Vulnerability: The Key to Close Relationships

Vulnerability: They Key to Close Relationships

The best part of being human is being able to connect with other humans. We’re hardwired for it. We live in tribes and families, work in groups, love as couples and thrive in friendships. The drive to connect is in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.

Yet, we’re seeing more loneliness, more depression, more broken relationships, more disconnection. What’s happening?

Vulnerability is the driving force of connection. It’s brave. It’s tender. It’s impossible to connect without it.

But we’ve turned it into a weakness.

We’ve made ourselves ‘strong’. We’ve toughened up, hardened up and protected ourselves from being hurt. We’ve protected ourselves from vulnerability and disallowed the surrender. Here’s the problem. When we close down our vulnerability we are shielded from hurt, but we are also shielded from love, intimacy and connection. They come to us through the same door. When we close it to one, we close it to all.

Without vulnerability, relationships struggle. Vulnerability is, ‘Here I am – my frayed edges, my secrets, my fears, my affection. Be careful – they’re precious.’ In return, it invites, ‘Oh, I see you there. It’s okay, you’re safe. And here – here’s me.’ It builds trust, closeness and a sense of belonging. Relationships won’t thrive without it.

Vulnerability is openness to experiences, people and uncertainty. It’s terrifying at times, and brave always. 

Occasionally we get hurt. Relationship pain is an unavoidable part of being human. When it happens it can steal you. I know. But we can see this for what it is – a mismatch of people, a redirection, a learning, a happening – or we can take it as a warning and protect ourselves from the possibility of being hurt again. In this case, we make the decision to not be vulnerable. We shut it down. By shutting down to the risks of being vulnerable, we also shut down to the possibilities – the possibility of joy, intimacy, closeness, gratitude and connection.

Connected or Not: What makes the difference?

Brene Brown PhD is a research professor from the University of Houston and an expert in the field of vulnerability. She’s looked at those who have a strong sense of connection and belonging and those who don’t. Her research has found that the difference between the two groups was that those who had a strong sense of love and belonging believed they were worthy of it. People who believed they were worthy of connection experienced greater connectedness. 

When people believe themselves worthy of connection, they’re more likely to move towards others. They’ll be the first to say ‘I love you’. They’ll be quick to say, ‘I miss you’ (not just in absence but in the growing apart). They’ll ask for help and they’ll be open to the  love, affection and influence of others. They’ll be grateful. They’ll be connected. 

This doesn’t mean they’ll always get what they want. What it means is that they are more willing to be open and vulnerable in relationships because their potential for shame is less. If the connection falls short – if the ‘I love you’ is left hanging, the ‘I miss you’ isn’t returned, the request for help is declined, people who believe they are worthy of connection are less likely to blame themselves and their own ‘unworthiness’ for the disconnection. They are often the people who people want to be with. They give to the relationship and they receive openly, abundantly, honestly and with love and gratitude. They allow themselves to be vulnerable to the uncertainty and they make it safe for others to do the same.

Daring to Connect.

  1. Live with heart.

    Listen to and move towards what you really want. It’s that voice that speaks from intuition, experience and things unsaid. It’s the signal, sometimes faint sometimes not, to love openly and honestly and receive it gratefully. And to walk away when it’s gone. Move towards what you want and be vulnerable to the risk – it’s the bravest thing you’ll do. When you live with heart, you’ll feel when there’s something missing, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

  2. Live with courage.

    What would you do if you could act without fear of shame? Would you change jobs? Follow your passion? Tell someone you love them? Tell someone you miss them? Initiate sex? Expect more for yourself? Get rid of relationships that hurt? Fight harder for the relationship you’re in? You can’t trust that there won’t be rejection and disappointment, but you can trust that you’ll cope with it if it happens – which you will. What’s harder to live with is teetering around the edges of something that feels important, wanting more but never dropping the guard enough – being vulnerable enough – to let it in.

  3. Look for a new ‘what if’.

    Question your beliefs. Sometimes we believe things for so long they just settle in and stay. Challenge whether or not they’re still working for you. What could happen if you open up, take a chance, let yourself be vulnerable? Too often behaviour is driven by the need to avoid shame – the need to avoid receiving any proof that you’re not worthy of love, connection and receiving what you’ve asked for.  The more you think you’re not worthy, the more  you’ll act as though it’s true and the more you disconnect. What if you believed you were worth the connection. The risk of not being received is always there, but this is no reflection of any unworthiness in you.

  4. Embrace vulnerability.

    As explained by Brene Brown, people with a strong sense of love and belonging believe that vulnerability is a necessity. They believe that within their vulnerabilities are the things that make them beautiful. And they’re right. Vulnerability is key to connection because it is the courage to be open to another human. It’s saying the words that are pressing from the inside. It’s opening yourself up to somebody getting closer. It’s letting them know. It’s giving without expectation or agenda. And receiving with an open heart.

  5. Quick now. Do nothing.

    Increasingly we are living in a fixit world. We have little tolerance for uncertainty or discomfort and tend to move quickly toward resolution. We fix everything – problems, health, feelings, people. Sometimes though, uncertainty or discomfort is exactly where we need to be. It’s here that we often find clarity and insight and and a readiness to move forward or pull back. Don’t be too quick to move out of uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes they’re the richest source of growth and information about what’s right.

What Vulnerability Isn’t.

Vulnerability does not mean oversharing and offering every detail of your life up for consumption by anyone with a head. It about intention. There are those you hold close, or want to, who are worth taking a risk for. You open up, you let them know, you offer some of yourself and hope it will be received. Then there are those who you know, but who may not have earnt your vulnerability. 

Your vulnerability still has to be earnt by others to some extent, but you have to be ready to see when someone deserves it from you. Offering every detail of your life to the person behind you in the 15 items or less aisle at the grocery store can walk dangerously close to a lack of boundaries and can leave you overexposed. 

And finally. 

Somewhere along the way, the need to protect ourselves from being vulnerable has trumped the need to connect. I understand that. Few things hurt as deeply and completely as the heartache that comes from relationships. But heartache and uncertainty is part of being human and it’s avoidance is getting in our way.

In response to this, we’ve stopped allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. We’ve toughened up. We’ve turned vulnerability into a weakness and guardedness into a strength.

 Of course there are times to be guarded, but there are also times to be vulnerable. We’re protected, but we’re disconnected.

 Life happens – really happens – in the midst of our vulnerability. It’s here, in strength and with the greatest of courage, that we ask for help, say the first ‘I love you’, reach out for sex and physical intimacy, tell someone we miss them, ask where we stand, feel. When we shut down our vulnerability, we shut down the possibility.

There are no guarantees. There never have been. But what is certain is that we deserve more than to have our vulnerability – the greatest vehicle to connection – shut down by fear. We cannot guarantee the outcome, but we can have faith in our ability to cope with it. Living and loving with a vulnerable, open heart will bring its own rewards. There is no daring more honest and more courageous than that which comes with respecting our vulnerability, embracing it and acting from it.

(Image credit: Unsplash | Alexander Shustov)

37 Comments

Adam G

My wife and I have been thinking about how we can grow closer together because we want to have a better relationship. We could really benefit from getting some help from a professional to add more depth. I liked what you said about how we can build trust, closeness, and belonging by being vulnerable to each other.

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Theresa

What an amazing article! Never have I taken the time to comment on articles I read online but this one simply took my breath away. There is so much wisdom in these words and I got so much out of this. Love it!

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Denise J

Very good article: well articulated and very relatable. it helped me a lot. I often feel disconnected from others because I am so guarded about myself. I am trying to reinvent myself so that I can experience more fulfilling relationships.

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Julia

Amazing article. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been going through an intense emotional time of breaking down my walls and guards and trying to be vulnerable with people – especially with my current romantic partner. I have never been able to be vulnerable with people. My childhood was really traumatic, and I learned at a very early age to protect myself and keep relationships and friendships just surface level – never let anyone in. Now I am 28 years old and attempting to do this inner work of breaking down these walls and revealing my raw heart. Let me just tell you guys, it is so uncomfortable and painful. You will cry so much. You might throw up. It hurts, it’s painful. I’m terrified. But I know this is something I need to do for myself, find healing, embrace vulnerability, and finally create the deep human connection with others that I have always longed for.

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OneD

I can completely relate! I have been the same way and have been keeping relationships on a level that it was easy for me to disconnect when things are not working out. My new GF is completely awesome but one of her biggest issues with me was that she is yearning for a deeper connection. She gets frustrated with me and her biggest gripe with me is that she says I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me. As I don’t want to go past the surface level which she is spot on but it took awhile to realize.

I didn’t know what that meant and I have also been working on myself and as you stated this is just as painful. I never experienced these type of emotions and it super confusing. Opening up, to me was like saying “Don’t lock your doors at your house” which didn’t make much sense. But what it really means is giving the key to those that really care for you and not shut it down like a bunker where only you know how to get in.

But the biggest things that I know is that change only occurs with pain. No one changes when everything is good.

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Beatrice N

I came to this article because last night my partner of two years confessed he didn’t feel supported by me or that I was emotionally there for him. This has brought up a whole plethora of self doubt that I am emotionally unavailable and incapable of being vulnerable and intimate with people anymore. I guess deep down I’ve known this for a while but he was the first person to say it outright to me. And it’s made me wonder whether I’ve ever been truly vulnerable and experience true intimacy with a person. Part of me would love to say that maybe it’s just him having an unjustified problem with me or that i’m just not giving him love in the way he responds to or maybe that he’s just not the right guy and this is why we can’t connect and it’s nothing to do with me at all. Except I find it hard, even impossible to be truly vulnerable and intimate with anyone in my life. I’m still harbouring the pain and fear of rejection and abandonment issues from my first heartbreak 10 years ago. I’ve always been a very secretive and proud person with low self-esteem who has struggled to make true friends and the ones I held onto hurt and let me down the most, till I cut ties with all of them. Which was a good thing as they were toxic, selfish people, but I can’t say I have replaced those friendships with healthy, open trusting ones because I haven’t. I have two friends who I can at an arms length away and will happily declare I’m cutting them out of my life if they do anything suspicious or cross me in anyway. I desperately want to have friends I can trust and rely on and open up to, but feel I can’t trust anyone and if I do open up to them I am always quick to shut them out and assume they have ulterior motives and are manipulating me in some way. When I am feeling most hurt, confused and depressed I shut everyone out and condemn myself to solitary confinement, won’t leave the house, answer the phone or respond to family or friends until I’m all better again.

Okay so I know I struggle to trust people, be vulnerable, open up, talk openly, and be intimate with people. The thought of it really makes me feel sick with dread and fear, so know there is an underlying issue there. I could walk out on my boyfriend and put it down to us being un-compatible and not right for each other and that is why we are struggling to connect. Buy my worry is what if this happens again and again and again? I have a guy who is willing to be vulnerable, who wants to connect, who recognises there is a problem and wants to fix it. I realise now there was a huge issue with vulnerability and intimacy with my ex of 5 years, but he never mentioned it so I didn’t, I just lived out fantasies about my ex before him who broke my heart, but these fantasies sustained my need for intimacy and connection without the risk of getting hurt again because they were just a fantasy’s of the past.
So my question is, if you can recognise you have a problem, but it’s years old and now deeply ingrained, how do you even go about fixing it? Because all the articles in the world telling you to just be more open and trusting don’t actually help you to do it or find the root cause of why you can’t.

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Jayakrishna

@Beatrice N. These lines from the book Dearing Greatly by Brene Brown may have the answer to your dilema.

“If you roughly divide the man and women I have interviewed into two groups – those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it – there’s only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging, They dont have better or easier lives, they dont have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven’t survived fewer traumas or bankrupties or divorcies, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging and even joy.”

She asks to live with wholeheartedness which she says is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. The main concern of wholehearted men and women is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and connection.

I liked how she relates vulnerability and engagment. We all are vulnerable. perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they dont experience in the human experience. Our only **choice** is a question of engaegement. Our willings to own and engage with vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose.

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Nick

Extremely valuable information. My wife and I almost separated and it wasn’t until I began to show my real self and let my guard down that we reconnected. I had such a thick wall up and always tried to show her that I was impervious to shame despite internally not being that way at all. Now we are on track to a much MUCH healthier relationship. Brené’s work is incredible and articles like these reinforce her valuable work. Thank you.

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Logan

I stumbled upon this page after having a really great 2AM chat with a close friend of mine. As a conversation goes, we went from discussing class work to talking about relationships. Both of us had had our fair share of struggles, her with depression and anxiety and myself with body dysmorphia and an eating disorder, and it was interesting to me that we dealt with things so differently. While she blocked it out and went into an almost zombie-like state, I did the opposite, making myself hyperactive to almost over emphasize the fact that I was “fine”. My friend pointed out that while I am open and do have intimate conversations, I am never the first to open up in conversation, even when I am struggling with something.

And then I asked the magic question: Can you actually be afraid of being vulnerable?

And so, I have found myself here, a little bit the wiser. Clearly, vulnerability has as much to do with coping with stress as it is based on previous experiences in life.

Somehow, just arriving at this moment is enough. It’s like, I don’t have to pretend to have it all together because no one has it all together. People you’re close to don’t have to see a projection of who you think you need to be because they only really need to get to know the real you. And if that isn’t cool with them, they didn’t deserve to get to know you in the first place.

This was long and awfully rambling, but it feels good to just recognize the fact that “fine” isn’t what I should be aiming for because there’s so much more to life than just that.

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Kim

You weren’t rambling. I understand better after reading your response. Unfortunately I’m not on the right side of things. I have a strong wall up – I let it down just a little and I end up in tears. I’m finding it very hard to work my way out. Thank you though – you helped me see more clearly – now how do I change?

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Jace

Just stumbled upon this article when I was searching for others about being vulnerable. This article is definitely one of the best ones I have read. I loved getting insight from it. I teach young teenagers and this is such a great article to get insight from for them.

It is so worth to be open and raw with those we love, even though pain can come from it. Boundaries and knowing who to say these things too can help, but being vulnerable is a gift that most do not want to go into.

Loved your article again. Thank you!

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Memyselfandi

So glad I found this! Its worth reading over and over again. Thank you for sharing such useful information.

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Not Convinced

Came across this (now years old) article on vulnerability. I’m searching for reasons that I can relate to as to why being vulnerable is worth all the pain it has always led to for me. Every time I was vulnerable in my now 59 years of life I was physically and/or emotionally abused – parents, caretakers, “friends”, and now wife of 24 years. No one is “safe” or trustworthy. So the idea of being vulnerable is terrifying to me, hence I have never experienced/felt love, joy, happiness etc. To me these are foreign concepts. The only emotions I have ever been aware of feeling are anger and fear. So reading statements about the benefits of being vulnerable are meaningless to me. I have no concept of what those “benefits” are or would feel like, but having all too much knowledge of the pain and hurt by having been vulnerable means I have zero motivation to risk it again. My only motivation is my “duty” to love my wife, but since I don’t love her I’m exhausted from decades of pretending to love her and trying to learn how to love. We have a myriad of other problems (e.g. sexless our entire marriage, my touch aversion etc.) but the root I believe is my inability to feel anything positive (love, affection) for myself or others. If anyone reads this, I’d love to hear more on what joy and love are so that I could try and believe they are worth a lifetime of hurts and emotional wounds that never heal.

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Sandra

I happened upon this article as well & found it to be quite interesting. Your comment I understood with some familiarity. Sounds like you’re tired of being tired. Emotionally & mentally yet what brought you to this article is you’re looking for a way to change that perhaps? I think that’s a good sign. The negativity of your situation indicates you think you’re stuck where you are for life. You’re not. If you seek joy, love & happiness for yourself & others..That should be your motivation. Best wishes.

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blake

I’m so sorry to hear that your life experiences have led you to that place. That really, really sucks.

One area that the article took for granted is the difference between voluntary versus compulsory vulnerability and relationships. You largely don’t choose to be vulnerable to abuse by parents, caretakers, or your spouse – you just are.

That’s important because voluntary vulnerability comes with an implied precondition – the ability to withdraw from the relationship.

So if you grew up with abusive parents who placed you in the care of abusive caretakers and then married an abusive spouse while holding strong opinions about divorce, well you’ve never really felt like you have a choice. You’ve been a prisoner perceiving one way power dynamics.

Most likely this leads to a struggle to set and enforce healthy boundaries in your relationships. Boundaries are barely discussed in the article, but they too are considered foundational assumptions. Without them you attract the wrong type of friends, and they only further reinforce your experiences.

That “emotional wounds that never heal” bit is informative. Of course there are such wounds, but they shouldn’t be what you’re risking in everyday vulnerability. If those are the stakes, you might explore whether you see vulnerability as an all or nothing thing, or if you’re awfulizing rejection/loss in a way that raises the stakes beyond what they actually are.

None of us on the internet can tell you how to change your approach to relationships to fix this pattern, nor can we confirm that this pattern is actually occurring. It’s just a guess. And nothing we say can make love or connection seem valuable enough to overcome the problems this pattern presents. I would highly recommend therapy or a counselor to help you explore your personal situation better. A book I would recommend if you’re not willing to seek a professional is “A Guide to Rational Living”.

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Marcia

Wonderful article. Such valuable information. Thank you for such relationship information. As a therapist I see that so many couples are helped by being encouraged to express their true selves in a safe environment of a therapy session. It is beautiful to see relationships transformed with true connection evolving along with a deeper level of trust.

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Dave

I have tried to listen to reason, have tried to accept the fact that my limited viewpoint was both irrational and unhealthy, but I simply cannot accept vulnerability and, therefore, social and romantic relationships of any kind.

It is very hard to be outgoing when virtually every friend you’ve ever had and over 85% of your family has hurt and betrayed you so severely, multiple times over the brief period of your life. Of course it doesn’t help to be an introvert with a sensitive nervous system – two traits that are shunned socially, sometimes considered as mental disorders. This in turn hosts the impossible belief that there isn’t a single honest person to feel safe around. Or, if said person is honest initially, there is nothing to say that he/she will turn on you like a wild animal at any given moment. It isn’t an exaggeration, every interest, opinion, thought, and fear of mine has been put under the microscope and ridiculed by a healthy sample group of the human race, much to my embarrassment and abuse. The pain is indescribable. After a while you get tired of the pain and simply vanish into yourself. Sure, call it protection, I prefer to think of it as hassle-free living.

Truthfully, I find myself more at home in the elements of nature, without the hustle and bustle of modern life. I prefer solitude and reflection and simply desire to be alone. I’m not robbing anyone of my presence, if anything, I’m saving them the bother of dealing with me. I just wish that communities that advocate vulnerability and socialization realize that there are people out there who are simply happier and healthier alone. The health threats issued by physicians and psychologists that scare people into society need to stop.
I think it was Bukowski who said it best: I don’t hate people, I just feel better when they’re not around.

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Lisa

Dave,

Oh my, what a compelling story. I am truly sorry for the idiots that you have encountered all your life. You sound like a stand-up guy too. Good people are far and few between. They are the ones missing out…not you. I sure hope and pray that you are happy and peaceful whether it be sheltered from the world or not.

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Pam

Hi Dave, I so can relate to what you’re saying here. In so many ways I feel the same way. Especially in the last year it seems that everyone I have ever let my guard down to has taken it and somehow used it as a weapon to hurt me with. And for the life of me I don’t know why. It’s made me very hard and determined not to open myself up to the hurt they can deal out. And it’s from the people you trust the most to take care of your heart, that causes the most pain. My question for you is this. You say you are happier being alone and just want to be left that way and I’m wondering if that’s completely true or not? Are you seriously happier, or you just safer? I’m not asking this to give you a hard time or to make it look like I don’t believe you although I am asking for completely selfish reasons. I am living that same kind of self-imposed emotional exile too, and while it certainly is safer, no one can hurt you if they can’t get to you. But am I truly happy about it? I’m not, I’m sick of my own company, and I want to be able to let down my guard sometimes. I want that feeling of being needed by another human being. And it doesn’t make me feel happy being the way I’ve become. I keep thinking that someone out there has to think like I do, and has to be trustworthy and capable of truly being honest with themselves. My problem isn’t other people really, it’s within myself. I don’t trust me anymore, I mean, I don’t trust my own judgement of others anymore. And that’s what stops me from even wanting to try again. My track record is proof that I can’t see people in the right way. I don’t know when it’ safe anymore to take a chance on someone, so I take this way out. I was going to say I take the easy way out, but it really isn’t the easy way and I feel miserable at times because I think we need people in our lives. Fear of being hurt again is what stops me and in a lot of ways I feel it isn’t a choice but a necessity to keep others at bay. So are you really happier? Or just safer? And if you are really happier, what is it that makes you happier? I want to learn how to be happy with just myself and that is my only reason for asking you this.

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Dave

Pam,

My experiences have been from a good chunk of my life. Since said experiences can influence our development, I am not surprised about how skeptical I am when it comes to relationships.
As a highly sensitive (HSP) introvert, the mix of these experiences have allowed me to construct a wall around myself that, if I have it my way, will never be conquered.
To answer your question, yes, I am happier with such security. On top of these defenses I have amassed enough offensive weapons (statistics) to repel any good intentions and concerns that come my way.
Lately I have wondered if I actually get a high from rejecting others before they have a chance to reject me. It’s almost like a form of self-medication.
And then there’s the self-doubt. I am always rejecting compliments and positive-based comments from family and strangers. Often times I simply disagree and feel that, since I know myself better than anyone, my facts are straight and everyone else is just blowing hot air for the sake of societal pressures and habits.

Professionals might note that such mindsets provide the illusion of control, both external and internal locust, and they have some value to this approach.

I just find too much evidence to the contrary.

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Pam

I guess I haven’t been hurt as deeply as you then. I don’t feel any kind of joy from rejecting people or sending them on their way. In fact, its quite the opposite in my case. Although that doesn’t happen often because I don’t let them near enough to even need to reject them. Keep Out and No Trespassing signs still work and no one really has a reason to come here anyway. And for me it happened so gradual, it wasn’t really planned. I just quit answering my phone and didn’t invite people to come see me, and discouraged the ones that mentioned anything about a visit. It didn’t take too long and here I am alone. I am not a shut in as i do have to go out for groceries and food and supplies for my pets, things like that. I see people in town that I used to know but can’t make myself stay to visit, or talk anymore than just small talk, weather, etc. Hearing you I realize that I don’t want to keep living as I do. And I hope I”m not offending you by saying that, it’s just that you have chosen a road that I don’t want to go any further down. I do feel that we all have our choices in life and I understand some of your reasoning, and I certainly am not judging or deciding you are wrong. I only know what I need and want, and not even that very well. I know that I am a good person, at least I try to be, and I have to believe that there are others that think the way I do. I just need to be able to see through the veneer people carry and learn how to not get taken in again by hurtful people. I think I might recognize those traits a lot sooner now, and stop anything like that from becoming part of my life. I am getting tired of my own company and I want to live more free instead of this solitary existence. I thank you for your honest reply, and I hope you can sustain yourself as you wish to. I feel bad that people can hurt others the way you have been hurt, and I hope one day you realize that not everyone is made that way. There are some honest and good people on this earth, it’s just real tough sometimes to tell which are which. Peace to you.

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blake

Dave,

I suppose accepting compliments and praise is in itself a form of vulnerability as it grants others a measure of control over our self esteem. So maybe your current attitude is just a reflection of your decision to withdraw.

But I have to wonder if it doesn’t hold a clue to your experiences.

On the one hand, it’s mathematically impossibly to draw value from a relationship if you discard all positive experience out of mistrust. If they’re simply giving you honest mixed opinions, the negative will pile up until they give the impression of a hateful person out to hurt you.

Or you could be awfulizing – distorting events and comments through the lens of a self image that simply isn’t accurate, then using those awfulized impressions as evidence to support your self image.

Obviously I don’t know your experiences, but if someone dismissed me as an insincere idiot every time I said something nice then turned slightly negative comments into deeply hurtful slights, I would eventually respond by withdrawing – which would then be interpreted as a final unforgivable betrayal. None of which speaks to my trustworthiness as a friend.

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pam

I agree with you Dave. Why put yourself on the line when everyone you know has either lied to you, stepped on your heart, deserted you or betrayed you completely. And it was because you were vulnerable, willing to trust your heart to someone you thought you could be assured would not hurt you. And they don’t hurt gently, they take everything you have inside to give and then walk away laughing. How many times can you live through it before you say, no. Better to learn to enjoy your own company and not leave the door open to all the bad in this world. There is a point when you just can’t trust anymore and I’ve reached it too, I choose not to give anyone else a chance at me. And yes, it gets very lonely at times, we are human and naturally want that closeness but at what cost? Not worth it to me either.

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charlie

I can see where both yourself and Dave are coming from. I tend to think more like you did in your earlier comments. This one seems to come from a place of great hurt and anger. I feel the same at the moment regarding yet another failed attempt at connection. It seems to me that the woman wronged me by telling me half truths and then just dropping me when I pointed them out, turning me into the villain of the peace. Naively, I believe you should be able to say anything to each other, as long as it comes from a place of integrity and interest. However, other people’s sensitivities and ability to be self honest, have to gel with your own. It isn’t really a question of being right or wrong, more about being fair and logical, without condemming, rejecting, abandoning or engulfing. Too much talk and analysis, usually scare, confuses, and ultimately dooms any of my connections. It’s a lonely path, but somehow one that I must choose, though certainly don’t want. The Law of Attraction and karma laws say we get what we are and not what we want. The outer reflects the inner and all that irritating stuff seems relevant, but it’s very punitive and victim blaming. I don’t know the answer for myself, but would love to find some new path or way to feel connected and have purpose and meaning to another, myself and those I care for.

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Yolanda P.

Absolutely loved this article. When you finally allow yourself to be vulnerable in a relationship, no matter how terrfiying it may seem, that’s when you give your relationship a real chance to grow.

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Bernadette Barquet

I cant find the words to express the insightful that it has been to read your article.
Thank you very much.
Sincerly from the bottom of my heart.
Bernadette Barquet.

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Matthew Dahlitz

Great article and love Brené’s work as well. I find in working with couples it is their ability to be vulnerable that is the key to reconnecting – yet also the most difficult and ‘dangerous’ thing to be. Your article wonderfully highlights this very important aspect of healthy relationships.

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heysigmund

Hi Matthew. Thank you for your comment! You’re so right – vulnerability is one of the most difficult and dangerous things to be, which is why it’s the beautiful difference in relationships that work.

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Tracie Z

I’m reading this four years late:-)

Amazing read, finding the strength to accept our vulnerabilities with boundaries is a constant WIP for me. Thank you for this article, I’m going to continue to work on me and this information will most certainly help!

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Mary Lacey

I love this article. I am working with so many 20-somethings on how to be more vulnerable. Growing up and being the first generation to have screens, I am seeing a total disconnect with them from real relationships and connections. I find myself teaching them how to build interpersonal relations more than anything!

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heysigmund

It’s a big one, isn’t it – vulnerability and relationships. I’m pleased you enjoyed the article – thanks for letting me know. It’s important work you’re doing.

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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