To love or not to love, that is still the question. As we discussed last week, we all have a story of heart break in our lives. We begin life young, naïve, and overly trusting. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and depend upon others to meet our needs.
Then, we inevitably get our hearts broken.
Sometimes this happens early in life with our caregivers and sometimes a little later when we begin to navigate the jungle of dating. Regardless of our attachment style or our ability to cope, we have all suffered the pain of a broken heart.
I have noticed both in my own life and through working with people that when we experience heartbreak we often vow to never make the same mistakes again. Whether we rely on someone too much or we trust too quickly, we swear to ourselves that we will never be this naïve and/or vulnerable again. Let me tell you a story about my … umm, friend?… I’ll call her Leigh. Leigh was in a relationship for about a year and was led to believe that there was a long-term future with the person she was dating. To her surprise at the time, the relationship ended. The breakup strung on for sometime but finally came to an abrupt ending, which brought both closure and heartache. One of the things I noticed when Leigh went through this, was that she grieved not only the loss of the relationship, but also the loss of the elaborate dreams that her and her partner had made. She had to create a new story for her life—one that did not include this person she saw herself with forever.
So Leigh made a vow to herself after she experienced this heartbreak. She promised that she would never open up and allow herself to be in a position of vulnerability again.
Vulnerability—such a powerful and terrifying word for most people. Regardless of our attachment style, we are all subject to the power of vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to let your guard down with another person and allow them to truly know and experience who you are. It is allowing your heart to soften, having courage to come out of your shell and taking the risk to trust.
Can any of you relate to Leigh’s story? Have you ever made a vow protesting vulnerability, swearing that no one will ever have power over your heart again?
Luckily, Leigh’s story doesn’t end there. She did harden her heart for a time. She rediscovered herself and what was important to her. She pursued her goals. She went a bit wild. And then she fell in love—very safe and secure love.
She began to realize that her vow kept her safe—but it also kept her from the intimacy and closeness she so badly desired in her relationship. She discovered that the key to bridging the gap was the ability to allow herself to be vulnerable. She had to muster up the courage to take a risk—to let her guard down and let love in. This meant that she was going to allow her true self to be seen. The good, the bad and the ugly. This also meant that she could potentially get hurt. Again.
Anais Nin once said, “the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
We have to weigh whether the risk to keep our heart locked away is more painful then the risk to be courageous and vulnerable. I know it is not an easy task, but trust me, you can do it!
Here are a few ways to help you develop the courage to blossom:
Only explore vulnerability in safe and secure relationships
Our true vulnerable self should only be shared in relationships where the other person respects and cares about our needs. Dr. Sue Johnson refers to this risk taking as a dance. If we are learn the step we need to take, we also need a responsive partner that we can trust, that will also be there taking the step with us. Learn to trust people in stages. Begin to observe whether the person you want to open up to has been consistent, reliable, concerned with your needs, and has proven themselves trust worthy in the past. We don’t go around opening ourselves up blindly hoping to get love in return. We apply some critical thinking by asking ourselves:
- Has this person proven to be trustworthy in the past?
- Is this person comfortable with vulnerability and being open?
- Is this friendship/relationship free of abuse (Emotional and/or physical or abdications/substance abuse)
Vulnerability starts with sharing just one thing, beginning to just dip your toe in to see if the other person is respectful and responsive. Then you slowly work your way up to the bigger more serious things. We are not opening a floodgate where everything comes out at once, but learning how to slowly trust and let people in.
Understand that we are born to be interdependent
When I say interdependent I am not suggesting that we are supposed to be codependent and lose our selves in our partner. But it is equally important not to worship independence and self-sufficiency because in relationships we are meant to rely and depend upon our partner. Turning to our partner and being able to bank on them being accessible is interdependence. It is a mutually reciprocated relationship between two people that takes risk, vulnerability, and courage.
You cannot outrun vulnerability, despite how hard you try. Vulnerability is apart of our lives. We feel vulnerable when we don’t know if we have gotten the job or gotten into university, when we receive criticism or feedback, and especially in relationships when we begin to let someone close enough to see who we really are. Vulnerability is scary and unpredictable. But according to Dr. Brene Brown it is also the birthplace of creativity, joy, love, and belonging. To experience the things we desire most in our lives we have to learn to embrace, or at least tolerate vulnerability.
When we stop looking at vulnerability as a monster and start to see it as the key that unlocks all of the things we want out of life, it becomes more of a risk to live without it. We stand to lose more by rejecting vulnerability then by embracing it.
I know that there are many out there who can relate to Leigh’s story and I hope that you found this helpful. If you know a friend who has hardened their heart out of fear, gently pass this on. There is hope for the love you desire, don’t give up or harden your heart.
Wishing you love and connection,