We spend a great deal of our time in life protecting ourselves from perceived hurts from life and from others. Some of us take on the role of being a victim and so we go through life over sharing and being over vulnerable with others, bonding over our wounds and almost unconsciously asking to be hurt again. Others of us take on more of a role of everything being ok, and not easily asking for help and not easily sharing our true and vulnerable, underbelly selves. Neither extreme is one which is helpful to us, and yet we developed those ways of coping from our early life experiences. Which way of coping do you find yourself most resonating with?
Both ways actually keep us from being truly vulnerable in a life affirming way. They are defenses built to protect us from hurts. Defenses could also be called fences. These fences keep others out from our hurt selves and keep us in, really not allowing our further growth and expansion. We developed these fences as a way of surviving. Our old instinctive brains, our young developing brains, are all about surviving in a world that is perceived as dangerous. To us in this young developing stage of life, it is all about surviving and belonging. We need to belong in order to survive. We are willing to do almost anything in order to be part of our family group and to survive. This includes giving a part of us up who is seen as different or bad from our caretakers. It also includes building fences around us so we don’t feel the pain and hurt and so we can live. This old primitive brain then continues to rule us in life as we get older unless we are able to learn how to recognize what is happening and learn how to talk with our young selves as well as our older selves, creating a continuous dialogue between our old primitive brain, and our brain which is aware and rationally relating to us, to others and to events and things around us in the present tense.
Our old brains get stuck in the past and don't recognize that what is occurring now in our lives is not the same as occurred when we were young and experiencing hurt or trauma. Learning to be vulnerable with ourselves and others is a part of learning how to build a bridge between our primitive brains about survival and belonging to our newer, rational brains which can take in and recognize that what is happening now is in the present and not necessarily related to the past. What this looks like in relationships with others, is that we are able to recognize when we find ourselves withholding a part of ourselves and our feelings and thoughts from a partner or friend or colleague, etc., and are consciously and unconsciously protecting us from sharing how we really feel and how we really think.
I have one client who is over vulnerable. She over shares her issues and what is going on with her and how she is feeling. This over sharing comes from not trusting herself or knowing herself very well and identifying with being a victim. We don't always consciously realize when we are identifying with a victim mentality. This can come from having someone in the family, as she does, who hasn't led a good life, in her perception. She has an aunt who is mentally challenged from early birth trauma, and she has a sister who really struggles in life. This woman almost feels as if she has to struggle, and has to make things hard and doesn't understand why. This way of behaving seems to be vulnerable, but it too is actually a way she has learned to act that in fact prevents her from knowing her own self, her own true strengths, and vulnerabilities.
I have another client who seems so defended and like he has to be strong and be the fixer and the person people come to for help, not realizing he is not really being his true self and vulnerable with them in terms of being with his feelings. In fact, he is wounded, as we all are, and works very hard to cover up his wounds until he can't anymore. He attracts women to him who thinks he can fix them. Then when his vulnerabilities show up, they don't know how to handle it, and they leave him. His mother was an alcoholic who could be an out of control drunk, so to speak. His father was worried and asked his son, this young boy, to let him know when his mom acted up again. He did so, loving his father, and his mother and his father confronted his mom. Mom then knew her son had told her, felt betrayed, and turned on her son. She basically disowned her son; that is how it felt to him as a young boy. So, trying to please his father and trying to help his mother, he ended up losing his mother. As he grew up he became a busy fixer. This worked well except for when his issues reared their head in relationships with women in particular. There comes a period where his fears of betrayal and abandonment become a problem, and these women don't understand, feel betrayed themselves, and the relationships end. As this man learns to feel his feelings and to be vulnerable with himself, he can then be truly vulnerable in a relationship with others.
We all have a little of both within us. Some of us have more of the victim aspect, and some of us have more of the openly defended aspect. Learning how to be truly vulnerable with us and with our feelings is the path to our healing and living more whole, vital, and healthy lives.
Change Your Story/Change Your Life
Take a moment and breathe deeply. Get into the rhythm of your breath. Think about which you resonate with the most; the openly defended, or the openly too vulnerable victim aspect. Think of an example in your life where you had to defend yourself from someone or some thing. What was happening at that time? How did you feel about yourself? What, if anything, were you afraid of or anxious about? How did you respond, and how did the other person who's involved respond? How did you feel afterward?
Now, go through that event or conversation again in your mind, but this time imagine yourself responding differently. Imagine saying your true feelings and thoughts to yourself and to the other. Imagine how it feels to you in being able to do that, and imagine how it might feel to the other involved. See and hear their reaction to your truth. How does that feel inside of you; any different than what actually did happen? Remember how this felt to you, and then begin to deeply breathe again in 2 or 3 deep breaths, and then come back to the present.
Write down how this was for you and what you learned so that it becomes more available to you. Again, would love to hear how this worked for you if you would like to share your experience.