of people over a number of years has only backfired on me once in a significant way, and thankfully the impact was only temporary. However there is no way for me that the risk of being vulnerable outweighs the benefits. Even in one instance, I would not change what I shared, but the approach I used in sharing it.
The overwhelming response has been acceptance, encouragement and respect, with many opportunities to build deeper relationships. The message that keeps on being reinforced is “Ian, you are okay. You are acceptable, valuable and worthy of being loved. You are not a failure. You have your own unique gifts to share with those around you.” And this is exactly the message I need to hear to counter years of self-talk which told me I was not okay or acceptable, and buried me in anxiety, fear, depression and despair for decades.
On at least two occasions being vulnerable has prompted other people to make a profound change in their own lives. When this happens I feel deeply humbled, privileged and blown away.
If you want to resolve the deep issues you are carrying… if you want to build deeply connected relationships with other people and experience the profound fulfillment that flows from this… start by working out what being authentic and vulnerable mean for you… then take a deep breath, exercise some courage, and open just a little of your real self to a few people who you trust.
Practice being vulnerable… there are no shortcuts or alternatives.
The results may astound you, and your life may never be the same again.