About 10 years ago, as I attempted yet another session of couples therapy with my then-boyfriend, our therapist told me that I needed to be more vulnerable if this relationship was going to work.
I made a gagging sound (and gesture) to show my true feelings on the topic. The relationship ended shortly after this fabulous display.
I later discovered the therapist was sort of right, though. I did need to be more…something, because things weren’t working in my life when I was closed off—in my love life or my relationship with myself (I was binge eating and drinking a lot of vodka and reading trashy romance novels non-stop in an attempt to avoid myself).
Maybe it was vulnerability that was missing. I figured I may as well give it a try.
But I was a mess on several levels, so every time I let something “vulnerable” out, it seemed scary and sloppy—for me and whoever else happened to be there.
Something about this proposed solution wasn’t quite working.
Over time—and through trying anything that might help—I’ve discovered that there’s a difference between being vulnerable and simply being open.
When I think back on the times in my life where I was super vulnerable—say, in love—it was because I was coming at it from this place of need where I felt less than, unworthy, unlovable. And I was looking for someone to prove to me that I wasn’t those things, that I was actually loveable.
And guess what happened? Heartbreak stuff.
That kind of heartbreak comes when we put ourselves out there in this utterly vulnerable way, like a newborn bird without any feathers on his wings. We just squeeze our eyes shut and hope that someone will be nice to us in your needy, grasping, clutching state.
But they generally won’t be. And they shouldn’t be, because that approach has so many mistakes in it, I can’t even begin to count them.
This is because—although they are amazingly constructive to be around at times—other people are not the true source of our healing. That healing lies within each of us, past that big lonely stretch of inner road, where we’re scared to walk all by ourselves, but no one can go there with us, so if we want it we have to walk it alone. It’s a personal thing.
It’s between you and your emotions. It’s between you and (your) God.
That’s where the healing happens.
Someone else can be a catalyst, though. Someone else can be a miracle. We can feel better than we ever imagined lying in another person’s arms or holding your baby or being admired.
But, people die. They leave you. They fall out of love with you.
And your babies will grow up and leave home.
People lie, too—and you only find out that they’re married, a raging drunk, emotionally unavailable, moving for work, having a baby with someone else after you’ve fallen hard.
So we can’t rely on other people. We’re not supposed to. And, of course, at the same time, we are supposed to.
But here’s the difference I alluded to earlier: being a needy, lost little soul who clings to another needy, lost little soul is not sustainable. Even in my work as a life coach, when I encounter someone who feels better when they’re with me, but can’t sustain that feeling when they’re alone, I try to redirect them inside themselves.
I’m there for them, but I am not their solution.
Even when I’ve wanted to be someone’s solution, I haven’t been! (If you have ever had a save-the-world complex, you know exactly what I mean!). This is one of the hardest things for us sweet, well-meaning, co-dependent human beings to grasp.
So, what’s the difference between being vulnerable and being open? I think I’ve described vulnerable already. But how about open?
Being open means that we’re scared but standing there on our own two feet. We’re solid.
Our hearts may be pounding and we’re sweating in a very unglamorous way, but we’re right there, not running away. We are facing reality in the eye, and, one shaky breath at a time, we’re staying present. We’re afraid of rejection, but we know we have to risk it, so we boldly stare it in the eye, hearts pouring out mad love.
We can be standing there, crying like a baby, and our hearts will crackle open in the fires of more love. Pain generates more love. The suffering we feel is in an instant transmuted into crazy joy for this whole love, human being experience.
Everything feels blasted with love!
The more we open ourselves up to the pain of the fear of loss, of rejection, of all the grieving we (eventually) have to do in life, the more love we feel.
That’s being open.
Author’s note: The image is a photograph of me taken by my stepmother, who also happens to be a photographer.
Author: Maia Macek
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wijnanda Deroo