Being Vulnerable to Love
3 suggestions to help you be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is a popular topic of conversation these days. In fact, at this time, Brene Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” has had more than 53 million views. In spite of all the talk and of how much we may want to be vulnerable, especially in our romantic relationships, it’s not easy to drop our defenses and open ourselves up to another person.
My book, Daring to Love, looks at the different reasons we push love away. One is that love makes us feel vulnerable, which then scares us. We often react by withdrawing into ourselves, or by withholding our loving behavior, or by trying to control our partner’s loving behavior. All to defend against feeling vulnerable.
Obviously, we can strive to control our defensive reactions. We can resist isolating ourselves, we can interrupt our withholding behavior, and we can stop trying to control our partner. But there are also behaviors that we can engage in that will help us be more vulnerable: being generous, asking for what you want, and expressing and accepting affection.
Being generous—that is, giving freely of ourselves, our time, and our energy—kindles vulnerability. Generosity is an outward expression of sensitivity to and compassion for our partner. When an act of generosity grows out of this type of attunement to and appreciation of our partner’s uniqueness, it gratifies both parties.
When we extend consideration and kindness in response to our partner’s needs, as an expression of compassion and empathy, we interrupt the withholding pattern that restricts emotional exchanges between us. Therefore, it’s advisable to try to be giving in situations where we would normally withhold. It is also important to be generous without any expectation of reciprocal treatment. If our actions are designed to create an obligation, garner favor, or maintain a superior position, then they are not truly generous and will ultimately be hurtful to us and our partner.
Acts of generosity can take many forms. Money and other material gifts are the most easily measurable, but they can have less emotional and psychological impact than other types of generosity. Generous people actively look for opportunities to respond to a need in friends and loved ones. It can be as simple as listening when someone needs to talk.
In a close relationship, acts of generosity involve an equal exchange between partners, with benevolence on one side and receptiveness on the other. By this definition, receiving is also a generous action—it is an act of love to graciously accept and appreciate affection, kind deeds, or assistance.
Being generous with our words, our time, and our affection can also help us overcome a negative self-image as well as a cynical, distrustful attitude toward others. Altruistic actions increase feelings of self-esteem and make us feel worthwhile.
Ask for what you want.
Asking for what you want helps a person be vulnerable. It challenges our self-protective defenses because it forces us to turn to someone else to gratify our needs. It disrupts the underlying attitude that I can take care of myself; I don’t need anything from anyone else.
Asking for what you want can be difficult because feelings of shame often accompany wanting or needing something from another person. Shame is a painful, primitive emotion that originates in early childhood from incidents when basic needs were not fulfilled. Children are left feeling deeply ashamed of their desire for affection and for wanting to be touched, loved, seen, and understood. To avoid the humiliation of ever again feeling unloved or being seen as unlovable, children become desperate to cover up any signs of wanting, and as adults they continue to expect humiliation and shaming if they ask for what they want.
In a close relationship, we cannot be vulnerable unless we are willing to overcome our resistance to asking directly for what we want. Making a direct request for what we want allows our partner to know us and know what to offer us. Being vulnerable involves being willing to risk rejection, disappointment, or frustration. And there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from asking directly for what you want: as an adult, we can tolerate being disappointed or frustrated when a request is declined. Asking directly for what we want will make us stronger as we become increasingly aware that we are no longer that helpless child who once suffered shame and humiliation.
Another benefit of being aware of what you want is that when you know what you want and have a feeling for what you need, you know who you are. Without awareness of our basic wants and needs, we have no way of knowing what is important or meaningful to us, and therefore have no way of guiding our life. Knowing what we want is fundamental to realizing ourselves as an individual and asking for what we want is crucial to maintaining our vulnerability in our relationship.
Express and accept affection.
When we offer and accept affection in our intimate relationship, we encourage our vulnerability and discourage our controlling defenses. As we participate in the mutual give-and-take of loving exchanges with our partner, neither of us is likely to exert control over the other. When we are freely giving and when we are receptive to affection, we are open and undefended with our partner. Affection, both verbal and physical, is an outward expression of generosity and a reflection of asking for needs and desires to be fulfilled.
When you first initiate these constructive behaviors, you will probably feel anxious and uncomfortable. You may feel like a fool. You may want to protect yourself. You may feel like you are putting yourself in a position to be hurt or taken advantage of. But if you are steadfast in your resolve and maintain your plan of action, your anxiety and doubts will subside, and you will begin to reap the benefits of being vulnerable to love.Tags: acy, affection, into, love, marriage, relationships, vulnerability, vulnerable