Vulnerability and Compassionate Communication

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Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown states that vulnerability “is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

How do we cultivate vulnerability? Two major aspects of vulnerability are authenticity and intimacy. Life coach Christine Hassler advises to think of the word intimacy as “into-me-see” – when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we allow ourselves to be seen. We all have many layers of self, and exist in many dimensions of psyche. Even if we think we know on a superficial level how we “should” feel – or even if we know deep down that everything will be ok … there are still oftentimes many messy layers between the superficial knowing and the deep understanding. We may know intellectually that a partner or friend didn’t mean to hurt us, yet still feel the very real emotions of hurt and anger. If we try and squash these emotions and pretend that everything is A-OK, chances are that rather than disappear these squashed emotions will fester under a cold surface, and eventually painfully erupt. 

Our emotions are valid and very much real. They certainly affect how we behave and interact with the world in tangible ways, even if the reasons for the feelings are based in ego or delusional thinking. Taking responsibility for our own emotions is a valuable skill to learn. A key component of Nonviolent Communication (developed by Marshall Rosenberg), is to be able to to observe a situation, evaluate our own emotional states and express them without blaming them on the other. For example, one might say, “When you came into the party and sat down without acknowledging me, I felt rejected and insecure.” rather than “You acted like a jerk and totally blew me off!” or “Nothing’s wrong, everything is fine.” This is vulnerable, admitting insecurity! But the truth is pretty much everyone knows what it feels like to feel insecure. By honestly acknowledging ones own feelings, we give the other party an opportunity to experience empathy and compassion, rather than putting them on the defensive.

Another step in the process of Nonviolent Communication is to identify our needs, state them clearly, and make requests so that our needs have the possibility of being fulfilled. That said, simple making the request doesn’t guarantee that the need will be filled. It is vulnerable to ask for what we need knowing that we might be rejected – but it can be empowering to know that we have done our part by expressing that need. When we express our needs, we are more likely to have them filled. If the request is denied, this is valuable information that can liberate us to re-evaluate our needs, or focus our energies on getting those needs met in other ways. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we can move through our difficult emotions more quickly, since often times the quickest way to the other side of messy emotional landscapes is to go bravely through them rather than trying to skirt around, or stalling and pretending they don’t exist.

In this month of celebrating love in all of its forms, perhaps take the opportunity to practice vulnerability with the ones you love and trust. Like practicing asana, take it one breath at a time, perhaps starting with baby steps. When a loved one asks, “How are you?”, rather than answering with the habitual “Fine, thanks”, consider the possibility of  looking to the next layer and answering a bit more authentically. In this way we invite those around us to also bare their hearts a little more, remind each other that we are all humans here, and create a world where compassion is the norm.

By Leaflin Winecoff