Vulnerability is a big, scary word. Or rather being vulnerable can feel big and scary.
When we feel vulnerable we often turn inwards, looking within to recover. But what would happen if rather than feeling the shame associated with being vulnerable we accessed the strength available to us through vulnerability?
Rather than turning in, what would happen if we stayed out, stood firm and showed our vulnerability to others? Could this possibly allow a deeper level of intimacy, a stronger connection or the opportunity to genuinely recover in a collaborative way?
We are not islands. We do not need to suffer, or survive, alone.
ONLY THE STRONG
Shame creeps in when we think too hard about how we feel. By rationalising our vulnerability, our emotions, somehow we persuade ourselves that openness is too much for the world. We persuade ourselves that we must gather ourselves up, straighten ourselves out and make ourselves presentable. Often even with those we love the most, or with those we feel the most connected and intimate.
What are we risking if we ask for help? What is at stake if we trust that in our vulnerability the need for help isn’t a weakness? Isn’t the need for help just a need - asking for help is a strength.
Only the strong ask for help.
TEACH AN OLD DOG
Last December my boyfriend and I decided to get a rescue dog. We were matched with an eight year old Staffie called Winston. He had been a stray and so the dog’s home didn’t know anything about his past. When we brought him home he was an anxious dog, manic at times, generally quite nervous and massively underweight. He was vulnerable. He had been abandoned and in his own way he was now looking to us for help. He didn’t need to ask, his vulnerability was out for all to see.
He still displays some anxiety. He can still be nervous and manic. But he has put on weight and has bonded to us both. He knows who is more likely to play fetch with him (my partner), or who will stroke him for longer (me). He has connected to us and is not afraid to ask, obviously in a nonverbal way, when he needs something.
Whatever he is feeling, Winston turns to us. He doesn’t look into himself to process his emotions - he looks to others to survive. Through his relationship with my partner and I Winston creates everything he needs. Together the three of us have built a home that doesn’t ignore his vulnerability, rather it uses that as the basis to positively give him access to everything that he needs.
Home is built from vulnerability, not despite it.
BE MORE DOG
Bonding with a pet doesn’t involve language or thought. Bonding with a pet is visceral. Their bodies and behaviours tell you what they need. They don’t assume you know what they’re feeling, they show up in their full honesty - often they're full vulnerability. They can’t even eat without you and so their basic survival is dependant entirely on you.
Winston models an open and honest, deeply intimate way of connecting for me. He bonded with me without shame and in a completely vulnerable way. All I could do was the same. His strength in needing me made me stronger for needing him. Through him. I learnt to live without guilt.
Winston and I sit in our present moments with what we are feeling. There is no past on which to hang our emotions and no future over which to fret, just the now. And this is freeing for me.
Unfortunately human to human relationships are more complex, but do they need to be complicated?
Stay in the moment with whatever you are feeling. Stay open to those you love. Acknowledge the humanity of others and connect more intimately. Build on each other rather than in competition with each other. And then stay with this relationship you have created, whatever it’s impact. Always breathe in this current moment, with all of its sensations. Together with others, not alone with thought.
It’s telling that dog behaviours have something to teach us all. Dogs show us what language alone cannot. Puppy power.
OVER TO YOU
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I coach people who struggle with anxiety, who yearn to live a fulfilling life but feel trapped or at a crossroads so that they can experience a calmer more purposeful life. If this sounds like you, get in touch here.