Excruciating Vulnerability

Excruciating Vulnerability.jpg

I’ve been previewing some of my blog posts with a few of my friends. It’s been an interesting experience in vulnerability, intimacy and pain.  When we put ourselves out there, we’re going to get hurt.  There’s no way around it.  The question is what are we going to do about it?  Retreat and lick our wounds and never try again, or tolerate the pain because it brings true rewards? My experience has reflected one of the themes in the Guild Hunter series by the inimitable Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Consort.  This book focuses on the Archangel Raphael and his now-consort, Elena, who was human (with a bit of a supernatural edge) but was made immortal through Raphael’s love. Great stuff. 

Because Elena is, for all intents and purposes, a baby immortal, she is still extremely vulnerable physically.  She needs time to grow in strength, and she needs to be kept safe while she does this. In her case, it’s not clear that she will be able to overcome her physical vulnerabilities and grow into her immortality in a safe environment.  That doesn’t means she won’t grow and progress.  Just that it will be a lot harder and hurt a lot more.

I can seriously relate to Elena’s situation (this has been true before—see my blog click here . Whenever we try something new, especially when we do it in front of a lot of people, the vulnerability is excruciating.  It can be almost too much to bear. I think that for many of us, it’s so uncomfortable, we rarely try.

Exposing ourselves is hard. When we are young, we are born open and trusting that the world will reciprocate our innocence.  I think we are born believing that everyone will be as guileless and delighted as we are.  Unfortunately, most of us quickly learn that the world is not as safe as we wish it to be, so we start to hide more and more of ourselves to avoid the pain of careless or deliberate assaults to the exposed parts.

If we are lucky enough to have loving and competent parents (the two don’t always go together and well-intentioned, but clueless parents can wreak havoc on a child’s developing psyche—just because we are doing our best does not mean we are doing it well), then our introduction to the casual cruelty of the world might be delayed.

But if our parents are malignant or inept, we might learn very early to build up our defenses against the pain that comes when we joyfully present ourselves to others, only to have said others respond badly. It hurts. It truly does.

So we become very adept at hiding the real parts of ourselves that we cannot risk exposing, because we believe we cannot survive the pain of being wounded there. But we’re not children anymore—small creatures with little ability to process that kind of pain. As adults, we are much more adept at using logic and reason to understand that feelings aren’t facts, and they won’t kill us.

Growth and evolution always involve pain.  Just ask Elena, who must spend months strengthening her new wings so that she will be able to fly.  Her work is physically painful and emotionally frightening because she knows her weakness means she is vulnerable to injury or death.  She is afraid for herself and for her consort, too, because his love for her represents a gaping hole in his defenses, the Achilles heel that could bring him down. Seems like a perfect metaphor for the rest of us.

When we grow and do new things, or take the first steps toward an intimacy that will create a gaping hole in our own defenses, it’s gonna hurt. And we’re going to be afraid. We will probably end up with bruises and maybe scars. But that’s not a reason not to do it.

Which leads me back to my blog, which feels like one great, big exposed nerve ending that I’ve presented to the world to nurture, ignore, or abuse as it sees fit. It’s especially painful when it comes from people I know and who I love and trust. I know they’re not trying to hurt me on purpose (it’s important to make that assumption—otherwise, it’s well past time to examine the viability of the relationship).

So, what to do? One option, of course, is to quit. Option two would be to ignore the pain and deny that it exists—until it comes out sideways, as it always will, and you end up having a fight about which movie to see and it ends up being the battle of the century and you have no idea why. Option three is the most difficult, and involves communicating the hurt to the other person—without making them wrong or defensive—and giving them an opportunity to apologize and make amends, and then moving on, even if we didn’t get exactly what we wanted from them.

This is all so difficult because we can’t get blood from a stone, and sometimes, we really, really need that blood.  But those we love can only give us what they have to give.  And because they are no more perfect than we are, sometimes it won’t be enough, or it won’t be the right thing.  And so we’ll hurt. But we will have grown, and so will the intimacy between us. Because we were willing to expose ourselves and tolerate the pain of the process.

Vulnerability is the potential for pain. But it is also the price of connection.  And connection is what feeds our souls.  So, I’m going to work to stay exposed.  No matter how much it hurts.  How about you?  Care to join me?