Vulnerability is being exposed to the possibility of physical or emotional harm. It’s gambling with the tenderest parts of yourself. Vulnerability is a courageous act of allowing your whole self to be fully seen and heard.
Being vulnerable tells others you value them so much that you’re willing to walk through your fears and insecurities in order to make a meaningful connection with them on the other side. It’s not just talk – it’s a demonstration of your desire to relate with them. Vulnerability is a gift your heart gives to another. It is the foundation of trust. Being deeply known and seen for everything you are is the only place where true love and intimacy can grow. There is nothing like it in this world and it cannot be bought or replaced.
This is why, as my friend Dane Crockford said, “Vulnerability is the price of admission to a real relationship.” I’d like to explore the depth of this wisdom with you now.
Being Seen and Heard
Human beings have an inherent need to be seen and heard. “Mommy, look at me! Look at me!” Kids will show you all kinds of mundane shit with palpable excitement. They’ll tell you a twenty-seven minute long story about basically nothing with unwavering giddiness. Why are children so stoked?! It has nothing to do with what they’re showing you or telling you. It is 100% pure elation at the prospect of being seen and heard.
They are finding out, in real time, whether or not they are lovable, valued, good enough or if they matter. The bar is being set for the self-worth that will largely determine the course of the rest of their lives on earth.
Not Being Seen and Heard
There are countless ways to not be seen and heard during childhood. Dr. Jonice Webb describes many of them with brilliant clarity in her book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Many parents are busy working, raising other siblings, running a household, and doing, doing, doing. A ton of parents get divorced shortly after procreating. Some are injured, mentally ill, depressed, addicted, taking care of a dying parent or a special-needs sibling. Still others are narcissists, authoritarians, and sociopaths. Some parents die or otherwise completely abandon the family. So many ways to be physically and emotionally unavailable!
Note that it’s possible to have two loving, physically present parents who gave you all the things you ever needed and wanted, but who just weren’t emotionally attuned to you. They checked all the boxes and passed inspection as efficient parental units. But they didn’t see or hear the real you because maybe they had a stronger relationship with the idea of you (some preconceived notion of who their child was supposed to be).
Children adapt to being unseen and unheard in usually one of two ways: “one-up” or “one-down.”
This child adapts to the situation by becoming more seeable and hearable. They continue shouting, “Mommy, look at me! Look at me!” for the next eighty years of painfully unsatisfying approval-seeking. These are often the most successful, accomplished, charismatic, and ostensibly perfect people you’ve ever met in your life. Unfortunately, many of them never heal the emptiness they feel inside because there usually isn’t much on the outside to suggest there’s a problem.
These people learned that, to be seen and heard, they had to be something other than themselves. They had to be exaggerated, extravagant, ostentatious, or perfect. Had to perform, achieve, win, dominate. Prove their worth by any means necessary. Their authentic self wasn’t garnering any love and attention, so it was jettisoned as dead weight.
Here are your avoidants, perfectionists, and narcissists. They learned how to gain the attention of others by accomplishing a bunch of meaningless shit while their souls withered away in the darkness. They are still not truly seen or heard, by others or even themselves! These people have long since forgotten what it means to be or to love themselves. So they keep trying to win their worth. Compulsively.
That’s not vulnerability.
This child adapts to the situation by becoming less seeable and hearable. They conclude that they are not worth being seen and heard or that it’s just not safe. They attempt to disappear completely because being invisible is less painful than being ignored.
Just like the one-uppers, these people learned that they aren’t good enough and that being themselves would get them nowhere. However, the one-downers often have the added burdens of helplessness and low self-esteem. Therefore, their outward responses look drastically different from a one-up adaptation, although their ability to share themselves authentically with others is just as atrophied.
Here are the codependents, people-pleasers, and anxiously attached. While a one-upper is trying to prove that they’re lovable, the one-downer is just trying to earn a little love through self-sacrifice and self-abandonment. They’ve already internalized the belief that they’re not lovable. That’s a done deal. They just wanna trade amputated pieces of themselves for a slice of the pie.
That’s not vulnerability either.
If We Don’t Heal
Everyone wants to be seen and heard. That’s what intimacy is all about (“into-me-see”). But maladaptive childhood coping mechanisms literally destroy our ability to be vulnerable. You can be a grown-ass, functioning adult with a career, a mortgage and a family and still operate from a wounded child’s perspective. These people are all around us. Statistically speaking, there’s a solid chance that a wounded child drives your bus from time to time. It’s an inextricable part of the human condition that we can’t afford to ignore any longer.
If we don’t heal our pain, we’ll never stop clutching the wounds. We’ll never recover our ability to be our true selves and share authentically with each other. We won’t be vulnerable enough to be seen and heard. Our relationships will suffer and we’ll pass it on to our kids. Fuck that.
The Healing Journey
For many of us, healing is prerequisite to true vulnerability, which is in fact the price of admission to a real relationship. That’s what “Fix Your Picker” means. Heal yourself. Heal your relationships.
If you wanna transform your pain so you stop transmitting it, I can help you with that. This is what I do. Here are some actions you can take today to start a new chapter in your healing journey:
- Take the Free Diagnostic Quiz
- Get the Fix Your Picker Downloadable Guidebook
- Look into Relationship Coaching
- Subscribe to my Relationship Blog
- Follow my Instagram/Facebook
If you have questions, please comment below or contact me directly. I’d love to help.
*This article contains Amazon affiliate links to the books mentioned.