The single biggest struggle that plagued me in my past relationships was my inability to be open and vulnerable.
Like a fortress, my mind and heart operated most comfortably closed and guarded, only opening strategically when I saw safety and benefit.
Vulnerability was not in my vocabulary.
I became fantastic (or so I thought) at internalizing the world around me and not sharing anything that would show a hint of vulnerability, what I saw then as weakness.
While simultaneously constructing and maintaining this wall around me, I had a yearning for a deeper intimate connection with another person. It doesn't take a trained professional to see that these two internal players were at odds with each other.
But why was I building this wall around me and shutting myself off to the human connection that I so desperately craved? The honest answer - because if I never opened up about what was really going on in my head and heart it could never be used as a weapon against me…
The human brain is designed to recognize patterns. It’s a survival mechanism. Its what kept the caveman of old from trying to pet the saber tooth tiger, or why a baby only has to touch a hot stove once before you never have to tell them to stay away again.
If something (or someone) triggers a physical or emotional pain, our brain is hard wired to kick in and steer us away from ever having to experience the same pain again, whether its rational or not. Great for keeping us safe from sabretooth tigers, not so great for being open with someone after it has created pain in the past.
Somewhere in my journey of life, I made the association that sharing or being my truly authentic self equaled someone taking it, weaponizing it and using it in such a way that I felt a tremendous amount of pain. I don't think I came across any saber tooth tigers but there was certainly a few hot stoves. I felt the pain then spent the next 20 years constructing my fortress of solitude.
Relationships in my life were fairly one way. I loved to listen to other people. A genuine curiosity always led to the most interesting places with people, but rarely did I divulge much of what truly mattered to me in my world. This served me well in the professional world and with surface level relationships but when it came to intimate relationships, this was not going to fly.
A common theme in my intimate relationships was a lack of openness and willingness to be vulnerable. This manifested itself in things like lacking commitment, intermittent emotional availability, and any time I faced adversity shutting out the world outside so I could go inside and process. All because I would rather hold the emotional weight on my shoulders than risk having my emotions weaponized.
This is not a good way to live. Love and connection are the most enriching needs a human being can meet.
I wrote in one of my earlier posts that my partner in life, Joanna inspired me to seek what it took to have a meaningful and empowering relationship, the second lesson she taught me was how empowering it was to be open. She didn't do this by telling me, she did it by showing me. Never had I felt so safe in being open and vulnerable, because each time I have been and continue to be it is met with open arms, love, and support. Just as we are hard wired to run from the pain, we are hard wired to run to what feels good.
A funny thing happens when you are shown the freedom of vulnerability. You realize that you aren’t nearly as fragile as you thought. You realize that another person giving you the space to be who you really are, also gives you the space for you to realize who it is that you really are. Suddenly there is no need to hide behind a fortress of wall. You realize that the only true pain comes from separation, not connection and the only true risk is not giving the best of yourself to the world. Receiving this is the strength, giving it is the most fufilling gift.
When I figured out what it was that was keeping me behind the walls and how empowering it was to step outside of them, I started sharing this feeling with people - identifying that the reason I had such a challenge with vulnerability, was a fear of whatever I was being vulnerable about being weaponized against me, I was met with a resounding me too.
Rationale or irrational, men or woman, there is a common theme that vulnerability, emotion, dreams, aspirations, fears and doubts will be rejected if shared and if this rejection takes place than we will experience the pain of not being enough. Not enough for our partners, not enough for ourselves, not enough for the world.
I challenge you to ask yourself if in any sort of relationship in life, romance, business, friendships, have you opened up about something that was hard to share with another person. Maybe it was your biggest secret, or a dream your wanted to pursue, maybe it was that you were feeling overwhelmed, or even anxious or depressed?
And if so…
Did you hope that this part of you would be met with connection and support? That by sharing this part of yourself you would be empowered to shrug the weight of your secret, pursue your dream with vigor, or connect with someone who could help you with the overwhelm of the human experience?
How was this met?
Were rejected, thought differently of, called weak, laughed at, told you couldn't do it, to suck it up and deal with it?
Were you met with embrace, love, connection, and support?
Did your vulnerability become a pillar of strength or did you percieve it to be weaponized and used against you to make you feel inadequate and strange?
The more life experience that you have had, the better the chances are that you have had both happen to you. I know I have.
Which experience did you enjoy more? Which experience do you crave more of? What type of person gave you the love and support? What type of person tore you down? Which type of person do you need more of in your life?
Which person does your relationship need more of?
Which person does the world need more of?
Don’t judge, demean, or dampen, there is plenty of that in the world. The world needs more people that allow us to be human. Give the people in your life that gift, give yourself the gift, of listening deeply to one another and meet with embrace, love, connection, and support.
The irony is the true invincibility lays outside of the armor and walls.
"Separation = Suffering."