Often times we are frightened by vulnerability because of the pain that it may bring. We often correlate pain with vulnerability in Western society. And pain is something we are taught to avoid.
But what if pain is not something to be frightened by or pushed away but something we should explore? Tom Ogden (2011) states: “Perhaps the almost irresistible impulse is to kill the pain, and in so doing kill[ing] a part of ourselves” (p. 113). I often wonder what would life be like if we learned how to accept pain as a part of life and learned to live with it. What would it be like not to work against pain, but move towards it?
The Path to Your True Self
I believe learning to live through pain and learning how to live with vulnerability leads us to becoming more of our true selves. Vulnerability and “pain tolerance” leads to a stronger identity and discovering more of who we were created to be.
The pain we feel I often identify as shame. Shame is not feeling good enough, or not feeling we did enough. Shame simply is not being ENOUGH. When others feel pain they often feel as though they cannot allow themselves to express the negative emotion. If they do express pain there is a fear that others will view them as not having “it” together. And if we don’t have “it” together then we are viewed as weak and vulnerable.
This brings us back to weakness, pain, and vulnerability as negative instead of a part of life. But it is a part of life. Everyone experiences pain in life. Even if it is pushed down, cut off, or thrown away. Do you know anyone that has never experienced pain? So if everyone experiences pain, then why don’t we give ourselves and others space to express it?
Shame causes us to shy away from pain and vulnerability. The most difficult thing we can do on this fallen earth is to reveal our pain, reveal our true selves, and be vulnerable with others. We wonder: Will this person accept me? Will I be rejected if I reveal my true self? Will they think I am crazy?
Shame and pain avoidance drives us away from intimacy and into unhealthy relationships, addictions, loneliness, and even more shame.
Because of shame we place ourselves in situations that are more comfortable but drive us away from our true selves and intimacy needs.
We run to the comfortable. We run away from pain. It is a scarier and more difficult path to feel these difficult emotions. Yet, the only way to be engaged in life is to accept pain and vulnerability as a part of our experience. Leading us to experiencing true intimacy and having a sound identity.
A Painful Undertaking
But it is tricky. This process of accepting pain, taking risks, and being vulnerable can lead to more pain. Because our pain and vulnerability could be rejected. It is painful to be rejected, and this fear comes from a real place for all of us. The fear of experiencing pain from the rejection of others can feel like bondage.
This is a process for all of us. We must first experience emotional healing before we feel the freedom to be our true selves with others. For me, it has been important to find safe people and places to do the work of healing. My first place of healing from the wounds of rejection and shame was with my therapist. I cannot understate the value of working with a good therapist, regardless of whether you have diagnosable mental health issues or not.
Seek Wise Counsel
Beginning healing through therapy starts with humility. In one of my devotionals, She Reads Truth, states: “…seeking counsel, requires the humility to openly admit that we do not know all there is to know. It also requires the grace to receive what may, at the time feel like a wound, believing that wounds from a true friend can be trusted” (Proverbs, Day 18).
Being with a therapist provided me with space to experience emotional healing in my brokenness and to learn what true friendship looks like. Without accepting my pain and healing from the emotional wounds of my childhood, as well as the ways addiction affected my family, I would not be able to be vulnerable with others or truly accept and love myself.
Emotional healing ultimately gives us freedom to be our true selves. When we are okay with who we are and learn to love ourselves, we can overcome the fear of rejection (shame) and push ourselves to be known by others.
Even after seeing a therapist for years, it is still hard work for me to consistently practice vulnerability. But I strongly believe emotional healing and acceptance of difficult emotions, allows us to have our real needs for relationship and love met. Only when we come to a place of acceptance can we live in the vulnerability that creates true intimacy.
Nothing else can fill our emotional needs and pains except vulnerable and authentic relationships. We were created to be known and loved. It takes courage and faith to be vulnerable. Take heart, let your guard down, and allow yourself to be truly known. Only then will you experience lasting growth, intimacy, and self-acceptance.
Ogden, T. (2001). Conversations at the frontier of dreaming. London: Karnac.
Bess is a counselor, speaker, and teacher. As a researcher and studier of shame and vulnerability, Bess enjoys helping others process these struggles. Bess is passionate about others becoming their true selves and sitting with others in the process. You can find her speaking at Where Grace Abounds, Denver Seminary, and others on this subject and more. To contact or learn more about Bess visit her website or find her on Instagram or Facebook.