We are now on our third week of the Game Changers Men’s Program and we are looking at the importance of vulnerability to the heart driven man. So, the question for both men and women is why would I choose to be a vulnerable person? If I look at some of the definitions concerning vulnerability, it actually sounds like a scary behavior. The most common definition says that “vulnerability makes you capable or susceptible to being wounded or hurt.”
If you choose to be vulnerable, you place yourself in a situation where you could be wounded or hurt. That does not sound like a very healthy choice. Who would purposefully place themselves in harm’s way?
Another definition of the word identifies how vulnerability can be a heart choice. Someone who chooses to be vulnerable “is completely and rawly open and unguarded with their heart, mind and soul. It’s being exposed with all the emotions that make it easy for someone to really do some emotional damage or healing. Vulnerability is the surrender of all control and personal power in regards to letting someone close enough to destroy you.”
Again, the choice to be vulnerable sounds like a real risk. The choice to surrender control and personal power requires some faith and trust that the reward of vulnerability is truly worth it. This is what I want to address in this article. Why is vulnerability such a good choice?
The first outcome to consider when choosing to be vulnerable is the opportunity for healing. In my childhood, love and acceptance was a powerful driving force. I grew up in a loving home with two parents who expressed their love for me consistently. Unfortunately, my father died when I was fifteen which at that time felt like the ultimate abandonment. Obviously, he did not want to leave and he did not want me to feel abandoned, but to the heart of a teenage son who desperately needed the love and guidance of his father, that is what it felt like to me.
The intensity of the pain I felt around my father’s death caused me to close up my heart and withdraw into myself. I felt a certain responsibility as the eldest son to be in control of my emotions and help my mother and siblings through this traumatic family time. I chose not to talk to anyone about my emotional pain and so I closed up around it. The outcome of that choice was to develop a full blown anxiety disorder. I began to retreat away from any situation, event or individuals that would trigger emotional discomfort for me. My world got smaller and smaller as I spiraled into isolation. I would spend endless hours at home in an old rocking chair staring at a television that I was barely conscious of.
Most of us have been emotionally wounded in our childhood. Often it has been the result of some form of rejection or abandonment. And, the outcome of that wounding has been to close up around the hurt and allow it to become life-long damage.
Scott Peck tells us that vulnerability is the willingness to be wounded and that wounded can either mean to be hurt or damaged. This quote from Peck actually changed my life in my twenties. For more than ten years I chose to close up around the pain of my father’s death, choosing not to share it with anyone, isolating myself and avoiding the possibility of being emotionally triggered. What I realized through Peck’s quote was that I had a choice about whether to allow my pain to be hurt in my life or whether it would continue to be damage.
That realization motivated me to take the risk to open up and talk to a counselor about my emotional pain. The willingness to open up emotionally was a game changer. All the pent up fear and pain began to release out of my shut down heart and I felt a freedom that I had not experienced since before my father’s death. My personal healing eventually paved the way for me to become a counselor and facilitator of personal development. The importance of vulnerability continues to be a profound tool within every program.
A second profound outcome of choosing vulnerability is the opportunity to experience the emotions that we all desperately want to experience. In particular, I believe that we all want to experience love in its fullness.
To pull down the walls around our hearts, we have to be convinced that the reward is worth the risk. Emotions come as a package deal. If I want to experience joy, passion, fulfillment and love, I have to allow myself to feel some of the pain of disappointment, rejection, guilt and fear. And, the only way to experience the full spectrum of my emotions is to open up my heart.
When I grab hold of my courage and make the choice for vulnerability the veil of my heart is drawn back and I experience feelings in ways that I really did not believe were possible. Maybe the greatest impact is to my sense of empathy, compassion and love.
I shared a story at Connections this past weekend about a homeless person that Christine and I came across in Seattle last year. When my heart is closed, I am fearful and suspicious. I draw emotional walls around me and I do not easily feel the emotional energy around me. When my heart is open, I find it easy to feel the energy of individuals all around me. I feel empathy, compassion, generosity and love. As we walked past this homeless person I made quick eye contact with him and something registered in my heart. In that moment, I am not concerned about what that homeless person will do with the money that I want to give him, that is not the point. I want to reach out to him because that is what my heart wants. And, it is a powerful driving force in that moment. I do not question it. We took a few steps past the homeless person but then stopped in obedience to my heart. I walked over and placed my hand on his shoulder. I felt it was important for him to feel my energy and hopefully receive my gift. He did so with gratitude. I call these heart moments, love encounters. It is an act of vulnerability that makes it possible to experience a magical moment.
This kind of deep emotional response is only possible when your heart is open. There is always the risk that you are not going to get the response you want and that sometimes you put yourself in danger. That is the nature of vulnerability. You are willing to put yourself in harm’s way because the reward is to feel your heart fully.
This is what I want for my heart. How about you?