Vulnerability is something that we often think of and talk about within the context of relationship. After all, vulnerability is the state of being open to possible attack, either physical or emotional – and where else could that happen except in our closest relationships? At The Center for Healthy Relationships, we think of being vulnerable in relationship as one means to the end you hope for with your partner: deeper connection, enhanced feelings of safety, greater intimacy.
But what makes one person open to the possibility of being vulnerable while another rejects the possibility outright?
The answer may surprise you.
While it is true that in order to make yourself vulnerable in relationship, you must believe that your partner loves and respects you enough to be gentle with your feelings, it is also true that your fear of opening yourself up to your partner may have nothing to do with your partner.
Your ability to be vulnerable with our partner is directly related to your ability to practice Empathetic Self-ReflectionTM when you are alone with your own thoughts. What does this mean?
Empathetic Self-ReflectionTM is the ability to listen to your thoughts about yourself, observe the feelings that result from those thoughts and practice compassion toward yourself. It means that you understand that you deserve kindness, even within the privacy of your own thoughts. With this understanding, you are able to investigate any self-critical thoughts and compassionately look for replacement thoughts which lead to more secure feelings within yourself.
When you are not able to practice this kind of compassion toward yourself, your expectation is that no one will. You see, it’s always hard to believe that anyone would treat you better than you believe you should be treated.
Translated to couples’ therapy this means that during the work that’s meant to draw you closer to your partner by inviting you to share yourself more openly, you’ll feel an internal resistance and avoid letting your partner see what you, yourself, don’t want to face. This is how vulnerability with yourself and safety within yourself – or the lack of it – shows up in your ability to be emotionally open and vulnerable with your partner.
If this discussion is striking a chord of truth for you, maybe it’s time to think about your inner dialogues in terms of how they impact you in relationship. Perhaps it’s time to start re-thinking your relationship with yourself.
Here’s a test to help you figure out the degree to which you can be safely vulnerable with yourself. See how long you can go without any external noise in your environment. Leave the television off. Drive without the radio. Make an effort to live in silence for a while.
Within the silence, listen for your thoughts. Pay attention to the feelings that are coming up in your body. How do you talk to yourself? If you find yourself uncomfortable being alone in the silence, this may be the place for you to begin before you are ready to do meaningful relationship work with another person.
If you have further questions or would like to get started, please feel free to reach out to Tamara at 626-657-0061 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.