11 Ways to Be Present to Another’s Vulnerability

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If you are the kind that needs research to validate what common sense and your heart will tell you easily enough, then you may want to listen to Brene Brown’s brilliant TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability‘.  Her research from hundreds of interviews led her to a breakdown and  she went to her therapist and said, “I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem, and I need some help.

There are two aspects to vulnerability.  The first is our own inner work; understanding that our own sense of love, worthiness, and courage is eventually only determined by our own attitudes and beliefs and cannot be gifted by another.  But undoubtedly, there are spaces that are more conducive to the flowering of our own growth and acceptance.  So  as we pursue our own development, we can concurrently be more sensitive to others. Being compassionate and non-judgmental to yourself is what makes it possible for you to be the same towards another. You cannot give what you don’t have.  But you can start where you are.  You need not wait to achieve a 100% level of self assurance, before reaching out to another.  If we were all a little more mindful towards creating a space of safe acceptance that encourages vulnerability, think of the authenticity and peace that we could bring to our interactions.

So here are 11 ways in which you can be present to another’s vulnerability:

  1. Listen Mindfully – Pay whole-hearted attention to the other person, clearing away as many distractions and interruptions that you can. Remember the times you have had to gather courage to speak from the heart – and listen the way you would have liked to have been heard.  Also, a heart focus brings about coherence in the emf field your heart is generating.  A coherent heard field can induct peace and calm in the other.
  2. Don’t say ‘I told you so’Silence Speaks better than words.  Be a receptive space for the other to listen to their own introspection.
  3. Don’t hold their past against them – Constant reminders of past events which have already been discussed are best left where they belong – in history.  By raking up old issues and shaming the other, you are depriving them of a chance to learn from their past and to move on.
  4. Don’t hold your past against them – Be mindful of projecting your own experiences, perceptions and emotions on to their sharing.
  5. Be Authentic – The last point does not imply that you may not share from your heart.  Opening yourself up is in fact most helpful to helping others relax into authenticity themselves.
  6. Do not bring up your past contributions – The common error that is made in our closest relationships is the accusatory tone that sounds like, ‘After all that I have done for you…’.  You have thereby guaranteed that any love and support that was received from you will now become a point of resentment and that results in an immediate disconnect.  When you gave, you probably gave freely.  Keep it that way.
  7. Be Kind – As the Dalai Lama says, it is always possible to be kind.  No matter what confessions you are listening to, try to be as kind as you can.  While the words ‘non-judgmental’ and ‘unconditional love’ have been trivialized by overuse, what I am suggesting is a more realistic, doable attempt at not jumping in with blame, judgement, accusations, or worse still disrespectful, insensitive, callous humour.  In a society that has come to value numbness and avoidance over vulnerability and openness, only too often we make light of a situation that is crying for a sincere, humane response.
  8. Allow the emotions to flow – If the person wishes to cry, let them.  If they rant, let them.  Often, all that is required is a vent to emotions that have been building up like steam in a pressure cooker.
  9. Do Not be Dismissive – What may seem immensely difficult for the other may not hold the same weight for you.  That does not mitigate it for them.  Don’t lose objectivity, but be sensitive to the burden of their emotions.
  10. Maintain Confidentiality – I cannot stress this one enough.  There is no way that a person is going to feel safe around you if you share their most heart wrenching moments in casual conversation or gossip.  Respect that trust is an honor that was bestowed upon you.  Keep things to yourself.
  11. Watch your judgments, cruelties and insensitivity – You are being observed all the time.  Your jokes about gays are never going to encourage your son to come out and tell you his true sexual identity.  Your dismissal of your friend’s hurt over rejections in love are not going to let your sister tell you about her suicidal thoughts over a heart break.  Your unrealistically high expectations of academics encourage your children to cheat in exams, lie to you and take up addictive substances.  As extreme as these examples are  – they demonstrate the society we are contributing towards.

When we shame others, we are essentially isolating them into painful prisons that they struggle to break out of.  In their pain, they can cause harm to themselves as well as others. This can take the form of self abuse, abusive relationships or at a larger level, violence and conflict in society.  If you don’t like the consequences, be the change you want to see.

I invite your comments and any additional suggestions to helping build kinder societies.

Image Source: http://tmblr.co/ZWlzqwF7H8jI

11 thoughts on “11 Ways to Be Present to Another’s Vulnerability

  1. Reblogged this on Flowering of eternity and commented:
    My greatest challenge since childhood has been to be vulnerable to my own mother – the one who mattered so much, was also someone who I felt intimidated with so much. About a year and a half ago I went through a quite an emotional breakdown with her because I deeply felt she was not understanding towards my feelings and sensitivities. However, in a fight that erupted between us, I just realised I’d had enough. I broke down in front of her, rather than hide myself away after a fight in my room and cry alone, and expressed to her exactly what I felt – that her actions/words were breaking me and even though I wanted to be exactly what she wanted me to be, I failed. I felt like a failure and I apologised in my brokenness that I could not be her ideal daughter – that I would love to exchange my talents for the other ‘regular’ qualities her friends’ daughters had, but I didn’t know how to.
    Little did I know what I had just done – bared my vulnerability. Little did I know what this would lead me to – my mother softened over time, and her expectations of me dropped dramatically. Over time she became more supportive of my talents and I learnt some of the regular things she expected of me. Today our relationship has touched middle ground – as I take time proactively to understand her needs of me from time to time, she is very encouraging of me. Fights have altogether stopped because I have stopped listening to the content, and focus instead on the intent.
    Sharing below an awesome article by Sangeeta on how to be present to the other person’s vulnerability. I don’t know how she has put this in a -point form but she has! 🙂 In places where I am still learning to be open to my own vulnerabilities, I am happy to refer to it.

  2. Once again, your honest vulnerability touches me. I feel certain that when we find the courage to come open with our innermost emotions, it not only makes us stronger and more whole, but it also touches another life in some healing way. Thank you for writing the way you do. And deeply appreciate your reblogging my article.

    love and hugs,


  3. I love the reminder to be the change we want to see. To understand the power of pain to transform for our good and growth is such a profound wisdom. Once we stop resisting, it stops persisting. When we embrace the feeling of it, just like all good hugs, it gets easier to make friends with and understand why it is there and what it is trying to teach us.

    Excellent gathering of supportive ways to give the emotional hug! (Must remember to do these things to be present with myself as well).

  4. I have learnt that all challenges turn out to be blessings in disguise in hindsight. So your suggestion of ‘making friends’ (right from the outset) appeals to me 🙂

    Thank you M 🙂

    1. Yes the idea of friendship came from several sources.

      A wonderful piece from the Sufi poet Rumi:

      Undressing by Rumi
      Learn the alchemy true human beings
      know: the moment you accept what

      troubles you’ve been given, the door
      will open. Welcome difficulty

      as a familiar comrade. Joke with
      torment brought by the Friend.

      Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
      and jackets that serve to cover,

      then are taken off. That undressing,
      and the naked body underneath, is

      the sweetness that comes after grief.

      Darkness as the friend, and SPARKLING still silence as what we WANT to grow like precious mind seeds we plant (aloe with chili anyone? lol) and to have it spread like cancer does :):

      Enjoy sweet lady!

      PS. I too just found Brene this past Sept and blogged about it. Love that those I love are finding what we love, helping us all.

  5. Hi Sangeeta, I had such a strong experience of this vulnerability & shame just yesterday. I wrote about it in my post The Race of Life… good to read your blog post right on cue.

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