This is a follow-on to my blog yesterday where I discussed the shame vulnerability and how crippling it can be. In today’s blog I want to talk about what it looks like to love through the vulnerabilities. Most of us tend to find like-minded people who share our same vulnerabilities as those are the people that can most naturally soothe our fears. However, to truly grow through our vulnerabilities often it takes mingling with others outside our comfort zone to see our vulnerabilities for what they are, how much they control us, and how deep the wounds are.
I spent my 20s and early 30s trying to overcome my core vulnerabilities. Have I mastered them, no. Do I have them pretty in check these days, yes. What this has allowed me to do now is focus on how to love and accept those who haven’t and don’t share my vulnerabilities. As with most people, no matter how snarly or icy the person gets when their core vulnerabilities are triggered, if they share our same vulnerabilities, it’s easy to see what they need through the prickles and give them the unconditional love they crave to simmer down and move forward. So this article is focused on what it means to provide unconditional love to someone that doesn’t share our core vulnerability.
Whether the person is plagued with fear of physical safety or whether they are petrified with emotional safety, most people just need to feel secure and loved unconditionally to move through it. The hold my hand, let’s do this together philosophy. Take the person that is terrified with physical security. Perhaps they have created fort knox at their house, they overreact if their baby is out of sight, they freak out walking down a dark alley or swimming with sharks. If they are going overboard, to the point it feels impacting to their life, often they are really just saying – I don’t feel safe. What they need, to feel safe. Well, if you’re asking them to swim with a shark, they need to know you understand why they feel it is risky, that you’ll hold their hand, and you’ll protect them if they need it.
The same goes for the person who is afraid of looking bad. If they are terrified to make decisions, to drive, to take responsibility, to be accountable for anything, including their own mistakes. If this is to the point they are overwhelmed with fear, it’s crippling their lives, what they are saying is – I don’t feel safe. Not physically unsafe, but emotionally unsafe. If you’re asking them to make a decision, they need to know you’ll have their back, that if they make a mistake, you’ll still love them and accept them, that their failures don’t define them.
Sounds easy enough right? Well, if the person who has your opposite vulnerability is both self-aware and has processed their stuff, sure. They’ll be able to say – I’m not comfortable leading the activity, it scares me, I need your help. Or – I’m not comfortable leaving the doors unlocked, even if just for a minute, it scares me, I need your help. Sure, we’re reasonable human beings if someone kindly and in a self-controlled non-blaming way asks these things, we’ll likely respond with love and compassion. So what’s the challenge then?
As I briefly touched on yesterday, often core vulnerabilities bring out an irrational emotional ugly side to people. If it’s not kept in check, it can be a very prickly experience for those around. Border lining on abuse in some cases. The daggers thrown by someone experiencing a core vulnerability that lacks self-awareness and hasn’t process their stuff, can get down right cruel, mean, inconsiderate at a level you can’t imagine. In other cases, the prickles can be more tolerable, still hurtful, but not extreme. In either case, wanting to have the back and hold the hand of someone attacking us is often not our first instinct. Should it be?
First, I’m not in any way advocating allowing someone to abuse us, to scape goat us, to blame us, to beat us down so let’s clear that up first. It is possible to stand up for ourselves and still hold the hand of the other. What would that look like? I’ll take an example of the guy next to me in the airport a few weeks back. His wife left her cell phone in the checked luggage. It triggered his fears – what if they got separated? What if an emergency came up? The risk flags raised. He was alarmed and prickly. He was sharing the scenarios of harm in an elevated way, he was making accusations that attacked her character. She didn’t say a word until the end just said, ok. Didn’t acknowledge him, didn’t stand up for herself, didn’t reassure him she’d take more care next time. I’d suspect his vulnerability was fear and hers shame, which likely made it difficult for her to naturally know what to say or do, or even show empathy.
Let’s take another example of a women I saw last week at the grocery store. Her husband asked if she’d grabbed the milk on the earlier trip. She got very prickly and upset getting mad that he could even question if she’d remembered, that she was very capable, that of course she got the milk, attacking his character, being abrasive. He seemed rather in shock over the reaction and just let her throw it all out at him. His response was to get annoyed, roll his eyes, ask why she always overreacts, and told her she was acting like a child. He didn’t acknowledge her, didn’t stand up for himself, didn’t remind her of how capable he thought she was. Similar to the above example, I’d suspect this too was a variance in core drivers making it hard to know what to do or empathize.
In the first example, the lady enabled the man and may likely encounter the same issues in the future. I’d suspect she maybe even harbored resentment for how he treated her and instead of standing up for herself, she kept it in, perhaps it even resulted in her behaving passive aggressively or vengefully later. Hard to say. In the second example, the man fueled the woman, letting his emotions escalate the issue instead of standing up for himself for how she treated him, he fought back. I’d suspect this wasn’t the first altercation for them, and likely not the last.
No one said it’s easy to hug and love a prickly person. Especially when they are attacking our character, blaming us, scapegoating us, and down right being mean. Though often the best way to help them get through their core vulnerabilities and develop healthier ways to respond, is by standing up for ourselves in a kind and gentle way and then reaffirming to them we have their back (regardless if we feel they have ours). It means not taking it personal, holding back our emotion, and realizing this is about them, their journey, that they need us, they are just screaming for help in a rather offensive way, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they are asking to be shown love.
What is interesting, is if we think of this in the context of the Five Love Languages. Are they really just ways of circling around the real driver, which is – we seek people and methods that sooth our greatest fears? It makes me wonder if shame folks are more geared toward Words of Affirmation and fear folks are more geared toward Actions. That if we just cut to the chase and focus on the two primary drivers and what people need to feel safe, doesn’t it also correlate to how they perceive being loved. If it’s shame, love comes in the form of helping them feel emotionally safe. If it’s fear, love comes in the form of helping them feel physically safe. Just some food for thought…