In a previous blog I described how we all have membership circles. Our closest, most intimate relationships are at the center with concentric circles moving out from the center where the degree of intimacy lessens. In this blog I’m going to invite you to be to consider what part vulnerability plays in who you have in your closest circle of relationships.
Vulnerable is defined as being “capable of or susceptible to being attacked, damaged, or hurt.” Not something any of us would want to experience! According to Medium.com, “Vulnerability, when you are careful enough, can be used as a positive thing rather than a negative trait. It’s the starting point for growth in life, and that “vulnerability leads to creative ideas and solutions.”
When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone, you let them experience you – warts and all, as the saying goes. You share who you really are and hope, if you are vulnerable with a safe person, they accept you, support you and appreciate you. It is a way for us to feel known by another human being. We can struggle in those moments when we consider letting our guard down and exposing our true self to another person. It can feel risky and yet we can want so much to share who we really are.
A big determinant of our decision to be vulnerable is the degree to which we feel safe with another person. Feeling safe means we have decided this person is not someone who will hurt us, based on the experiences we have had with this person in the past. Closely connected with safety is the degrees to which we trust someone. Trust is another gift we give in relationships when we decide we want to be closer with someone.
Consider the people who are closest to you, those who are in your most intimate part of your Membership Circle and why you feel safe with them, why you trust them, and why you can be vulnerable with them. Sometimes safety and trust happens in the blink of an eye when somebody is there for us with a caring look or gesture, recognizing that we have a need and. I think about the Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas when at the end it says, “in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” The Grinch learned how to be a safe person with others and they with him.
That leads me to the impact of what can happen in relationships when vulnerability is both given and tenderly cherished by the receiver. It is in the context of that high level of safety and connection that a person is freer to be creative and is open to new ideas and perspectives without fearing potential criticism. There can be a sense of joy in sharing creativity with someone near and dear to you who treasures your vulnerability with them.
Pause for a minute to consider what can make it difficult to be vulnerable, less safe and less able to trust another person. Whether real or perceived, unsafe people tend to be critical, contemptuous, argumentative, advice giving (when someone gives unsolicited advice it often is perceived as criticism), disinterested and often is more interested in highlighting themselves than acknowledging another’s perspective. Consider the people you do not trust. What is it about them that prevents them from being in a closer proximity with you?
So, who in your life is vulnerable with you? Who shows you their real selves, their struggles, fears, failures? If you find you don’t have many people who allow themselves to be vulnerable with you, you might consider what builds and maintains safety and trust and what diminishes it. Think about specific interactions in which you projected high degrees of safety and trustworthiness. Think about your interactions and when you might have projected attitudes of criticism, contempt, disinterest, or any other traits that diminish vulnerability.
Some people grow up in families where it is virtually impossible to be vulnerable because it actually feels dangerous to do so. If this is you, please don’t be hard on yourself if you are struggling either being vulnerable or being someone others can be vulnerable with.
Appreciate that each of us can learn to be a safer person with others. Each of us has the power to decide if and with whom we can be vulnerable.
Growing in your knowledge of what it means to be vulnerable and the benefits we can derive when we let our guards down and connect in safety with someone can be a motivator to enhancing and increasing our abilities to be appropriately vulnerable.
Invitation for Reflection
- Consider the specific individuals that came to mind as you read this blog. What helped you discern safety, where you could be be vulnerable?
- Who do you think feels safe enough with you to be vulnerable? What is it that you say or do that allows that to happen?
- If you would like others to be more vulnerable with you, what changes do you need to make to promote that?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute