Steps to Healthy Practice of Being Vulnerable in Relationship
Last week, I wrote about the benefit of practicing vulnerability in your relationship with your loved ones. This week, I want to talk about essential steps to healthy practice of this skillset in order to enhance your emotional connection. If being vulnerable can help bring about the satisfactory connection you desire to have with your loved one, how do we practice this skillset? Truth be told, I am not an expert who has mastered it by any means; I am still learning to embrace this tool in my daily life and in my own marriage. So far through my personal experience and my professional work, I have witnessed many positive, long lasting outcomes that the practice of vulnerability has brought about in a relationship. There really is no secret or the “right” way of practicing vulnerability, but these steps below may help provide some guidance on starting your new journey. I hope they serve you well.
Step 1: Understand your fear of being vulnerable
Understanding your fear, the one that stops you from practicing vulnerability, is critical. For some, it is the fear of the unknown or uncertainty that stops us from telling others how we feel. We are afraid because we don’t know how our loved one would react if we showed them who we are. We’re afraid that we might lose the relationship if they didn’t like what they see. Fear of being judged is another reason that can cause us to disown our feelings. We don’t just want to look good, but perfect, in our partner’s eyes, and showing him/her how we really feel seems very intimidating. Because this culture teaches us to avoid risk taking to ensure our sense of security, we are opted to go with a safer route by hiding what we really experience, not knowing by doing so, we also miss the opportunity to create a stronger bond for closeness.
Step 2: Identify triggers that create that fear
After learning what your fear is about, let’s move on to identify triggers behind your fear. Triggers are different on a case by case basis. They can be a social message we receive from a commercial, a line we read in a book, a comment we hear from our family members, or something we see. What separate triggers from non-triggering things you encounter in your daily lives is that triggers cause you to have the internal dialogues that make you feel ashamed of who you are. No two triggers are the same. What one identifies as triggers may not be something others experience. You need to find what causes those internal dialogues to emerge, which makes you experience shame and stops you from practicing vulnerable.
Step 3: Develop awareness of the context where your triggers are formed
Think about the bigger picture by exploring the connection between your triggers and familial, social, and cultural influences. In that way, you can develop an awareness of how your triggers are formed from the messages you learn from your family of origin when you were growing up or from different media platforms that dictate the norms of how a person should look or behave. For me, I used to find it difficult for me to practice vulnerability when I had conversations with my mother about motherhood. It was challenging because our social norms were aligned with my mother’s view that women should be married and have children at a certain age when my view was that the individual knows best when she wants to have a child and it should be her decision alone.
Step 4: Choose the proper audience
Choosing the right person to practice vulnerability with is important. Your vulnerability is an asset. You want to share it with someone who has earned your trust by being supportive of you in different circumstances. This person can be a close friend, a family member, or a counselor who embraces who you are. A common mistake that a beginner makes is to be too eager in sharing their vulnerability with anyone, including strangers or people they barely know, without evaluating whether these individuals have proven their trustworthiness. By choosing the proper audience to listen, your chance of receiving positive feedback is greater, which in turn will encourage you to embrace and further your skillset.
Step 5: Gradual exposure – The importance of taking baby steps
I cannot stretch enough the importance of taking baby steps. You want to build your level of resilience by starting with small categories first. For example, I started practicing vulnerability by telling my husband how I felt when we were too focused on advancing our career and forgetting to spend time together as a couple. I started by letting him know how much I miss our quality time together. I let him know the importance of doing so because it made me feel loved. By choosing to let him see how I felt, I received what I needed, instead of blame and disconnection. I did not start out practicing vulnerability with my husband in the area of money management at first because it was the rawest spot for me due to my family of origin influence. I needed more time to build my resilience before I could become well prepared for it. Start out with something small, one that you are more willing to be vulnerable about to build your resilience. One baby step at a time and before you know it, you’ll be there.
Step 6: Have fun!
Yes, I do mean having fun while you are practicing vulnerability. It may sound counter-intuitive, but every one of us has that “little kid” within. That piece of you that is curious about learning new things. That part of you that loves to laugh and enjoys life’s moments. When you learn a new skillset, it’s more effective when you learn by embracing the fun, instead of just the fear, part of an experience. In that way, you are more willing to learn from the mistake instead of trying to avoid making it. So yeah, have fun and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.