Neal and Diane Arnold
As we talked about in part one of this series, there are several things we can do to “reopen our families” after a period of isolation or social distancing. There are things that worked and some that did not. Here are a few worth repeating and understanding better.
As researcher Brené Brown put it, “Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen. She tells us, “To believe vulnerability is a weakness is to believe feelings are a weakness”.
If we do not risk showing others who we really are, they are building a relationship with someone who does not exist. Studies tell us the lack of vulnerability is not a place of safety — it is actually a place of pain and loneliness. This is the lie we have learned to live in.
While most of us think we want close connections, we often resist vulnerability, the very trait that makes connection possible. In our culture, we often praise independence, being strong and staying busy. We mistakenly brush off being vulnerable as soft. Vulnerability is really the willingness to be ourselves. The willingness to expose a deeper side of ourselves that is not hidden behind our well-established defenses.
Are you afraid of exposing parts of your personality your family may not like or understand?
Do you ever feel a false sense of security by clamping down or controlling your emotions?
Do feelings of fear and shame stop you from sharing your true feelings with those close to you?
If you are afraid of showing weaknesses or exposing your true self to people, you might not be aware your fear is preventing you from being truly engaged in your relationships. You may be afraid to share your thoughts, feelings, and wishes with this person.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I developed a safe working relationship as partners. Because of our independent relating styles, I would say we both entered the marriage being guarded. As a result, we learned to not trust each other on things that mattered most. Unfortunately, we did our best to confirm those worst fears within the marriage. This relationship damage confirmed what we believed to be true — ‘you could only trust yourself so just shut down and not let each other in’.
If you struggle with some of these same thoughts, you are not alone. While all relationships present risks, they are risks worth taking. We learned a couple of good lessons during this early struggle that helped us through this time of fear and isolation. We now understand it is possible to be vulnerable and reach for those close to us without losing parts of ourselves.
The act of loving family and friends and allowing them to love you back may be the ultimate risk. It is dangerous because there are no guarantees. No matter the threat, Dr. Brown tells us vulnerability just might be the glue that holds a relationship together.
Here are some actions to work on with vulnerability and communication in your families:
- Work to Share Your Feelings.
In this society, we are trained to share our feelings, but only to an extent. We have often seen examples of people wanting to know what is happening on the surface of our lives, but not deep down. We are taught if we share our sadness or anger then others will think we are looking for attention. We are coached if we share our happiness then we are conceited and self-absorbed. We are instructed to be guarded and trust no one fully.
A big part of strengthening our connections with others comes from being willing to communicate how we feel. We made this safer for each other by allowing each other to talk without interruption during our quiet times together. The goal in our relationships is to be unafraid to say what we genuinely think. Of course, this means to use caution about being insensitive or unnecessarily hurtful to the other person. We are all human and flawed. So, remember to use compassion and honesty as we talk with others.
2. Work to State Your Real Likes and Needs.
In our families, we are usually very good at stating exactly what we do not like. This can lead to a lot of back and forth which ends up getting us nowhere. Instead of blaming each other and complaining, we encourage people to say what they really want from each other.
In our talks, instead of saying things like ‘you never help me, or you never do this or that’, we worked to state our needs. For example, “I need a hug because I feel sad.” or “I need some down time because I am exhausted.” “I just need someone to listen.”
When we are hurting, it is easy to dismiss our pain or try to protect ourselves from the people close to us. However, achieving close connections means being willing to speak up when we’re in need. Admitting we need someone to lean on or telling them we are struggling and need help allows our loved ones to respond to us. It is moving to see the connection people feel for each other when they’re strong enough to be vulnerable and say what they want.
3. Work to Stay Present in Your Relationships.
Part of vulnerability is being willing to be in the moment with someone else. This includes looking your family member in the eye, listening to what he or she has to say, and being willing to give time and attention in the moment. We have all learned to live in a distracted world.
The best part of being human is being able to connect with other humans. We are hardwired for this. We live in tribes and families, we work in groups, we love as couples and thrive in friendships. The drive to connect is in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
Staying vulnerable allows us to recognize our value as unique and independent human beings, while giving us the courage to reveal ourselves in ways that will strengthen our connections.
As explained by Brené Brown, people with a strong sense of love and belonging believe vulnerability is a necessity. Vulnerability is the key to connection because it is the courage to be accessible to another human. It is opening yourself up to someone and fighting the fear to get closer to them. It is letting them know you care and need them. It is willing to be both wrong and right. It is giving and receiving their attention and affection.
Please join us for Part Three — Re-Entry with Family where we talk about working on respect and honor for each other.