As I follow my big reactions to help me see and heal parts of myself that need love and acceptance, I see again and again how many of my unwanted reactions to things occur because I am trying to fend off feeling vulnerable.
Vulnerability is kind of a dirty word in our culture where looking cool, succeeding and having your s#%t together is seen as ‘right’.
Recently a friend and I witnessed someone really losing her s%*t in various ways. She had reasons for it. She was pretty much howling in pain at the injustices in her life. People’s reactions to this were instructive. Some tried to step in to help, some stepped back in disgust and judgement and most stepped back so that they wouldn’t be touched by it. My friend commented to me, “Surely we should have some way to hold space for someone when they are in a place like this?”
We don’t really have much training in being vulnerable or holding space for someone else’s vulnerability. We really run scared from it. And no wonder. There are some horrific things that happen to vulnerable humans. But to be a ‘vulnerable’ person is not the same as to allow yourself to experience vulnerability. I want to talk to the FEELING of vulnerability that so many of us run from in destructive ways.
When my child (or the world) doesn’t do what I wish, I feel powerless. I get scared, then angry, I shout, push, withdraw or manipulate in various ways to get him to comply with what I want. Why? Why is it so important that the world goes to according to my plans?
Because when it doesn’t, it reminds me I am vulnerable; that I am not in control of the external world. My immediate human response is that this means danger. If I can’t control things, bad stuff can happen to me. Therefore I must defend against it as best I can. My safety depends on it. It might be a matter of life or death.
See? It’s pretty simple to our psyche. Vulnerability = potential harm or death. Therefore vulnerability = defendedness. This interpretation is exhausting though. It means we have to defend against all the many things we cannot control – very much including our children and their behaviour. Good luck with that!
I remember the huge anxiety I experienced after my first child was born. I had an immense realization that I am profoundly exposed and vulnerable because I now had this tiny being to protect. Something outside of me, that I couldn’t control, was now connected to my safety and well-being. It was terrifying! People have told me they feel their child is like their heart walking around outside their body. In so many ways, being a parent equates to experiencing vulnerability. So it would probably be helpful for us to learn to handle it gracefully and constructively, don’t you think?
The irony is that life becomes hard when we try to defend against things we worry will be hard for us. The further irony is that the more we relax into being vulnerable and accepting it, rather than judging it, the more free – and safe – we feel. If I don’t have to defend myself against feeing vulnerable, if I can welcome the parts of myself that are afraid, then I am liberated to live my life and fully experience everything that happens to me.
I am exploring becoming comfortable with my vulnerability and accepting the accompanying feelings of exposure and terror. The terror is a trained response but it’s not necessary and it’s not helpful. As I become more practiced in relaxing into experiencing vulnerability, I notice the terror has less grip on me and now I even get excited when that exposed feeling comes because I can feel my fitness and tolerance increasing each time I survive it and that makes me feel so strong and free. Fear guides me less and less.
Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable equals freedom. Who knew?!
Practice with your child (or anything else you deal with daily). Next time you have a big reaction, notice if you were feeling vulnerable and what it was that caused the feeling. Then observe how exactly you defended against feeling vulnerable. You’ll find some interesting patterns there. Then speak kindly to yourself about what you see and try leaning into it a little more next time.