This is part two of Faerie’s article about vulnerability. For the first part please go here >>
There are certain important points that I put forward in the first part of the article:
- vulnerability is those aspects of ourselves we keep hidden because we don’t want other people to see them
- being fragile is only one form of vulnerability: it can also be vulnerable for us to express anger, hopelessness, joy or anything else that feels edgy for us
- expressing and sharing our vulnerable parts fosters intimacy and connection and supports us to become more whole-hearted
Let’s assume, for the sake of the article, that we agree about these three points. In this second part I’m going to look at the dynamics of expressing vulnerability and how we can support someone in a non-judgemental way, even when the things they’re saying are hard for us to hear.
So there we are: we’ve plucked up the courage to do something vulnerable, right in front of another person – or maybe even a group. Wow! This is a critical moment and it can be intense for everyone involved. Because what happens next determines whether we feel received and welcomed or shut down and rejected. (Remember: this aspect of ourselves is vulnerable precisely because it wasn’t permitted in the past.)
What makes this particularly delicate and tricky is that, because we’re uncomfortable about sharing this vulnerable thing, we often express it in a clumsy, unpolished way. We might blurt out how we feel and then burst into tears; or suddenly, unexpectedly, shout at the person who’s been triggering our anger. It’s unlikely to be an elegant expression of our emotions, and often it comes with a sting and an intensity that can make the other person or people reel.
At this point, if you’re the one receiving it – take a breath! Even if you’ve just received something painful and uncomfortable, it’s a wonderful gift if you don’t react right away. Breath, pause and reflect. If you feel yourself about to react, you might say something like “thank you for sharing that, I need a few minutes to process before I can really be with it. I’ll go away and be back in 5/10/15 minutes.” (Read more about the Time Out Method here.)
That’s a last resort, of course – but it’s definitely better than shutting the person down. Whatever you do, don’t smash them right now!
When you’re ready, thank them for sharing what’s vulnerable for them and give them space to say more. Gently encourage them to share all their difficult feelings, whether they’re about you or not. Let them know that you’re there by keeping your eyes on them, being as still as possible and listening without comment or interruption. (For more on how to listen openly and with presence, read Time To Think by Nancy Kline – it’s a game changer.)
The reason this is so important is that the person needs to go through the intensity of their vulnerable feelings and land back in safe territory. It’s like a voyage on the high seas: you want them to land on shore, not sink in choppy waters! Do your best not to take it personally, even if it’s totally about you. There’ll be time to dissect what happened later. For now just do your best to be pleased that they’re sharing how they feel!
When they’ve finished talking, ask them if there’s anything else they want to say and give them some more quality attention. Keep asking this until they confirm that they’re finished. Then pause, breath and reflect again.
You may, at this point, be full of things to say: it kind of depends on what they’ve shared and how it’s left you feeling. I recommend first thanking them again for being vulnerable with you and acknowledging how much courage that took. Whatever you say next, this will make it easier for them to hear.
If you have feedback on what they’ve said to you, ask them if it’s OK to give them feedback. They may be too shaky and vulnerable right now to hear it; if so, you’ll only make things worse by doing so. Similarly, if you want to respond to what they’ve said, ask them if that’s ok – particularly if it’s about something between you. Asking someone’s permission, especially when they’ve been bravely vulnerable with you, makes a huge difference to how they feel about what you say next. (And it’s a good idea in any conversation!)
The greatest gift you can give them at this point is to offer them your vulnerability in return. Suppose for example they’ve said that you really pissed them off when you came home 2 hours late and didn’t apologise. You’ll probably feel a mixture of emotions, including anger, hurt, fear of rejection, guilt, shame and foolishness. Which one is the most vulnerable for you to express? Which one is your default? Speaking from the default place will take you away from intimacy and connection; sharing what’s vulnerable for you will bring you closer.
Often I notice a shift in conversations when vulnerability is expressed and met with more vulnerability. It’s like everything softens and goes all gooey – in a really good way! It’s beautiful to notice that moment when things ease and connection comes back, especially when the things you’re talking about are painful or difficult.
A lot of this sounds counter-intuitive, maybe even downright bizarre. That’s because in large part, human connection is not a logical thing. Our emotions don’t work in straight lines and what brings us close to someone else doesn’t make a lot of sense. Thanks to Scott Peck, Brene Brown and, if you’re really honest, our memories of when we felt close to others, we somehow know this to be true. It doesn’t matter that we don’t logically understand it. What matters is that it works: vulnerability deepens connection and breeds intimacy.
In a few weeks’ time (19/20 March), Ruby May and I will open up a space where we can explore the theme of connection-through-the-undefended-heart. We’ll use the subtle magic of Ceremonial Cacao as our ally, gently guiding us towards deeper vulnerability that brings us closer to others. Will you be brave and meet us there – in Lady Cacao’s Secret Chamber?