What would it take to really heal?
A weeklong retreat?
A five-figure coaching package?
Finally confronting that person?
Sure, those things can help. But if you truly want to know what it means to heal, there’s something else to toss into your cauldron: vulnerability.
Yes, vulnerability is the magic word in healing, though it’s usually the one we really don’t want to invite to the party.
The Softest Power
Of course vulnerability is last on the call list. Being open and available goes against everything we’ve been taught we need to survive.
Yet it’s clear that the way we’ve been surviving is not entirely that great. Life’s passage is made between buoys of isolation and too-closeness. Love is bookended by first dates and unread texts. Perhaps it’s time to try something else.
Enter the power of vulnerability. This is a soft power, one that does not seek to cage or steal from another. Instead, its power comes from locating the quiet greatness that lives inside us and showing it to someone who has shown their trustworthiness.
Vulnerability is what makes intimacy possible, which makes vulnerability lifesaving work.
If it’s true that one of the greatest fears we have is living up to our full potential, it makes sense that vulnerability is as triggering as it is.
Feeling vulnerable triggers the cut-and-run part of us. It triggers the fight or flight reflex. It triggers us to label everyone as toxic narcissists who need therapy.
But all this feeling is asking us to do is to remove the chainmail that’s been weighing us down. It asks us to stand naked as the loving animals we really are. It asks us to have needs and depend on others to meet them.
What a terrifying superpower we have.
If staying safe is your most important value, you won’t understand the wisdom of taking this risk. Because vulnerability will never let you be that hard and hidden rock of guaranteed security.
No, in this wise path you’ll remain open to being hurt in a world that knows all your soft spots. You’ll stay touchable in a life that hits hard. You’ll honestly feel in a world that rejects both honesty and feeling.
But in doing so, you’ll find that the greatest form of protection comes from realizing there’s nothing at all to protect.
If you’re not ready to drop your armor and expose your soft belly, I get it. In fact, I’d be shocked if it were that easy for you. Vulnerability is a skill that must be learned – or, put differently, relearned, because if we never were vulnerable in our past, we never would have gotten the message that we shouldn’t be now.
The first step in any (re)education is not doing the thing, but witnessing it being done. So relax for a moment and watch the delicate crown of vulnerability rest on another’s head.
For instance, look at the way it shines on a child as they ask for help. Can you imagine the kind of freedom that comes from admitting that you can’t zip up your coat or reach the top shelf?
Next, turn your eyes to the delicate beauty of a flower’s petals. Just like your heart, they bruise easily. Yet still you press them into the hands of those you care for. A flower’s fragility is an admission of love.
And speaking of love, consider the courage of anyone who has ever let you see them crying, naked, or flailing about in orgasmic bliss. Trust me, it was no easy feat for them to send their guards away. Perhaps you’ll remember to always hold them in your gentlest hands, even if it’s in your memory.
Look at You
It’s true, vulnerability casts a luminous light. No doubt, it looks that way on you, too.
But despite how we glow, it’s still possible for the sweet dripping mess that you are to be mishandled when you remove your protective armor.
Far too many of us are unequipped to hold our own feels with tenderness, much less another’s. This is why people often act bizarrely when they see your broken back or aching heart. This is why they dole out advice that attempts to wipe you from their hands – get over it/pull yourself together – or disappear silently into the shadows. They cannot hold their own pain at witnessing yours. They, too, are running from their vulnerability.
What a tragedy, because a person who receives another in a state of open need is earning a golden gift. An offer of vulnerability is a sign that we are trustworthy enough, safe enough, capable enough.
What a fucking honor.
On Your Knees
Something to live by: If someone doesn’t respond with absolute admiration when you come to them on your knees, the problem is not yours. And if they don’t respond the way you need and deserve, you are under no obligation to offer them any more of the treasure inside your chest.
Yes, you have the choice to share your tenderest cuts only with those who are worthy enough.
But, you ask, how can you spot the good ones? You can’t, at least not until you open yourself up. It’s a paradox at its finest.
If you have a hunch that someone is safe enough, open the door to your fleshy parts a little. If they too melt a bit in your direction, try to open a bit more. See how they respond then.
At any point, you have the right to pull back, pull out, or turn away. You’re nurturing a precious asset here, and someone’s lack of vision doesn’t reflect your lack of value.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few who truly get it. Link arms with these people, hold them tight. Because even after all your commitment to staying open in this lifelong windstorm, a day will certainly come when you feel like you must nail the window shut. You’ll need someone’s soft voice and gentle hand. Reach for it, the way you once knew to reach out for your mother before you ever recoiled from the sting of rejection.
It might just be the healing you’ve been looking for.