The word vulnerable has increased in popularity and usage over the last decade and is now a common word we use in daily life or see on television. For example, watching Season 26 of The Bachelor, participants on the show used the word vulnerability or vulnerable hundreds of times over the season. Enough so that I wanted to start counting just how many times participants used it (I get bored quickly, ha!) This repetition of the word vulnerable got me thinking about how we define vulnerability and understand its deeper meaning. Vulnerable is derived from the Latin noun vulnus (“to wound, hurt, injure, maim”)
1: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
2: open to attack or damage.
Um, no thank you, that sounds terrifying”. It was only when I began to follow the work of Dr. Brene Brown, a world-famous social work research professor, that I began to have a clearer concept of vulnerability and what that means for myself and intimate relationships.
As a marriage counselor for over two decades, I was read up on the latest research studies and theories that would help increase my knowledge of assisting couples in healing and reconnecting in their relationship. According to Dr. Brown, vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure; vulnerability is not weakness, it is our most accurate measure of courage.”
Wow, this was a different view of vulnerability. It was a concept I wanted to explore in my work with couples and my own life. Hearing her TED talk on vulnerability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o and her research on successful intimate relationships, vulnerability IS the crucial ingredient in order for relationships to thrive. Yet, we have been taught and hardwired to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings and, for sure, to defend ourselves from OTHERS seeing our painful feelings.
So, how in the world do we change our hardwired brain to shift into a place of exposing ourselves? To share who we are, our imperfections, suffering, uncomfortable feelings, joy, love, hurt, wounds, and all? The answer is trust in yourself and letting go of controlling the outcome of what happens when we do bare all.
For me, the first step in vulnerability is knowing who I am, all of my parts, accepting them all, and being okay with who I am. Once I approach this perspective, which I feel is a lifelong journey, I can share my vulnerable self with those closest to me. I trust they will hold my heart like I do, with compassion and acceptance. It does not always turn out to be the case; others can wound us, and they may not have the skills to honestly know how to accept others, especially if they have not taken the journey to understand themselves fully. This is the risk that Brene Brown talks about, that we will get hurt throughout our journey, but if we stay true to ourselves, we will experience a full range of emotional experiences with ourselves and our partners sadness, joy, love, hurt, pain and loss. Vulnerability creates an atmosphere of emotional safety, belonging, and acceptance, which we all deserve to experience in our lifetime.
Creating vulnerable moments means looking at the parts of ourselves we judge, criticize, and blame, gently touching those parts with self-compassion, and holding space for that pain. This internal compassion allows for increased self-acceptance and the resilience to take the risk of letting our partner see us. The hope is that our partner can also hold that space and be compassionate. When it works, we feel more connected and loved by our partner, allowing us to increase empathy for our partner’s suffering.
The freedom of being whoever I need to be at any moment and trusting that it is okay for my partner and me creates new experiences of feeling love and being loved without borders, fully engulfed in joy and pain. I sometimes ask myself, is feeling so much love yet so much pain worth it? Yes, yes, and yes!
Not only because I have supported many couples on being more vulnerable and seeing the fruits that bear, but because if I can go to my death bed knowing I loved myself and others to my fullest, my job on Earth is complete. Talk to your partner today about your definition of vulnerability and intend to go beyond your borders and expose yourselves truly. You are safe, you are deserving, and you are worth it!