Monday
Apr162012

Vulnerability - One Key to Healthy Relationships!

Do you have a vulnerability issue?

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately and the extreme fear that seems to accompany it. My own reactions to vulnerability are no exception here. I’m scared; I feel fear a lot – especially in new circumstances with new people. In fact, still to this day, every time I start a new class to teach Non-Violent Communication, I must confess that I have sweaty armpits.

However, I’ve been doing this funny little experiment. I share with my students about my sweaty armpits and, yes, this confession brings about laughter but it also seems to bring some ease into the energy of the room. Why is this? People like to know who you are – I mean really are - and when they gain this insight they usually seem to relax.

My theory is that the relaxation comes as a result of my students being able to connect with me; they see my humanity; they see me as somewhat similar to them… sigh, Relief = Ease!

I also share with them that my sweaty armpits are a reaction to my needs for learning and contribution and ultimately peace in this world; I care so much about others learning communication skills. My sweaty armpits are beautiful, and I love the connection they allow me to have with others.

Why is it then that most of us struggle with being that real – with being able to show up as 100% who we are? For those of you saying – “I don’t really have a problem with that!” I beg you to be honest with yourself.

In the classes that I teach on Non Violent Communication (NVC), a big part of the learning comes from people being willing to share what is going on with themselves internally, and I see that many people struggle with this – at least initially. We have difficulty talking about our feelings and needs for fear of being perceived as weak or needy or of it getting in the way of us being productive; we are too busy to bother with that.

However, I believe that connection is the most important thing in our lives. It’s what gives our lives purpose and meaning and it is what makes us MORE productive on the job, in the classroom, and in our personal lives. Yet, you can’t have connection without being willing to be real. So why do we resist vulnerability?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about our brain, the various components and how they have evolved over time. Apparently, the oldest part of our brain is the limbic system. This is the part that controls fight, flight, freeze – basically our early means of survival. The neocortex is that part of our brain that controls speech, consciousness, reasoning, etc, and it is relatively new and not as strong as the older, more concentrated components of the limbic system.

Put bluntly, the early part tends to have a stronger influence, especially when we fear survival. Getting along with others, being liked by others is connected to our survival; this was especially true back in the days our ancestors lived in caves and tribes and were more obviously dependent upon our fellow man for meeting our basic needs.

The theory is this: we run, fight, or freeze in the face of connection and especially conflict instead of getting real about what is going on for us (our feelings and needs) because we quite literally fear our survival. However, survival and success are not the same thing. And in order to have success in our relationships, deep connections, belonging, love, joy, we must be willing to share who we are.

Think about your last big fight – what was at the root of it? Could you identify your feelings and needs, I’m talking real feelings here; your internal experiences – like sadness, loneliness, confusion, embarrassment, tension, etc. as opposed to words we use as feelings that are more indicative of what we think someone did to us – like manipulated, abused, abandoned (steer clear of these.) Did you attempt to share those feelings and needs? We haven’t learned to do this – in fact we’ve learned to do the opposite – to appear strong, okay, not bothered, etc. When, ironically, it’s the sharing of your feelings and needs that will actually get you connected to the other.

So I ask the question: Why do we operate in this way if it doesn’t really serve us?

It’s about an old version of survival to which our limbic system is habituated to respond in fight, flight, or freeze.

There Is Good News! – we are an ever evolving species and the newest part of our brain is evidence of that. We are actually evolving to become more conscious in how we relate to one another and to have more choice in whether we fight, flight, or freeze OR respond in a different way.

The different way I am promoting (not in all circumstances but in many more than not) is to learn to communicate in a new way that suspends fight, flight, freeze and encourages sharing of your own “sweaty armpits” so to speak. The old brain will continue to win out, unless you establish new habits, and new habits and patterns are possible and learnable.

In the end, learning to be vulnerable and speak from a place of feelings and needs will help you create the connections you want. Yes, it’s scary – but I’d rather take the risk and live a connected life because the alternative is living no real life at all. P.S. Before you toss this article aside and say “hog wash” – consider that it might be your own limbic system taking over to make sure you “survive.” Do you want to “survive” in the same old way or are you willing to take control of your limbic system by doing the scary work to have more peace, joy, and connection in your life. Now that’s what I call real surviving!

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