Just thought you might want to know who I am
Dar and I are part of a group that’s meeting monthly in S. Ontario, made up of people who have done courses at The Haven. This is kind of exciting, as there’s the possibility of working on communication, and the “infamous three” — openness, honesty, and vulnerability. (1) (2)
We had a short discussion about the latter — and one of the participants, who also reads this blog, said,
“New topic for the blog! Vulnerability vs. Courage.”
I replied that I saw vulnerability and courage as pretty much the same thing. And here’s the article!
1. The courage of vulnerability —
Especially in the West, vulnerability is considered a weakness. This is taught to us by our parents and tribes, who are, of course, concerned for our safety. However, this fear of vulnerability is ingrained at a deep level, to our detriment, once we become adults. (This is one reason most adults aren’t!)
Consider: most people I counsel are looking for intimacy — and by that I mean, simply, “to be known.”
If I hide, maybe no one
will notice me!
But they fear letting others in””or at least want their safety 100% assured, before they will let down their guard. This is so because of the ingrained and mistaken belief that one can be hurt through the betrayal of another.
No one hurts us but ourselves
Sure, people betray us. People walk away, leave us, judge and criticize us. This is a part of life. And yes, there is pain. But the pain is self-inflicted, as we tell ourselves awful stories.
The norm is to roll into a tight ball and to refuse to risk again.
An alternative is to open up and risk it all, time and time again.
Sure, such an action means that something might happen, and you might just choose to again pick up the knife of self-flagellation, and go at yourself again.
But the alternative to vulnerability is not courage, but isolation, woundedness as pictured on a card in the OSHO tarot deck called “Ice-olation.”
From a bodywork perspective, the sign of ice-olation and fear is “legs tightly closed, arms crossed over the heart, head down.” Like the picture, above.
The cure is opening up.
Which takes courage. Not because there is a big bad boogyman out there, waiting to pounce. It’s all about you, and in this case, it’s all about facing up to how ice-olating fear can be.
Once I truly and deeply understand that all psychic pain is self-inflicted (All of it. 100% Everything going on inside of you is you, etc.) I can be gentle and kind with myself. I can uncross my arms, open my legs, plant my feet firmly on the ground, and look up.
And I can speak my deepest, most intimate truth.
2. Being vulnerable means speaking your truth
Not the truth. Not other people’s truth. Not the truth of “Everybody knows.” The truth that comes from “Here is what is so for me, and here is what I do with this truth.”
Mostly, we try to defend our truth, and in this way maintain both control and a (mistaken) sense of invulnerability. Last week, a client e‑mailed me, and started with, “I’m just really really sad.” This is a vulnerable statement. She described a couple of things she was sad about… which is the beginning of story-telling. She then shifted to “other-blaming” — making her sadness the result of the actions of others. Not helpful.
Even if it were somehow “true,” blaming is not helpful.
Because it results in a thought loop. “I’m sad. Here is who is to blame. Isn’t it sad those people did that. Woes is me. I think I’m sadder.” As opposed to, “I am sad. I haven’t done what I want to with my life, and much of what I have done is lost to me. I need a hug, to be held, and then to get up and do something.”
Speaking your truth is an interesting concept. Most take it to mean, “Endlessly regurgitating the same story, so that others will agree with me.” For me, it begs the question, “What do you want?” Which tends to be the question I ask when someone starts into this pattern.
Last time I did a Come Alive at Haven, Ben said that he really respected my writing and how I lived my life. I was quite taken aback by this comment. Jock asked me to describe my life and work. I got right into talking about me, as opposed to being vulnerable. Jock said, “Wayne, what do you want right now?” Initially, I claimed to be at a loss. They repeated the question 3 times. Third time, I decided to “let the question in,” and my eyes became wet. I said, “I’d like a hug.” B & J turned that request into a group cradling, which still stands as one of the most profound experiences of my life.
If I had stayed in my head, in my stories and evasions, I’d have missed this experience.
Speaking your truth is not about getting others on board with your stuckness. It’s opening yourself to what lies directly beneath the stories.
3. vulnerability is here and now
Which explains why it’s not about stories. Stories actually, at best, serve as a framework for true vulnerability.
Another client had what I consider a breakthrough last time she was in. We’ve been working for some years now, and her approach, when asked what’s up for her, is to tell a story. Each story is a part of a long chain of stories, designed to prove she’s surrounded by idiots.
Last session, she almost stopped the stories, and then, during bodywork, opened up. She began pounding, crying, and emoting. I pushed, she let go. She then looked up at me. I said, “What you look like right now, I can only describe as “wide-eyed wonder.”
For perhaps the first time, she was completely present.
Vulnerability is about letting out what is going on for you, right now, with no explanations. This is me, right now. And part of “me, right now,” are the emotions that are happening inside. Not descriptions of the emotions, not blaming someone for the emotions, but rather the emotions themselves.
Once you are able to both see this and express it, you’ll also notice that emotions are fleeting. I can be sad, then bored, then weepy, then laugh-filled, then have the feeling of “nothing much.” But only if I do not cling to the “endless reality” of my story, a.k.a. thinking too much.
4. vulnerability is unguarded
Unguarding yourself means being willing to both own and share your in-the-moment reality, without much (or any) filtering. Again, this flies in the face of our conditioning.
Our tribes shut this sort of sharing down. Parents who fear intimacy and emotions tend to either distract (“You have a great life! What do you have to be sad about?”) or threaten, (“I’ll give you something to be sad about!”) to get us to stop emoting. How much better to teach our children to responsibly express and process their emotions!
Therapists end up teaching this to those who dare to come for sessions.
(Although it’s interesting how many therapists I know how refuse to deal with their stuff. They talk the talk, but cling to their stories like terriers attached to a boot. This is a topic for another time!)
Being unguarded is not about being unhinged, although that’s OK too. Dar and I had a friend we hung around with, who often would run and scream throughout the house, being “the drama queen, personified.” We didn’t mind, which, I think, annoyed her. However, when she calmed down and I’d invite her to talk through what just happened, she’d refuse. She never once owned up to her drama-making, and just expected us to go along with her forever.
The point of letting go is to clear the decks so that you can begin to shift what is not working. Letting go gives us an opportunity to see how we are structuring our stories to stay stuck, and to commit to, and actually do something new and refreshing. It’s not meant as an exercise in self aggrandizement, and emphatically is not a game to stay stuck, while pretending to “get it.”
Unguarded means loosening the filters, and expressing yourself as you are, with focus and clarity.
5. vulnerability is body-work
As compared to mind work. You can’t be vulnerable if all you do is describe what you are feeling, thinking, and wanting. This is where story telling blossoms, and “Everyone knows…” rears its ugly head.
Yes!!! Push there!!!
While describing is certainly a step in an interesting direction (as opposed to stuffing it all,) it’s only quasi-vulnerability. Many of my clients describe it thusly: “Something comes up, I start to discuss it, get upset, and immediately leave the room, so that I can go ‘figure it out.’ Once I’ve calmed down, I come back and tell my partner what I’ve discovered.”
This is running away, actually, couched in the rubric of dialog.
Or, put another way, this is feeling in the body, and freaking out, and rapidly escaping to the head.
We’d suggest staying in your body, and letting your partner in on the process, without running away. If you do so, you will likely discover an interesting thing.
There are points in your body just screaming for a bit of pressure to be applied. And when pressure is applied, all kinds of sounds and emotions emerge, then fade, and whatever the drama was, fades with them.
More on this, next time!