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Vulnerability: opening the way for healthier relationships

Many of us have learned to hide our feelings of vulnerability from others and often even from ourselves.

If we grew up in an environment that did not support being vulnerable then we would have learned to override or ignore these feelings. Yet, when we can feel and express our vulnerability we have:

  • greater self-confidence
  • less anxiety
  • healthier relationships

Dealing with our hurts gives us the strength to face everything in life, and by sharing our vulnerability we create a bridge to intimacy.

Is it possible that we avoid feeling vulnerable because it doesn’t feel safe to do so? Do we perhaps fear that if we show our vulnerability we will be annihilated, crushed or humiliated?

In my practice as a relationships counselor, I often see people express anger or frustration, and when we take the time and trouble to explore these feelings they are covering up a hurt or vulnerability.

"We learn to subvert what we feel, and then live off our reactions to what we felt."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings and Revelations, p 69

Once we become aware that we are covering the hurt with anger, we can begin to feel the hurt (underneath the anger) and express it to the person with whom we are in relationship. This is much easier for the partner to accept and it helps to build trust and safety. Often when one partner begins to express their vulnerability, the other feels permission to do the same. When both partners begin to feel and express their vulnerability the relationship becomes more loving.

At the other end of the spectrum are those of us that use vulnerability or hurt as a tool with which to manipulate the other.

This is sometimes seen as a victim mentality and in these cases it is helpful if we can explore and unpack the hurt and see our own part in how it comes about, and how it serves us. Mostly we have adapted our behaviours and developed strategies based on what “worked” when we were little. If being hurt and vulnerable gained us the attention or care that we needed from our care-givers then we learn to use it as a strategy in later life. Similarly if being hurt or vulnerable caused us to be humiliated or dismissed then we learn to avoid feeling this way in later life.

We knew how to feel sensitive and tender when we were very young but then we had to toughen up and have learned to numb and ignore our vulnerable feelings.

How do we get back in touch with these feelings?

We can begin by re-learning to be aware of our feelings by tracking sensations in the body and then learning to name these sensations with a feeling word. Some examples could be:

  • A tight knot in the stomach – depending on the degree of tightness could this be anxiety or apprehension or fear?

  • A sensation of clenched jaw or teeth – could this be frustration, anger or rage?

  • A feeling of one’s heart swelling painfully in the chest – this could be being touched or moved by the emotions of sadness or appreciation of beauty.

  • A lump or tightness in the throat – could this be sadness that wants to come up and be felt but is stopped at the throat (sometimes chest) because to allow it any higher may mean it could be seen by someone and that is not safe or acceptable?

These examples show us how we learn to track sensations and then interpret these sensations with feeling words.

Often when I ask clients how they feel, they respond with a potential thought or action. For instance, if I say, “How did you feel when you found out your husband was having an affair?” They may respond with “I am going to divorce him. I refuse to be treated like this – he has no respect”. What I seldom hear is the direct honesty of, “I felt really hurt and disappointed” or “I am so hurt because I trusted him completely”.

Once we can begin to feel our tenderness and vulnerability – we can learn to express it and share these feelings with our partners and close friends. This has the effect of making relationships more real, and less defended and protected. Within the garden of relationship, the weeds of resentment wither and make space for the seedlings of love and tenderness – for everyone.

When we can feel and express our vulnerability we have greater self-confidence, less anxiety and healthier relationships . . . and we are so much more loveable.

  • Thumb small jean gamble

    By Jean Gamble, Psychotherapist

    Jean works as a psychotherapist with individuals, couples, families, teenagers and children. She knows that when we can move past our layers of protection from hurt and we connect deeply with our innermost self we can have rich, satisfying and purposeful lives and relationships.

  • Thumb small alan johnston

    Photography: Alan Johnston, Photographer

    I have studied Social Documentary Photography. Lots of life experience throughout which I have kept a keen sense of humour.