Everything I’m reading and watching and coming to understand about vulnerability points back to the beautiful truth that until I’m honest about my feelings and fears for the sake of deeper relationships, only then will abundant living be an option. Wholehearted living, as Brene Brown says. Vulnerability requires putting myself out there, sharing my needs, risking the fact that I have no control over how my words will be received, and believing, even if I’m rejected, I will be okay because I am bringing my true self, not the former people pleaser, to the table. If my heart is to reflect a genuine God then I have to be real about what’s really going on under the surface, the goal being connection. It’s a necessary part of trusting the process.
The thing is, vulnerability sounds airy and freeing and easy. Psshhh… from my experience it’s not. And what gets me is the fact that even in attempting vulnerable communication, there’s a part I want to nail on the first try, to do it well, perfectly please, and the last few times I’ve put myself out there, it’s been anything but well done.
My heart is to connect. I care about you and you care about me and relationships matter, so let’s talk about whatever this tension or whatever is. And here’s where I’ve gone about it wrong.
Once. Twice. Three times. Instead of leading with how I really felt because that felt too vulnerable, too needy, too scary for how it might be taken, I chose the safe approach. Which, although genuine, lacked clarity and ownership.
Instead I said, So I sense this wall, as I handed words across the table and watched eyebrows furrow in confusion.
I thought everything was fine, she blinked.
Hmmm. That didn’t go as planned. Suddenly I’m flaily. Ah, why is this so hard. Okay. Take 2.
I’m feeling disappointed. When _________ happened, I felt like I wasn’t worth your time. When you said ___________, I felt shamed for wanting to connect and talk.
See how I didn’t initially lead with vulnerability but a disguise of it? If my heart is for deeper connection, I can’t first hand them the ball because the other person doesn’t even know what game we’re playing. I’ve given no ground rules or perimeters, only, So I sense this wall. Which sometimes is a safe place to start, but if I’m already feeling something, it’s my place to lead with that and let the other person respond. Make sense? I’m setting us both up to fail if I don’t begin authentically.
Madeleine L’Engle says, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” How true I’m finding this to be, especially with each passing year.
I adore speaking to groups but that’s different than communicating vulnerability. It’s one thing to share stories and experiences, discerning a crowd and connecting with faces. It’s quite another ordeal to share one on one without an outline or book quotes or polished points. Vulnerability is unscripted, a real time process and very very very scary. However, if I don’t first attempt putting myself out there to safe people, then speaking to large groups carries no real weight. As Brene Brown shares, “I only share when I have no unmet needs that I’m trying to fill. I firmly believe that being vulnerable with a larger audience is only a good idea if the healing is tied to the sharing, not to the expectations I might have for the response I get.” Which is why I’m learning to share from a place of healing, not for healing.
The last three times I’ve attempted vulnerability I’ve failed. Miserably. But, I’m being gentle with myself because practicing vulnerability is a bit like driving an old car. There’s some sputtering and start-stopping, there can be smoke and screechy tires. But the more I take it out for a ride, I’m confidant the more comfortable I’ll feel on the road.
Most recently, vulnerable emotions surfaced from hurt. But of course I hadn’t thought through them to lead with, I feel hurt. No, instead I put the other person on the defense with finger pointing. Which is always a really good space to invite someone into when trying to do vulnerable sharing. Heavy sigh. I’ve much to learn.
So around and around we went saying the same thing but missing one another until I found myself frustrated that I wasn’t communicating what my heart was feeling, and then shame hit because I was now a horrible communicator. But we pressed on and I finally found a door in the conversation. A door to my heart.
What I’m feeling is hurt. There. Wow. Finally, I was able to locate and open the door. So that’s what I was trying to say for the last 30 minutes. And then I saw it. She heard. I was seen. My vulnerable words connected because suddenly they weren’t about what she hadn’t done right but about how I felt unseen. That with everything else she had on her plate, I wanted to feel sought out. Special. Pursued. But saying that would sound childish so I ignored those thoughts. And then they spilled out in reactionary frustration.
As I drove home I thought about our conversation. How it started rocky and ended in hugs and tears and I love you and I just want to hang out with you more. And I realized, if I take time, before reacting and real-time processing to ask myself, What am I feeling? What do I need? How can I communicate this in a vulnerable, true way? How can we both leave this conversation feeling more seen and valued? growth will happen. This can only be done if I avoid the frustration carousal and leap straight to what the issue is really about.
This is going to take some practice. It’s going to require pouring buckets of grace on myself and I’m praying for grace from others as I do it, even when fumbly. Vulnerability, I’m experiencing, is only beneficial if what I’m bringing is myself, the hope to better know and be known, and the patience required to babble through imperfect words to find the heart of where I first began.
And I’m hoping by the 100th try, vulnerability and I will be closer friends.