Is there strength in vulnerability?

In my clinical work with couples, I hear a lot of “attack/defend” style conversations. You know how these go. We all have them, sometimes. And some of us have them—alas, President Trump—almost all of the time. They tend to go something like this:

“You don’t even care about me. If you did, you’d listen. But you never listen to a word I say!”

“How can you say that?!? All I ever do is listen to you yammer on. It’s you who never listens to me.”

“There you go, being sarcastic again! I cannot possibility believe you even think you listen!…”

In practically no time, the discussion becomes a pitched battle. And everyone loses.

One of the most intriguing challenges of my job is to convince couples to set down the weaponry with which they’re conducting their conversations, and lead, instead, with their true needs and emotions. Because inside every complaint is a valuable longing. “You never listen” is a prickly way of saying, “I’m longing to be heard by you; to feel loved and important, and cared for.” But, to lead with the longing requires vulnerability. After all, someone might not want to listen. Someone might say, “no.”

So, when we are vulnerable we risk the unknown— uncertain reactions from others, rejection, failure—but without vulnerability, our ability to form close relationships is stunted, if not halted altogether. Vulnerability is the invisible scaffolding on which great intimacy is built.

And to be vulnerable, interestingly, takes great personal strength. As researcher-storyteller Brene Brown so aptly puts it, vulnerability requires an intrinsic sense of worthiness. We need to believe we are “enough,” just as we are, before we are willing to shed our armour and risk failure and loss in the process of gaining love and connection.

In her entertaining TED Talk, Brene Brown not only shares valuable research on human connection, she also tells the story of how therapy helped her find the strength in her vulnerability. (You can watch it below.) Perhaps it’s helped you too.

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