When we feel afraid that our needs will not be met, it is easy to shrink back and hide, or lash out in a way that tries to make someone else responsible. But we are solely responsible for our inner wellbeing and for clear outer communication.
Instead of voicing our needs in a way that may sound like we are blaming another or making them responsible for our wellbeing, it is far better to let them be heard as direct requests. For example, if you would like your spouse to spend more quality time with you, ask directly for what you want. Instead of complaining that his working late means he does not love you enough, say, “One evening a week, I would like us to sit and talk after dinner, with no distractions of work, kids, cell phones, and so on.”
Turning a complaint such as this into a request honors the fact that there are many ways people feel and express love. These differences do not need to be the source of conflict if we use them as opportunities to communicate our needs and feelings respectfully. Making a vulnerable request is not judging the other person or his way of doing things as wrong. It is just asking for a change in behavior. “I need you to spend time listening to me without any interruptions” is different than “You are so obsessed with your phone that you can’t even put it down to have a conversation with me!”
Criticizing the other person engages a power struggle, but sharing our vulnerable inner self does not. It simply focuses on finding a solution based on love through patient communication. Each choice we make in thought, word, and action determines our experience of life. And ultimately, every choice comes down to electing either fear or love.
All Part of the Practice
Sadly, sometimes we may ask for a need to be met by another and find that person is unable or unwilling to do so. And there may even be times when someone uses our vulnerability against us, yet even here, at the core of painful experience, lies a seed of personal growth and strength.
For example, the first time I participated in a women’s retreat, I had no idea what I was in for. The group that came together was comprised of open-hearted women of a variety of ages all there with the same intent: letting go of old hurt and fear to move into new relationships with a clearer perspective on love.
We started by sharing our stories of the painful experiences that had brought us to therapy and what we hoped to overcome during the retreat. I was impressed with the level of vulnerability and authenticity as each person bared their souls to the group of strangers. Within the first few hours, a sacred circle had formed, built on the foundation of truth and openness.
As the weekend went along, the facilitator took each one of us through a regression exercise, back to the emotionally traumatic experience we hoped to heal, so that we could re- experience it from the strength and wisdom of our current selves. Sitting as witness to one another as we each relived excruciating moments of pain further solidified the group as sisters in vulnerability practice. We learned how to ask for what we need in terms of support and to offer it when we could to those who asked.
By the end of the weekend, no one wanted to leave the retreat house or the safety of our loving circle. The facilitator tried to prepare us for re-entry into our respective lives by cautioning that we might be transitioning back to people who were not ready to be in the same open space we had been in with one another, or to no one at all, both of which were challenges of loneliness after the intense bonding we had shared.
I was in a new relationship at the time, and eager to connect with my boyfriend. I believed he would welcome me home with understanding and support. We met for ice cream and I recounted, with retreat-level vulnerability, what I had been through over the weekend. As I told my story, I could feel further emotions welling up for release.
Not one to often ask for help, I decided to practice stepping out of my comfort zone. I asked him to stay with me that night, to hold and comfort me. He said that he could not; that he was going through something of his own and was not capable of supporting me at that time. I felt hurt and abandoned in my moment of need, but then I remembered the strength I had cultivated through vulnerability on the retreat.
No complaints, just more love
It was a true lesson in how we get stronger every time we put our authentic self on the line. I had taken a risk in sharing with him, and he too had been authentic in telling me what he could and could not do in that moment. I had to collect myself and go home to hold my own space.
As difficult as the moment was, I am grateful that I had the courage to make a direct request and that we both refrained from complaining about the other’s shortcomings. I learned new boundaries of self-honoring and that it is alright to say no to another’s requests, if we cannot offer what they need. And I learned that in times when I am not met with support or acceptance, I can build inner strength and resilience. In any case, when we face our needs and share them authentically with others, we make deeper connections based in love, with one another and within our own hearts.
Excerpt from Breathing Love: Meditation in Action by Jennie Lee © 2018. Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
When Jennie Lee isn’t writing, she is usually surfing a sweet wave with her family on O’ahu. Author of True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness and Spiritual Fulfillment, Jennie strives to live what she teaches and as a Yoga Therapist for the past 17 years, she is honored to have shared the healing benefits of classical yoga with hundreds of clients. She has traveled to 18 countries and leads workshops and retreats internationally. Her nightly relaxation starts with a snuggle from her bunny and ends with hugs from her husband and teenage son. Connect with Jennie through Facebook and her website.
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