Updated: Sep 26
I am back for my now second blog. Yay!!! I am thrilled to discuss a topic that is near and dear to my heart…relationships. I am using the term relationships in the broadest sense. Relationships with friends, family members, partners, spouses, etc. are all relevant when exploring how the lack of expressing one’s vulnerability may hinder us from forming connections with the people that we wish to connect with deeply. I totally get it…being vulnerable is about feeling safe, affirmed, and reassured with someone so that you can explore and reveal parts of yourself. This is difficult to do initially in a relationship. Often, my clients will state the phrase, “I am an open book.” They usually proceed with the statement, “Ask me anything.” I respect this disclosure, because I realize that it is an invitation for me to process with my clients their thoughts more intentionally.
However, as a therapist, I am sensitive in my response to these statements, because I know that if I am not careful I may say one thing that may trigger my client or cause them to feel like I have intruded in a part of their world that they have not fully given me permission to enter. When feelings of shame, guilt or judgement enter the room, it hinders building a rapport with my client in our therapeutic work together. The same sentiment can be seen in the context of relationships outside of counseling realm as well.
I believe that we mean well when we reveal parts of ourselves at the beginning of developing a relationship. As my clients’ state about revealing some of their secrets or vulnerabilities, “It gets the awkwardness out of the way and lets the person know that I feel like I can trust them.” I have done this too in my own past. I felt that it was important to get all of the raw and what I believed to be “ugly” parts of myself out there early on so that a person could decide in the moment if they wanted me to be a part of their life…in any capacity.
However, what I did not realize is that I was not attuned to the fact that their initial reaction to my truth or my darkest fears may be a reaction to join with me as a human being because they are trying to show simply that they care. However, they may not truly understand how and to what degree my fear of being vulnerable will affect our relationship. Nevertheless, a person’s willingness to listen and even offer words of encouragement are valid. Even if individuals choose to stick with me on my life’s journey, inevitably there may come a time where I project my fear as anger, mistrust, or even self-deprecating thoughts that I have not coped with properly. Then, the person that I have chosen to be vulnerable with may struggle with how to cope with and respond to my insecurities.
I often explore vulnerability in therapy by using the “All in or Out Perspective”. Living in the gray is difficult, and the gray is the part of our lives where we hopefully have some flexibility, patience, and most of all self-emotional regulation skills to be able to work through moments of uncertainty in our life. We expect people to be patient who care for us as we work through the “gray phase” of life, but we often fail to show compassion to ourselves when we are going through this phase as well. When the crisis is averted and we find a solution to our problem, we don’t often take the time to assess how we made it through or survived and take inventory of the skills we utilized to get us through periods of adjustments or transitions in our life.
It is through therapy that I have the honor of reaffirming my client’s successes and to bring a sense of awareness to how they are becoming stronger in allowing others in their life to see that working with them through their vulnerability is a symbol of courage, strength, and resilience. My clients and I do this work collaboratively, but I admire their bravery in allowing myself and others to see them come to respect the self that they present to others does not have to be perfect or the person they deem they should be for others.
Attachment or the lack thereof is at the center of vulnerability. From our childhood development to adulthood, we straddle between an independent versus interdependent life, depending upon our familial (biological or chosen family) lived experience. Whether we deem ourselves introverted or extroverted (mind you I believe that there is a gray area in there too), we assess how we are able to be open with someone based upon how emotionally safe we feel. So, considering all of this…where do you begin with tackling vulnerability? Here are some suggestions.
Be Honest & Open About Your Feelings- The first step to working on a problem is acknowledging and accepting that there is room for improvement. None of us are impervious to change. and it takes courage to express our fears to be open with our feelings. If you feel that the individual you are speaking with can be trusted with your thoughts and feelings, please share. Most importantly, tell the truth when people ask how you are doing. I understand that most people utilize the question, “How are you?” as a general expression or greeting. However, if you are vulnerable and express your true feelings in response to this question, imagine the positive effect that this can have on the person that you are speaking with in the moment...they too may share with you, their real thoughts.
Slow Down & Be Present- Living in the moment is not easy to do. It requires a level of self-awareness of your social and environmental surroundings as well as being keenly aware of the reasons for your emotions. I have found that when most of my clients think of incorporating mindfulness into their life, they often think that it requires them to reflect upon life always in a state of gratitude. I think that this is great in theory. However, acknowledging and being mindful of how one’s hurt, fears, and pain impacts one’s self-esteem is just as powerful. I urge my clients to take stock of the day in the moment or at the end of the day to recall moments that really stood or influenced how they responded to a situation. Slowing down to take the time to evaluate moments in life in this way can lead to numerous self-discoveries about how you may wish to be more present in your life.
Engage in Self-Soothing- We often talk about taking time to relax and distress, but of course it is hard to take the time to create space for ways to sooth or calm our daily stressors. My clients often joke about how they utilize time in the bathroom to decompress. We often discuss about what other spaces in their home or places outside the home where clients can center themselves and process their thoughts and feelings. For example, some clients report doing deep breathing exercises in the car before entering home or work to transition their mind and prepare themselves before the day demands a lot of them. Listening to a podcast, music or even taking time to sit in nature and listen to your surroundings can have such a calming effect. Steal the moments when you can. In the words of one of my clients, “Time goes by too quickly in life. I will take control of the moments where I can find meaning.”
Schedule Regular Check-Ins With Important People in Your Life- This last suggestion is essential to learning how to lean into discomfort to be more vulnerable. I state this because a check-in should usually never be one-sided. It is important to note that if you are caring and compassionate enough to check in with a person to attune to their vulnerability, you have the right to have the same compassion and care in return to meet your emotional needs. In this type of exchange, communication is more equitable. Also, hopefully you both can walk away from the conversations being affirmed or more aware of areas of your relationship that can be improved to enhance your communication.
Now that you have heard my thoughts about emotional vulnerability, how have you learned to be emotionally vulnerable with others? I will continue to post a new blog each month. So, stay tuned for more writings, and let me know what topics you wish me to write about. In my next blog post, I will explore normalizing kink within sex and gender affirming individuals. Let’s continue to always keep an open mind about how society might cause us to label others. For more helpful tips and insight, therapeutic services, and for you to give feedback about this blog, please go to www.corneliusholmes.com.