The need to express and start managing vulnerability 

Everyone wants a partner who is happy, content, and secure in themselves. What everyone may not know is that to reach this pinnacle of well-being, we need the opportunities to express our vulnerability. And once we find those opportunities, we need to be emotionally supported in this place to keep managing vulnerability.

Do you meet vulnerability with understanding and care?

One thing that’s particularly troubling for someone in a relationship, is when they do express vulnerability, it is not met with understanding or care.  

Even worse – when there is a negative reaction, and a turning away, and even more devastating shaming. This is very confusing for the vulnerable one.  

Familiar questions you may ask yourself:

  • What does this response mean?  
  • Does my partner not love me?
  • Are they angry with me?  
  • Do I disgust them?  
  • Am I a disappointment? 

Developed coping mechanisms from childhood 

Often we’ve learned bad habits of expressing and responding to vulnerability from childhood.

Some of us have developed coping mechanisms in the face of another’s vulnerability. Especially if we had to deal with a parent’s emotional baggage as a child.  

Vulnerability can be such a powerful and overwhelming experience, that it triggers unconscious and automatic defence mechanisms in us: To protect us against the tyranny of unwanted emotional caretaking. Perhaps it unconsciously reminds us of the emotional labour thrust upon us as children by our parents.

Disarming our defences 

We all need to be able to recognize these patterns in ourselves and find ways to circumvent these automatic reactions to disarm our defences.  

How? By overriding our automatic negative emotions to activate the Care System required to show empathy. And then we can demonstrate love in the face of a partner’s vulnerability.

Soothing others and ourselves 

Think of the example of a parent unable to console a crying baby. In this case, appropriate emotional labour is necessary and required.  Unlike what we may have experienced as a child ourselves:  Our parents burdening us; or alternatively, being a burden.  Both oppressive experiences.

We may feel like throwing up our hands and run screaming from the room – away from the baby.  

The anxiety and frustration of not knowing what to do feels scary. But, we persevere amidst the angst of the baby that has no words. We soothe the baby and ourselves as best we can.  Knowing our comfort and safe presence is sometimes the best we can do. 

Being alone is the worst part 

Let’s face it – most of the vulnerability we feel comes from events in our childhood (that many of us don’t even remember). These situations involved emotionally being cracked open involuntarily, resulting in a lack of protection by the adults in our lives. Ultimately, many children get taken advantage of and manipulated – completely outside of the awareness of their unwitting caregivers.  

And that’s not the biggest problem. 

What creates the deepest wounds is when the people we count on and depend on to take care of us don’t recognize our vulnerability or the hurt. Or worse, they know we’ve been hurt, but they turn away or shut us down anyway.  Out of fear? Their own shame? Likely many reasons…    

Being in that hurt place alone is the worst part. That moment when our family or community let us down, hardening and jading us. This in turn can damage not only us, but our future partners and family. We are collectively deeply disappointed by those appointed to protect our vulnerability. So many of us are sadly cloaked in an emotional bulletproof vest.  

No wonder hope, faith, and safety are difficult to find. 

Building a “we” in our everyday lives

Perhaps the only way we can generate the ‘us’ and ‘we’ mentality in our community is if we start to build it in our homes. We are called to nurture the protection of the we/us in our family relationships by paying attention, prioritizing, and attending to managing vulnerability.

How can we build a ‘we’ in our everyday lives?  

What could this look like?

To engage in this conversation further with the help of our professional services, contact us.

Kathlyn McHugh RCC, RSW Counselling Practice takes place at the Vitality Clinic in the West Shore Area, close to Victoria BC.

Visit the website at: Home – The Vitality Clinic