A Lesson on Being VulnerableWe want to know that we matter. We want to know that we were heard and that what we had to say meant something. ~Oprah Winfrey
I knew I should say something but the thought of opening my mouth to speak terrified me. I sat suffering silently to myself.
The longer I waited for him to pay attention to me, the more agitated I became. Anger, indignity and feelings of rejection spread through my body, heating every inch of me from within.
How dare he ignore me after I had come all this way to spend time with him? Did he expect me to sit here alone all night? How could he possibly not know I was angry?
When I finally mustered up enough courage to share my feelings with him he laughed, told me I was “pouting” and that he didn’t have the energy to help me deal with my “stuff.”
During our brief encounter, he had triggered me in every way possible. He could get so immersed in what he was doing that it felt to me that he would forget I was even there. Even when we were together, I felt incredibly alone and ignored.
Because of this, I had never felt safe being vulnerable around him. I stuffed down my true feelings for fear of “scaring him away” and pretended I was OK with the way things were. I craved a deeper connection but settled for the rare moments when he would look up and notice me.
His response confirmed what I already knew; he wasn’t even willing to hear my truth. Somehow, I was able to accept this and found the courage to let go having learned a valuable lesson.
Emotional safety is necessary for me to feel comfortable opening up and becoming vulnerable.
Are you Afraid to Be Vulnerable?
For us to feel comfortable sharing our deepest emotions, we must feel safe. We need to feel as if the person we’re preparing to disclose sensitive information to will not judge, criticize or reject us for the often “not so pretty” emotions that are a natural part of being human.
We all have a tendency to protect ourselves from things that may hurt us. But, because our emotional safety is not usually something we are aware of, we often go through our lives unconsciously reacting to perceived emotional threats.
Feeling unsafe around someone or something that can hurt you is adaptive. However, if we do not become aware of our emotional “guard dog,” we can indiscriminately shut out people and experiences because we are too afraid.
The Body Doesn’t Lie
My feelings of emotional danger show up in my body. I feel a tightening in my chest. My hands start tingling. My breathing becomes incredibly shallow. I close up and shut down.
As mature and sophisticated as I like to think I am, when I feel unsafe, I regress and become a scared little girl. Relationships with men are where I am triggered the most.
Before I was made aware of these patterns, I wasn’t unable to articulate these feelings. I just knew that certain things made me uncomfortable.
Recognizing that discomfort was essential, but it was finally being able to label this as feeling emotionally unsafe that added another layer to my self-understanding and allowed me to go deeper in the processing of my emotions.
Not only was I responding to what I perceived to be the current threat, my feelings were conditioned by specific experiences in my childhood that I had suppressed. I began to realize that growing up, I also felt ignored and unheard.
There was never any doubt that my mother loved me but dealing with her own depression left little room for me to express my own negative emotions. I always felt I had to be extra “good,” “happy” and every other positive adjective I could think of.
I learned to hide all the “bad stuff” but subconsciously yearned for a feeling of safety — one that would create a space for complete authenticity. These revelations have allowed me to begin dealing with things I was unaware of that affect my interactions with other people.
An Opportunity for Deeper Connections
Whenever I begin to feel myself closing up in response to some sort of trigger, I settle into the feeling, take a deep breath and focus on keeping myself open. In these moments, I have the opportunity to be vulnerable and develop deeper connections.
Think about a time when you felt emotionally unsafe.
- What were the circumstances?
- How did you feel?
- How did your body react?
Now, think about a time you felt emotionally safe.
- What/who makes you feel safe?
- How do you feel when you are safe?
Use the answers to these questions as a barometer of your emotional safety in moments when you would like to open up and be vulnerable. By noticing this, you can share more appropriately at the right times, creating more meaningful connections with those you love.