“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” -Brene Brown
In order to have an authentic connection, both people in a relationship must be willing to be vulnerable. They must be willing to step outside of their comfort zones and allow themselves to be truly known. If most people desire authentic connections, why is allowing oneself to be vulnerable so difficult?
The answer: The fear of rejection.
No one wants to open up to another person and receive criticism, judgment, rejection, and/or abandonment in return. We don’t want to walk out there on a limb just to have another person or people come up and cut that limb out from under us. We want to keep ourselves safe and in order to do that we hide what just might be the most amazing parts of us. The parts of us that really connect us to other people.
Having the courage to be vulnerable and risk rejection is the very thing that bonds two people in an emotionally intimate relationship together. You see, it is the fear of vulnerability that often creates a fantasy bond rather than an authentic connection. How can we be authentically connected if we are hiding our authentic self?
Many times people who have been married for years have no idea that a fear of vulnerability steals from their relationship. They become angry at their partner without expressing the hurt behind the anger. They may get angry with their spouse for spending so much time on their smart phone without telling their partner it makes them feel hurt and unimportant.
Hesitating to tell your partner what it is you really need because you do not want to appear “weak” or “needy” is a good indication that a fear of vulnerability and rejection are at play. Your ego never comes from a place of vulnerability and can wreck the chance of true connection. When you have the courage to express your vulnerabilities, you may find that your partner is better able to empathize with your need, rather than becoming frustrated with your anger.
Opening up does put us at risk for judgment and rejection, and we may have to use caution when deciding who to trust with our intimate disclosures. (Some people, we know from experience, are just not safe and will quickly cut that limb out from under us) Know that these people may not change. Instead, surround yourself with supportive others who are able to be vulnerable themselves. These are the people who are less likely to judge you because they are in touch with their own vulnerabilities.
The bottom line, irrespective of whose conceptual framework and lingo is being used (Brown’s, Carl Roger’s, etc), is how much safety we require/desire/want/expect upfront from the other person (how much space we expect the other person to create and hold for us), versus how much safety and space we can provide for ourselves by our own emotional maturity and our smarts.
What Brown and Rogers and their ilk are describing is “other-validated intimacy” (using Schnarch’s phrase). Other-validated intimacy is like hothouse intimacy. For a person to be intimate and vulnerable, honest and open, he or she requires optimal conditions. And if those conditions are not there, them work begins on making the conditions better (years of couples therapy and practice in reflective/empathetic listening, etc), or in seeking out elsewhere more favorable conditions (breaking-up, divorce, affairs, emotional affairs).
The alternative to other-validated intimacy / hothouse intimacy is self-validated intimacy. Self-validated intimacy works best when we know why we hold the beliefs and points of view that we do hold (or at least we have some reasonable idea why), why we think and feel like we do. When we already have some clue as to why we are like we are, then other people’s criticism and “judgment” and rejection can be kept in perspective: we just don’t need their support and understanding and approval as badly as when we don’t really understand ourselves or know how to support ourselves and stand up for ourselves or stand fairly well on our own.
The intimacy that we all practice is some combination or mix or muddled hybrid of the above two (other-validated and self-validated intimacy). To the extent that we don’t yet really understand ourselves and can’t yet stand on our own (relatively speaking) very well (or for very long) emotionally, the definition of “connection” and vulnerabilty that Brown gives will seem right and appealing. To the extent that we can reasonably and validate our own perceptions and opinions and emotionally stand up for ourselves and our own thoughts and ideas and point of view and deal with “judgment” and criticism rationally (instead of reactively and emotionally), Brown’s description and definition of connection and intimacy and shame and authenticity will seem limited and even errant.
As we learn to stand on our own emotionally and think clearly for ourselves, our level of differentiation (maturity) will increase and our fear of intimacy and vulnerability and rejection will decrease.
Kristin Barton Cuthriell says
Thank you for your comments, John. You bring up some really good points. You always give me a lot to think about. Thanks. I hope you have a good day! 🙂
Thank you for this post. One of the many things I enjoy about your blog is that you provide readers with perspectives that are valuable to many different stages of self-realization. So often, those who are professionals in the field of psychology or who consider themselves spiritual teachers forget that we must all begin where we are at. Moreover, the desire for intimacy is a very real component of our humanity that does not disappear in the framework of personal and spiritual transformation. We are human for as long as we are human; and there’s no getting around it. Your post acknowledges the vulnerability that necessarily accompanies true intimacy; and it provides practical insights for how to move past the fears that can hinder us from experiencing the level of intimacy we desire. Bravo, Kristin!
Love & Light,
Kristin Barton Cuthriell says
You always brighten my day with your positive energy, Sloan. Thank you for your comments. Happy Wednesday. I hope it is a good one.