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Vulnerability and Self-Importance
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | August 2018
We want to be more than a speck on a fast moving planet. Healthy relationships create a feeling of importance, inclusion in a meaningful partnership; but at the cost of vulnerability.
We need to feel important—relevant. Outside of the home, we get lost in the crowd. The abundance of political and business agendas dwarfs our role; we often feel like a single cog in an over-sized wheel. Our sense of importance diminishes as we dutifully play our part lost in a much larger world. Yet, the need to be feel important still aches, demanding resolve, leaving us empty and alone.
Our intimate relationships are essential. For in these we should feel important, filling a major role in our lover’s life. Yet, too often, partners are neglects, spouses are ignored, and lovers overlooked. The one place where we matter most, we routinely act indifferent. We must honor these powerful relationships, giving kind attention to our partners. Relationships need much more than a hello and good-bye kiss punctuating the beginning and end of each day. The driving desire for attention isn’t necessarily selfish, expecting an audience. We just need an interested listener, curious about our inner lives. Listening requires more than hearing words. True listening is accompanied by interested—not that the story is interesting but because the actor in the story is.
Unfortunate, too often, personal agendas interfere. We our present in body but drifting away from the speaker. We may politely remain quiet but emotionally we are indifferent. During disagreements listening becomes more difficult, when something noteworthy to the ego is said, attention piques and emotions flow. The fragile self is shaken, and words powerfully ignite fear, and listening quickly demands action and protections are employed. The moment of importance for the speaker is shattered, and the relationship is harmed.
Kind attention requires listening with admiration to the speaker. Their thoughts, feelings, and experiences matter. They are important. When we give respectful attention, we impart a message that our partner is important—what they say matters. We show them that their feelings have value. As we tune into the inner happenings of our partner, we see beyond the words and embrace their soul. At times, we may gently inquire about our perceptions, checking our understanding. We inquire not in an accusatory, or demanding way but with a gentle invitation, reassuring our partner’s safety.
Many relationships are not safe. Exposing our vulnerabilities invites hostility, giving weapons for future manipulation. These evils must be confronted, sometimes by planned protective flight.
We desire attention. The best relationships give and receive attention. Demanding, crying and scratching for kind nods and momentary glances signals a fraying connection. We start the repair by giving attention—not demanding attention. Once we give, we have the right to ask. If the relationship fails to give in return, difficult decisions must be made.
The strength of connection is not frozen. Our bond is dynamic, moving with the maturity of the relationship. Neglect weakens the connection; abuse damages hopes; and honored trust provides security. At the beginning, new relationships are exciting time--each meeting energizes. Two strangers exchanging their lives and being accepted. The sharing is usually received with joy. We delight in this engaging attention. We feel important. Communications are filled with curiosity as the unfolding of another person ensues and closeness is felt. We exposed ourselves and are accepted.
Kind attention requires listening with admiration to the speaker. Their thoughts, feelings, and experiences matter. They are important. When we give respectful attention, we impart a message that our partner is important—what they say matters.
This important process of opening, sharing and vulnerability can be prematurely disrupted when hidden agendas, faulty disclosures, and betrayals are discovered. This should be the time to enforce essential boundaries; but, alas, many fear their demands may chase the potential new partner, so they quietly excuse the precursors of abuse. Others fear closeness, soured from the past. Their fears are of openness. Instead of mutual exploring, disclosures are curtailed, and presentations tainted. True intimacy is sacrificed, and closeness remains beyond their grasp. In the cruelest of paradoxes, the fear of vulnerability prevents the openness essential for creating the bonds we desperately desire. The greater the desire for security, the greater the fear of the vulnerability. The incomplete connection, hampered by protections, traps the individual in a continual conflict between desire and fear.
Even with self-confident couples the early excitement of the unfolding of souls cools as life settles and the tasks of living interfere. The partners are no longer strangers. Healthy dependency with the accompanying vulnerabilities are part of closeness. It is not unusual that once the process of coming to know each other has slowed, a sense of loss is felt. The excitement of disclosing and being accepted is comforting. It is tangible evidence that we are loved, and we are important.
When fear motivates, instead of love, communication is fractured. The partial, but protected connection, never can grant the feelings of complete acceptance—for we are not completely known. The premature ending of disclosure agitates our sensitivities. The fearful partner doubts love that is given because of the incompleteness of the disclosures. The natural process of openness is replaced with subtle manipulations. Words and behaviors that inflame the fears become the enemy. The relationship that once felt natural morphs into something strained and forced. The sense of impending loss and disappointment pushes the couple apart. Their hope for closeness is short circuited by fear. The fear actualizing the object being feared; the protective response prevents the intimacy. The intense romantic anxiety that love will evade is realized.
We all have some fear, especially in vulnerability. Sometimes our lover is lost. They may leave, die or simply emotionally disconnect. Vulnerability to these tragedies is difficult to bear. But vulnerability to loss is an inherent part of closeness—anything gained can be lost. If a relationship promised immunity to hurt, there would be no vulnerability. What differentiates healthy couples from fearful couples is acceptance of rejection of vulnerability. Instead of ignoring our fears, they can be discussed. The fears are excellent topics for self-disclosure. “Sometimes, I feel afraid when this happens.” Our honesty exposes the vulnerability. It acknowledges some dependence on our partner’s behaviors for happiness. We acknowledge the importance of our partner in our lives.
The relationship will move through moments of closeness and disconnection. “Happiness ever after” is a fable, ignoring the strain of time and environments. The dynamic changes can transform the relationship. These changes are not warning of catastrophic movement, but a signal to re-engage in openness and disclosure. A signal to allow vulnerability back into the relationship.
The true joy of intimacy doesn’t come from static closeness, but from movement. Each day is another opportunity to engage in a progressive discovery of another person, and the wondrous unfolding of connection. Love creates a path that can heal the fear. With the hope of love, we experience the amazements of intimacy, enduring the vulnerabilities because of the blessings that accompany our trust. Healthy relationships provide a perpetual unveiling of the self and the growing knowledge of another. We know and are known. We are important in the eyes of someone special that, by the way, is important to us.