Chasing Vulnerability: Why Bother?

Vulnerability feels like the perennial nightmare of getting up to teach the class, and realizing I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to be teaching about.  Or being in the play, on the stage, and realizing I forgot to ever study my lines. It feels like the moment right before everything starts to hurt like hell, and you know it’s coming… when you fall down the stairs, right before you hit the ground.  I wouldn’t say that it’s a sexy feeling at all.  And yet, the kind of intimacy I crave also requires me to be real, authentic and vulnerable in profound ways. 

Next week I’m teaching a workshop on vulnerability as an intimacy skill, so I’ve been spending a lot of time researching, reading, thinking about vulnerability. (And I hope you’ll join me! Follow the link to register.)

vulnerability_vulnerble_designI have also been practicing.  (Check out the picture I put on the landing page of my website.  Yikes!) On one hand, I totally get intellectually that to have the kind of intimacy and closeness I want in my life requires me being open-hearted and available.  I just wish it didn’t mean I had to be vulnerable.

The dictionary defines vulnerability as ‘capable of being wounded or hurt.’  Well, that just sucks!  Why would I want to do that?  I am a hedonist, and live my life and make my choices with pleasure as a core and central tenet.  I hate pain, hate hurting, hate discomfort.  I love sweetness, ease, and comfort.  Being vulnerable seems like the antithesis of all of that.

While it may appear outwardly that I’m good with the whole vulnerability thing, in actuality I’m a creature of habit.  I almost always order the same things at my favorite restaurants. I hate going into new situations where I don’t know anybody. I do what I know as long as it works reasonably well, and have to remind myself to try new behaviors.  I need profound, logical reasons to buy into opening myself up to hurt in service of some greater goal.  How is it going to serve me?

So I honor my monkey mind, and give it something to do.  Here’s a list in progress of the ways I’m talking myself into ever-greater vulnerability.

  • When I’m open to new possibilities, I can make choices from a wide range of productive and interesting options.
  • Being in social situations that are new, I can consciously choose to practice developing skills like authenticity.  If I am able to be real, I might meet new people who can become part of my support network and whom I will love.
  • Being able to accept help means not having to do everything alone.
  • Sharing my true emotional landscape allows me to receive empathy, and feel not alone.
  • Allowing my true self to be seen allows me a healthy perspective on myself: I am not the most fucked up person in the world.
  • Choosing not to ‘please’ someone and letting them see negative character traits allows me to relax and take off the mask.
  • I can receive support from others when I let them know I need it.
  • I can actually feel into my heart and my love when I begin to remove some of the shielding around it.  If I am always motivated by avoiding pain, I’m spending a lot of energy not feeling things.  When I stop, I feel more.
  • Me being real gives others permission to do the same, and I get met in the ways I want to be met.

We have defense mechanisms firmly in place to protect us from vulnerability.  We all struggle with this intimacy skill… and even those who appear good at it are constantly pushing their own edges of shame.

The truth is, I want to feel connected more than I want to feel safe.  Not sharing who I am means that while I may feel safe, I am not seen or known.  I am alone.  Personally, while that might be comfortable, it’s not the way I want to spend my life time. I’m going to keep at this vulnerability practice, and see where it takes me, even though it feels like being naked on-stage in high school. 

I’m curious how you engage with vulnerability. Do you resist being placed into situations where you experience this feeling?  What does it feel like to you? Would you practice vulnerability, in this moment, and write a comment below?