Vulnerability

I’ve been very drawn to the concept of vulnerability ever since Shu told me about Brene Brown. I love how it unites us. Lissa Rankin wrote a blog post that i will share here because it really resonated with me.

Ok. It’s a bit too long to copy and paste. I’ll link it here.

The best parts i will copy here though:

*As long as we don’t let ourselves be needy, we cannot truly support someone else who is in need.

*To express our needs feels vulnerable, so it’s important to develop trust with those who will help you get your needs met. Vulnerability without safety is a recipe for trauma. True intimacy requires both. If you’re opening yourself to someone who cannot hold your vulnerability with compassion, it’s masochism. If you are repetitively refusing to meet the needs of someone you love when they are lying before you, naked and vulnerable, it’s sadistic.

*No matter how much we try to demonstrate loving behavior with others, if we are in denial of our own vulnerability and neediness, if we judge our needs as weaknesses and reject or exile those parts of ourselves, then we will be unable to show up with true compassion for others when they need us.

*One person’s need is not a criticism of the one who you’re asking for help from. It is simply an expression of need, desire, vulnerability, and the natural interdependency of human beings.

We All Have at Least One Inner Child Inside

Even if we have the most noble intentions of service and compassion, when we lack compassion for the wounded, child-like, scared, hurting, angry, or protective parts in ourselves, we will consciously or unconsciously reject others when we perceive them as needy.

But here’s the kicker, beloveds. We are human beings. We are biologically, emotionally, and energetically tribal. We need one another, now more than ever. The sooner we learn how to express our needs without entangling in codependence, the sooner we will come together in unity with those in our tribes who cannot only help uplift us; they will help us survive the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Part of the transformational growth process is learning how to meet our own needs, self-soothe, find our center in the midst of chaos, comfort ourselves when we are in need, and re-parent ourselves, allowing the wise, Divine part of ourselves that I call your “Inner Pilot Light” to give our wounded parts what they may not have gotten from Mom and Dad. The ability to interrupt the perpetual victim story and meet our own needs changes everything, because it makes us self-reliant and resilient and interrupts the pattern of thinking that comfort and safety lives outside ourselves and that we have to constantly grasp for it or cling to it.

However, in the “spiritual” realms of relating, we can take this wisdom too far, turning it into yet another way the culture perpetuates the Lone Ranger story of independence. Now we’re back to John Wayne, James Dean, and the Marlboro Man, only now they’re dressed up in holy drag.

So how can we be honest with ourselves, attune to our needs, and communicate what we need to those we can trust to hold our needs safe? How can we take the stigma off being “needy” and interrupt our codependence patterns? How can we get our needs met without going too far and slipping into narcissism? Such are the challenges of these times.

This requires the ability to hold a particular paradox. You’re a human being, so there are times when you’re going to be needy. And . . . you can take care of yourself because you have within you this wise mentor, parent, and beloved who can hold you in great arms of love when nobody else can. Both are true at the same time. At some point in your development, being self-aware enough to know what you need and being brave enough to take the risk to ask for help from your trusted inner circle when you’re needy may be the bravest thing you’ll ever do.

One guy said: “My therapist says that when I was living in the orphanage as a child, I wasn’t allowed to have needs and I wasn’t getting my emotional needs met. So your request for emotional support triggers that wounded, abandoned little boy in me. Because I don’t ever let myself be needy, I haven’t learned how to show up for you when you need me. Really though, I don’t know how to show up for ME when I’m needy. So I have to work on that. My therapist says I need to learn to attune to my own needs and learn how to ask for help when I need it.” 

It’s not just me or the men in my life that struggle with this unhealthy relationship to neediness. Whether you’re male or female, many of us have been trained to “man up” when we are in need. A “real man” (or a strong, independent woman) is supposed to just stuff emotions, never expose vulnerability, and stand strong for damsels/dudes in distress without admitting that he/she is afraid of the oncoming train too!

Just imagine what happens when someone who has been conditioned to “man up” feels needy or vulnerable. Imagine how he feels when he has to say, “I can’t handle this myself. I need you to help out with the bills for a while,” or “Life is spinning out of control and I need you to help me figure out how to handle this.” We may make jokes about guys who won’t stop to ask for directions, but imagine how someone who has been conditioned to always be in control feels when he gets lost and has to ask for directions? Imagine when a guy gets fired and, on top of his own fear and shame, he knows he might get shamed by his wife, his friends, and his parents. Imagine how a “man up” man or woman feels when she loses all of the family’s money in some Ponzi scheme from some cunning, manipulative, corrupt Madoff-type guy, when she has to go home and tell her family, “I lost it all. We have to sell the house.” Just think how that Madoff-type guy feels when he has to tell his wife and children that he was so greedy that he hurt other people and got caught and is on his way to jail.

Imagine how a very masculine woman feels when she feels so weak that she has to ask someone to make her a cup of tea. Imagine how the very masculine female doctor feels when she has to say, “I can’t handle showing up for my patients right now because I’m so depressed I want to kill myself. Imagine how she feels when she can’t show up for her sick partner or her differently-abled child because she’s just not strong enough to take care of anyone but herself in that moment. Imagine when she says to herself, “You are worthless. You are weak. You are nothing if you can’t man up and handle this yourself.” Imagine her feeling crushed under the weight of all that pressure to be in control, to stay strong, to keep it together, to force function.

Now imagine if he was strong enough to say, “I need help.” Imagine if she was strong enough to admit, “I have a need.” Can you see how vulnerable it might be for him or for her to admit that vulnerability or ask for what she needs?

Now imagine crushing that vulnerability with the message that “spiritual people” can fulfill all their own needs and shouldn’t reach out to others for support, that neediness is a sign of spiritual weakness.

What if this is the ultimate strength?

Neediness as a Gateway to Intimacy

Without permission to be needy, we will never be intimate. We won’t be intimate with ourselves, with other humans, or with the Divine. When we’re needy, we feel humbled, and that humility opens our hearts and brings us closer together, reminding us that we are interdependent beings, linked together at our roots. We need one another, and the science supports this. In fact, our biology shows us over and over that our health suffers when we do not let ourselves need one another. As I described in my latest TEDx talk here, we are tribal beings who wither without social support, community, and others who we can care for and who care for our needs in return, not in a codependent way, but in a healthy inter-dependent paradox of self-sufficiency and neediness. When we don’t allow ourselves or each other to have needs, we suffer from the kind of existential loneliness that predisposes us to cancer, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Willingness to be vulnerable, to be self-aware, to ask for what we need from those who want to take care of one another—may, in fact, be the ultimate sign of strength. It may be the only way we will survive what is coming in this transition time on our planet.

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