Thoughts on vulnerability

I’ll start at the beginning of the thought.

I was thinking the pattern from childhood was really—the pattern I could find—was that it was wrong to need or be powerless or be vulnerable. You can think of this in a moral way: shame would be about that developing conscience being shaped from someone who isn’t quite there or in control of themselves. Or you can think of it in an instrumental way.

It comes from growing up in a world where being powerless meant you were hurt. As an adult, what can happen is that you learn to avoid vulnerability in any form. If you are vulnerable, someone will hurt you. The emotion involved in that is fear: I want a job, I feel afraid. I want to talk to C, I feel afraid. I want the bus to come, and I feel afraid. So I might learn to avoid feeling vulnerable and feeling afraid.

I might act superior to others. I might become focused on perfection. I might try to be rigidly self-reliant so that I never have to depend on anyone. I might deny my vulnerability by pretending I don’t need the things I need, and using others as objects. I might seek out relationships where the other person seems to have less power than me, and so I can get some of my attachment needs met without ever meeting someone on equal terms. I might seek out someone I perceive as being strong and able to protect me only to realize later that I am vulnerable in the company of this person.

That’s narcissism—sometimes. Or codependence. Or enmeshment. Depending.

None of these coping methods make you a very likeable person.

I was thinking about feeling vulnerable, and I felt a kind of internal rage attack inside, like I hate the vulnerable child I was.

Then I realized I hated being powerless. When no one around you takes care of you or cares or even seems to like you, it is terrible to be so needy and exposed. It is terrible to feel powerless like that.

In the past, I might have felt I had to deny those feelings and “correct” them. I would have felt I needed to see I am not powerless now and I am safe. But I am going back to this idea that when you can remember the past clearly, you can see clearly what is different about the present. That takes care of itself.

So I just acknowledged to myself how terrible it was to need protection and not get it. It is terrible to be starving for warmth and receive none. It was terrible to be that child who could neither care for myself nor protect myself with the people who were supposed to protect.

It was terrible. And it’s okay to know now how very terrible that was, because it is over. It is okay to feel those vulnerable, angry, sad, heartbroken feelings now because they have already happened.

All I might do now is see when I feel vulnerable and help my body feel safe at those times.


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