I never really grasped the power of vulnerability until I started dating.
The effort required to put yourself out there and meet someone in the first place is immense. And this only compounds once you are actually in a relationship and forced to share so much of yourself with another person.
I had no idea how difficult it would be to articulate my frustration or the depth of my affection. But both things are equally challenging.
Both require a level of vulnerability I was completely unprepared for.
Even for someone who loves words as much as me, finding the right ones to say can be nearly impossible. It’s like my mouth dries up and the ability to formulate a sentence disappears.
One of the biggest lessons I am learning is that withdrawing from vulnerability and bottling up emotions is a surefire way to cause trouble in a relationship. And when broken people try to build relationships, trouble is already present in spades.
When I was doing a spot of gardening this week I found a perfect metaphor for this phenomenon.
I’ve recently come to learn that walnut trees are prolific and tenacious in their pursuit of complete, garden domination.
They grow up into these ginormous, towering trees which look absolutely magnificent but are really just huge, leafy pests. Every autumn they drop hundreds of walnuts beneath their canopy and an army of shoots sprout before your very eyes.
I was given the critical task of removing the excess shoots from beneath one of the trees before they got out of control and created a backyard platoon.
Due to my lack of gardening experience, I foolishly predicted the work would be easy.
At first, I found that the small, immature plants were easy to pull out. They only required a gentle tug and the entire shoot and roots would be in my hands.
The larger plants were a different story however. Their roots were well established, their stems were thicker and so they were tougher to remove from the ground.
And as I huffed and puffed under the shade of that grand old, walnut tree I thought about how similar these shoots are to our bottled up emotions.
We start out with a little niggling frustration, a slight undiagnosed sadness, there will be something that upsets us and we will refuse to figure out why.
Then little by little, the frustrations mount, the anger seethes, the sadness deepens.
What once was a small shoot becomes a fully developed plant. With roots spanning deep and wide. We find it is impossible to remove with a simple, gentle tug, instead we must cut off the stem and dig out the roots.
The problem with avoiding vulnerability is that our issues never get resolved.
That’s what we are doing every time we fear vulnerability and say “I’m fine” even though we are not.
This is what happens when someone upsets us but we choose to not make waves or confront the problem.
And this is what we allow to fester when we refrain from doing the difficult work of dealing with our emotions through self-reflection.
I’m guilty of this as much as anyone.
I have a terrible propensity for believing people can and should read my mind. That they should be aware when I am upset and they should know exactly what I need them to do to make things right.
This doesn’t bode well in relationships. People can hardly ever read my mind. Most of the time I just go quiet and no one will be any the wiser that what they did upset me.
Sometimes I get lazy and prefer to avoid dwelling on my negative emotions. Instead of asking myself why I am feeling upset and working out what I can do about it, I numb myself. I run in the other direction. I shut out those feelings.
But staying silent doesn’t make the problem go away. Numbing ourselves or pushing the negative emotion down deep doesn’t allow us to heal.
The problem just simmers away in the background, waiting dormant, ready to pop back up at any moment.
What we need is to understand the power of vulnerability.
Choosing to say how we really feel. Laying our cards on the table. Opening up and allowing ourselves to heal.
Daring to be vulnerable is a terrifying feeling. Like losing control of the car you are driving. Like being a bug under a microscope. Like leaning dangerously over the edge of a cliff.
There is no easy way to wander into vulnerability. It takes a great deal of work.
But the rewards of vulnerability are countless. The power of vulnerability is incredible.
When we find the courage to say how we really feel, we create an opportunity for real connection with others.
When we allow people to see our weaknesses, our fears and our biggest needs, we allow them to step into those places and help us mend ourselves.
If we learn to process our emotions, to express our feelings, to release instead of bottling them up, we can find a deeper sense of belonging.
We have to be braver about this.
We need to start tackling those shoots when they are still small. Instead of just brushing things off, we need to start dealing with our emotions.
We need to become more self aware so that we know our strengths and weaknesses. So we know what makes us so very frustrated or absolutely delighted. We have to take the time to get to know ourselves first.
And we need to ask for help when we feel sad or confused or lonely. It isn’t fair to expect people to read our minds and determine our needs.
I think now I realise the power of vulnerability. To be vulnerable is not to show weakness but to recognise our strength. To understand that saying how we really feel is one of the bravest and best things we can do.