In our current political and sociological climate, it is difficult to feel safe and secure. For many of us, our entire world is turned upside down. We don’t feel supported by our government, or many other people we once thought accepted us. More than ever, we need stability with our partners, we crave connection and long for understanding. My question is, are we promoting what we most desire? Have we been opening to our partners during this challenging time or are we subconsciously isolating ourselves from them? Whether we like it or not, we are all especially vulnerable right now. We can use this vulnerability to expand our relationships or damage them.
We choose a partner for many reasons, they make us laugh, our goals are compatible, we share the same dreams, we work well together, family, sex, recreation, they make our hearts happy, they make us feel safe and loved, we have someone to rely on, we don’t feel so alone, life feels better when they are around, etc.…. We all look for a combination of these things. Our relationships may have a solid foundation and we expect that it will hold strong on its own. The problem is that when adversity sets in, life gets hard, our social structure and safety are at unstable and our freedom is at risk; things get more complicated. We pretend that our partner doesn’t know our vulnerability at these times, that we are strong, even when we feel weak. We expect them to support and nurture us, but how can they when we haven’t talked to them about what’s going on inside of us. We can not assume that all of us are processing this discord in the same way, that’s not fair or logical.
It is at the most existentially challenging times that we work tremendously hard to keep everything in order within ourselves, and we may think we are doing a fabulous job at it…our partners would probably disagree. Our frustration with the world, one another and ourselves reflects in the in our relationships. We may think that depression, anxiety, withdrawal, anger and frustration are private affairs, but they show in many ways we interact with our loved ones. And when we are emotionally reactive, we forget how difficult it is for our partner to give a supportive response. In this situation, our darkest parts have taken the lead. It’s hard to recognize it sometimes, because we are already in a heightened emotional state, and it is murkier than a direct conversation. Uncomfortable feelings of alienation often ensue leaving us feeling isolated, causing more of the darkness to ooze out; creating a cycle of more and more separation. This cycle seriously damages our relationships without us even realizing it.
How do we maintain expansive connections that strengthen us when we are constantly bombarded by societal negatives? I propose that it is necessary to practice a conscious vulnerability with our partners; making choices to share our raw, dark, deep feelings and thoughts with our partner in a controlled situation. Outwardly expressing this does bring up insecurities about being weak, misunderstood and/or abandoned. Why would we want to create more of a feeling of insecurity when we are already in a state of unrest? Well, because we are leaking our emotional and mental ooze into our relationships and on to our partners anyway. We think that we hold these parts of ourselves as a big heavy secret, and that by not specifically saying anything, we are protecting them further burdens. But, guess what? We’re not hiding anything. The problem is that if we think we are hiding it, we are not controlling it and it will inevitably come out in unhealthy and destructive ways.
How do we practice conscious vulnerability? First, we wait until the storm has simmered down; in other words, when we are not in crisis mode. Usually after there has been a storm we are more fully aware of what is going on inside us, the dark thoughts and feelings are clear. When we are no longer in a state of heightened emotional urgency, but before we forget the depth of our feelings and thoughts, we ask for our partners full attention. Making it clear that we are making a conscious effort to be vulnerable and that it is very hard. But that we trust them and want to share some parts of us that are difficult to express. Then give them specific ways in which they can support us during and after the conversation. One of the biggest reasons we don’t express vulnerability is we are afraid that won’t respond well to it, exemplifying the original hardship. We need to genuinely asks ourselves if we have ever told them the way in which we want them to respond? Telling them exactly what would make us feel safer when we are being consciously vulnerable changes the entire dynamic. Finally, we pay very close attention to how our partner is “actually” responding. The fact is that in a vulnerable space we all expect negatives and may project them even when they are not there. Choosing the right emotional state to express vulnerability, expressing our difficulty in doing so, speaking our needs and expectations of the receiving partner, and being very internally conscious of a negative filter give your partner the freedom to be supportive.
When we open on those deepest levels of ourselves and are not rejected, it facilitates authentic relationships. Releasing constrictions of our most sacred, loving and beautiful parts. Building trust with our partners; opening ourselves to a more expansive connection with them and ourselves. Creating more stability and an even stronger support structure. Also, the more we become consciously vulnerable, the more we are true to ourselves. And the more we are expressing what is authentically us, the more freedom we give to ourselves and our partner.
Mastering how to be vulnerable with your loved ones is only part of the equation. How do we become fully aware of how we respond to their vulnerability? And how do we guide them towards expression without judgement or constriction? First, we need to become aware of our own feelings and reactions when we are hearing something we don’t want to hear or makes us uncomfortable. Part of being vulnerable is showing the parts we hold shame around. When we unconsciously shame our partner for what they are expressing, it is playing into their fear of being rejected. Thus, shutting down the openness that they are being brave enough to broach with us. If we get defensive, or take what they are saying personally, we won’t truly hear what they are trying to express. If we can come from a place of genuine curiosity, compassion and loyalty to their growth and happiness; we will allow a safe space for them to open to us. Enabling a process that will help them bloom into a version of themselves that embodies authenticity and a greater ability to love fully. It’s a win/win situation.
Whether being consciously vulnerable or allowing our partners to be, it feels unsafe and scary at first. Many times, the last thing we want to do is feel less safe when we are overwhelmed and insecure already. The thing we need to understand is that we are already creating difficulty when our “stuff” is not dealt with on a conscious level. By not making the choice to be vulnerable we could be unconsciously sabotaging what could be a more abundant and supportive relationship. When we allow a more open relationship on both ends we enable one another to be more fully themselves. Being consciously vulnerable is very empowering and can help us get through even the worst administration and threats to our existence. We have a choice to be open or to perpetuate feelings of isolation. We have a choice on whether our relationships expand in the face of diversity. We have the opportunity, right now, to connect on a deeper level, support one another more fully and love bigly.
Dawn Celeste McGregor is a relationship coach and human rights activist. Please visit her coaching website: expansiveconnections.com.