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  Embracing Vulnerability

Subtitle: 
Excerpted from Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage of Recovery from Sexual Abuse, by Rachel Grant (2012)

“Any sign of weakness or vulnerability is unthinkable. If others discover we are weak, they will have power over us and this knowledge will be used against us.”

~ Cynthia Kubetin-Littlefield, Shelter from the Storm

 Life after abuse feels like a battlefield. We become like warriors, constantly striving to guard ourselves from being wounded or hurt again. In fact, by definition, being vulnerable means to be capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt! Is it any wonder that we resist vulnerability with such adamant force?! 

We have experienced very real moments when our weakness, naivety, lack of control or power were fully used against us. Once we escaped the abuse, we became determined to never be used in such a way again.

In addition, we lost all sense of safety and security, which needs to be present in order to embrace vulnerability. In an effort to regain a sense of safety and security, we typically abandon vulnerability and instead take up our swords of control. Same song, different day, right?

 

Reflection

How have you avoided being vulnerable and instead used control to gain a sense of safety and security in your relationships?

Example: I always want to decide what we are going to do and when.

In your body?

Example: I refuse to eat in a healthy way or I have to follow a very strict diet.

In your circumstances?

Example: Everything must go as planned. I don’t like being caught off-guard.

In your environment?

Example: My house must be clean and orderly – nothing out of its place.

What is the impact on you or others as a result of avoiding vulnerability and instead trying to control?

Example: There is tension, distrust, and a lack of connection.

 

Our need to control outcomes drives so many of our behaviors. This, however, is where we make the greatest error in recovery. Control only provides a false sense of security – an illusion! Whereas, through the openness and sensitivity that vulnerability requires, we develop deeper and stronger connections that can be relied upon and trusted.

Besides, what a false belief it is to think that we are not vulnerable? All of us, no matter what we do, are capable of being physically or emotionally wounded. There is no escaping vulnerability, so we might as well embrace it and use it to our own benefit.

 

But how?

First, we need to identify and challenge the false beliefs that we have developed around vulnerability. You can start by answering these questions:

If I am vulnerable, it means that…

 

When I consider being vulnerable, I think or feel…

 

Next, to be exposed (vulnerable) means to be open and susceptible to harm. But, it also means that we will be open and susceptible to many wonderful things as well!

What are the good things you become open to or gain access to by being vulnerable?

 

I am not advocating that we let down the drawbridge for just anyone, but I am asking that we at least remove the rusted chains and locks so that we can invite others in when the time comes in order to experience these things.

 

Thirdly, it is important that we consider who and what we are opening ourselves up to! Many of our fears of being vulnerable (e.g. our belief that to need another person means to be powerless) have been reinforced by our own bad choices. Now, we do not need to feel guilty or ashamed about that, but we do need to take responsibility for the fact that openness and vulnerability may not actually be the culprits here. The real problem may be who or what we are choosing to be open to!

 

What choices have you been making, risks have you been taking that reinforce your false beliefs about vulnerability?

 

Finally, we need to understand, I mean really understand, that there is always a risk involved in everything we do and in every relationship. But, without risk, there is no reward. Check out this additional definition of vulnerability in the context of a bridge game:

“liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge”

~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I love that! To be vulnerable in this card game means that you will likely experience penalties but you are also promised increased bonuses after winning. In the game of Beyond Surviving that we are playing, to be vulnerable means that we will likely experience disappointments and hurts –there is a risk – but we are also entitled to payoffs. These include intimacy, connection, adventure, authenticity, joy, and independence – lots of bonuses!

 

Homework

Pick out an area of life where you are over-controlling. What would it be like to give up some control and instead embrace vulnerability? What steps would you need to take to let down your drawbridge?

 

For an additional perspective on vulnerability, watch “The Power of Vulnerability”.

 

Bonus: The payoff of vulnerability

I have had friends say to me from time to time, “Things just seem to flow for you. Jobs, relationships – they just seem to come to you ... why is that?!” I have never really been able to answer this question well, but, as I reflected upon this concept of “flow,” I was reminded of a moment that taught me a lot about vulnerability. I will give you the punch line first and then tell all the dirty details: I lost my job one day and got hired for a new job the next day!

 

Now let’s go back in time:

 

While still working as a mentor for teens in 2009, each leader was asked to write up a personal profile that would be shared with the parents and teens. One of the questions was: What are your dreams and aspirations? Now, the typical responses were often about wanting to start a family, some career goal, or places to travel. While I surely have some similar intentions for my life (Italy!), when I thought about what I really dream and aspire to be and do, I realized my answer would not fit the status quo. So, now, a decision presented itself - go with the standard response or be authentic?

Here is what I wrote:

“To live in such a way that people are better off for having known me. To love unconditionally, to forgive radically, and to live with integrity.”

Now, those thoughts are so key to who I am that putting them out there for just anyone to see was stepping into being vulnerable and giving up being stingy with myself by sharing. It also meant risking being misunderstood or judged.

 

A week after the profiles were posted, I got a call from a mom who had seen the posting. She said, “I read that and immediately knew you were someone I needed to connect with!” We had an hour-long conversation, getting to know each other. She shared with me that her company produced and distributed meal replacement products. I had no interest in becoming a “salesperson” – but I filed the information away as something to keep in mind for others.

 

The day after I lost my job, I called her, because I had some extra cash (read “severance package”) and wanted to give her products a try. The conversation began by her asking the usual, “How are things going?” Rather than give the standard answer of, “Fine,” – I said, “Well, it’s been an interesting week! Yesterday ...” and I went on to explain what happened with my job. I also decided to share about a possible tutoring opportunity I had lined up. To which she said, “Oh, I’ve been looking for a tutor for my daughter! How about I hire you?!” ... and there ya go! ... I had a new source of income. On top of that, because she knew my situation, she offered to work with me on the cost of her products, so I could go ahead and give them a try!

 

As I smile again at remembering how one door closes and another door opens, I have decided that the flow in my life is directly related to:

1.   A willingness to give up looking good, to be authentic, to be genuine about myself, my life, my needs, and my desires as often as possible even when doing so goes against social norms or what feels most comfortable.

2.   By living authentically, I get into communication with people and share in a way that is vulnerable, open, and non-stingy.

3.   Which creates the space for opportunities and support from others to flow into my life either from the person directly or from someone who they may know.

 

If you were to set aside looking good, the fear of being vulnerable (or whatever else it is that stops you), what would you do today? Who would you get in touch with? What phone call would you make that you have been putting off?

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Rachel specializes in Trauma Recovery & Relationship coaching & holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She supports her clients in identifying and stripping away the patterns of thought and behavior that keep them from recovering from past trauma or making changes in their relationships. She developed her Trauma Recovery & Relationship coaching programs based on her own experience and training and has been successfully working with clients for the past five years.