I have been doing a great deal of thinking about the relationship of vulnerability and love. Believe it or not, you are the most vulnerable when you are experiencing love. Years and years ago, I used to believe love was simply an elusive feeling, more of an ideal than a reality. Love was simply a fascination that you felt at the beginning of a relationship but never achieved in a way that was portrayed in the movies or in romance novels. In hindsight, I believe the “love” that I felt was merely a combination of physical attraction, a fondness for the girl’s personality and the security of being in a relationship. What I have since learned is that true love requires an additional ingredient more powerful than any other factor: vulnerability!
During my typical teenage years up until only just a few years ago, I engaged in the usual defense mechanisms of artificial confidence, hiding my insecurities and holding in my emotions both to protect my self-image and eliminate judgments from others. I wasn’t ready to reveal my true self on the basis that people might use that information to hurt or better yet, to destroy me.
Vulnerability plays an important role in any relationship. People need to feel needed. They need to feel they fill a special place in their partner’s lives that no one else can. They want to be missed when they are gone and celebrated when they return. Women forget the men have these feelings and the men forget women have these exact same feelings. One step further, emotional need can be said to be the willingness and the ability to allow vulnerability within you. Both men and women are guilty of confusing vulnerability with weakness. Let’s get this straight: VULNERABILITY DOES NOT EQUAL WEAKNESS! Individuals with true courage and strength will allow themselves to be vulnerable.
Emotional need is a requirement in any relationship. A relationship, without need, will only result in a superficial relationship at best. Need seems to instill in us the desire to carry on under certain circumstances where desire alone would not. It is not enough to love, desire and respect your partner through the hard times. You must also NEED them. For you to allow vulnerability and love, the part that I’m talking about letting down or letting go of is the perceptible hardness or resistance that we experience against another person or a situation. We usually experience this as a type of armor. This “self-armoring” can inflict a huge amount of pain and suffering to you. At the time, it may seem as if it is doing a world of good by keeping harm out, but in reality it is actually cutting you off from your own love. It creates a very rigid or clamped-down feeling that is not only uncomfortable but also cuts off any possibility of feeling something positive with the other person.
Vulnerability, even thinking about it can be frightening to some people. Actually, a person must be strong to allow himself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability allows others to know us, who we genuinely are. Vulnerability allows negotiation. It allows an opening between conflicting needs.
Unfortunately, many people have been raised from the time they are young to deny their vulnerability. Many were raised by parents who could not be vulnerable. Many parents believe their children’s poor behaviors are directed at them and become angry and defensive in their parenting behaviors. When children are raised by defensive parents, they learn how to be defensive. Adults who are on the defensive cannot allow themselves to be open and vulnerable enough to relate to another adult.
Being vulnerable is being open. To love others, we must be open. When we are open, we allow our hearts to feel. When our heart is open to feeling love, it will also feel pain when love is withdrawn.
Vulnerability is part of process of empathy. To empathize with someone we need to be able to feel them, to know what they are feeling. This is part of good enough relationships. Being open allows us to be affected by one another and is vital to connection. When we allow ourselves to be hurt and feel pain, we are much more likely to recognize another’s pain. Sensitivity is important in this context; sensitivity to ourselves and others. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we understand humility.
Often, highly defended people have been so deeply hurt, they can no longer allow themselves to be vulnerable. Some may have been raised in a situation where everyone was defensive. Many who are highly defensive also become grandiose. Grandiosity, needing to believe we are somehow bigger, better, more important than we are, is an illusion. A sad illusion built on unrecognized and acknowledged pain.
When we allow ourselves to feel our pain, and work through it, we learn important lessons about ourselves and others. Our ability to empathize with others who are in pain, increases and we become better able to help them. We can be genuinely helpful when we can hear others. Only when we can fully listen to others, with every fiber of all our senses, can we be helpful to them. Respect involves listening.
Being attuned to others requires us to be vulnerable. We need to be able to allow the other to have control. We need to listen and empathize. Our ability to do that is built on our having felt and worked through our pain. Tempering a sword involves putting it into a fire and hammering it. A tempered individual is a vulnerable one. One who has allowed herself to go through her pain and healing process. As Marcel Proust said, “One heals suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”
In closing, if you really are vulnerable, you are loving. You can’t help but be loving. And if you’re very loving, you can’t help but feel vulnerable. If you allow yourself to feel, you heart is completely open.