Can safe be vulnerable?
A few weeks ago, I walked in the door from a healing session on my mare Diva and myself and I couldn’t get my butt planted at my computer fast enough. If you know me, you know that my relationship with my horse is, well, unusual, deep, fascinating. After eleven years we are best friends, partially because of the passing of much time, but there’s a lot more to it than that. You see, Diva and I are connected in our purpose and our soul journey.
Before you make a judgement one way or another, hear me out. Because, you might just need to hear exactly what I have to say even though it has every indication of being completely out there and weird. I get it. And if you’d try to explain the happenings of the last decade to me before it began I would have told you to take a big long hike out of my life. Because I didn’t get any of it. Not at a conscious level anyways.
Right now, I am being a whole lot of vulnerable with you. Sharing that I’ve got something pretty darn interesting happening in my relationship with none other than my horse and it’s been going on for a good long while. Opening up about the fact that I am not only deeply spiritual myself, but I have overwhelming evidence that my horse is deeply rooted in spirit as well, not to mention all of the horses I have the good fortune to work with. The fact that from the very beginning, from that first meeting, Diva and I had something profound and intangible going on that I couldn’t put my finger on or understand until more recently. Something that moved us through the tough times, through the riffs, through multiple homes and countless adventures. And that she is not only my best friend, but my confidant, spiritual teacher, dating coach and business partner. Yep, there is not much I do in my business without the input of my horse. Or when it comes to choosing relationships (although, in this department I have often not listened to her sage advice when I really really should have. Sorry Diva!). We communicate daily on all sorts of levels…as my subtle senses go I’m very much a kinestethic “knowing” kind of gal. Yes, it’s true. I “talk” all the time with my horse.
All this tough to say. I could totally get judged, ridiculed, you name it. For sure. But you know what? I still feel safe sharing. And this is what we’re getting at today… Because sometimes it’s not safe to share on a deep and vulnerable level. Like our equine therapist Breanne shared a few weeks back. She said “Alexa, some people, some situations, are not worthy of your vulnerability”. How dead on. And some people, some situations are. And it’s up to us to learn how to figure out which is which.
If I went and posted this article on a site chock-a-block full of scientologists, I’m going to hazard a guess that it would not receive raving reviews. It might not be received at all but rather ridiculed. Not so safe. A site full of women who are exploring spirituality and empowerment? Yep, that feels better.
So right here, I would tend to towards justifying, explaining to you exactly how I know that Diva and I share something more than I had ever thought possible in an animal-human relationship, citing examples and using humerous and distracting anecdotes to create a foundation and arguably, a little defense, for my vulnerability. I’m going to do something turned-on-it’s-head different instead. I’m going to celebrate. Because, there is really nothing to prove. This is my truth and what is so frickin’ wonderful is no-one else has to get or believe it, other than me. I know how I felt that day that Diva showed me how to be truly compassionate, how to show up for another. I wept and wept at the side of that round pen. I know in my bones the connection that has kept our paths together through hurt and struggle and almost unbearable intensity. I know that I have found my soul mate in this 1300 pound dappled beauty. And I know that some of you are sitting at your computers nodding, or crying, or just plain confused but at the same time wondering. And that all of it is perfect, every response.
I write this piece for each one of you because if something comes up for you, I can help you navigate it. It is entirely possible I have navigated the exact same road block myself. I have, quite possibly, created safety for you through my vulnerability. To share, to have a conversation, to be a little bolder in your own not-so-conventional relationships. This is just one gift of authentic vulnerability. We give others permission to feel safe doing what preciously felt dangerously impossible.
Where safety and vulnerability need more blending…
When I was a child, my vulnerable sharing was not always well-received. Nor did I have a clue what it was I was really experiencing, how to express it when I did, if I was safe or not, or who was worthy of my vulnerability. I was like a vulnerability grenade, going off in the absolutely wrong places at the perfectly wrong time and leaving carnage and hurt feelings in my wake.
Do I still fall into this trap? You bet I do. I want to be understood and seen so badly at times that I force my “vulnerability” and “truth” on others and fully expect them to embrace it. The result? Well, as you might expect, not so pretty. Some friends, who know my goodness deeply enough, can pull through and stay with it. Others pull back, hurt, feeling unsafe with me, my volatility. I go into major self criticism, feelings of rejection and shut down, feeling like if they really loved me they could handle all of my “vulnerability.”
Remember, this “vulnerability” was pretty much always half-baked and reactive, not necessarily the truth or even part of it, but more just what I thought I was feeling at the time with a dose of passive-agressiveness to really drive it home. Perhaps you can relate? So it’s not surprising that vulnerability generally equalled a distinct lack of safety, not only for myself but for others. And it’s taken me awhile to find my way through this particular pattern and to the other side. When is being vulnerable safe? And when is it the opposite?
The first thing I realized is that my definition of vulnerability needed a little revamping. Puking up my unprocessed feelings all over the closest friend/victim is not actually vulnerability apparently. Vulnerable sharing requires a distinct and essential processing period prior to letting loose. It is vital to remember that the truth is often buried under a whole lot of knee-jerk reaction. And it takes time and breath to move through those levels until you hit pay dirt. If your limbic reactive-emotional brain or your reptilian survival brain are doing the talking, you’re probably setting yourself and your friend up for a world of hurt. You gotta let that experience pass through those brains, even through the logical cortical level and into the lovely relationship-saavy realm of the heart before embarking on sharing your experience vulnerably. No, this doesn’t mean that you’re being dishonest. It just means that you’re giving your bread time to rise, your roses a chance to blossom. No one really likes getting a big ole’ stem of thorns and no beautiful bloom. It also gives you some time to share in a way that provides space for solution or growth.
A great way to know if you’re really sharing vulnerably or not is to ask if you’re sharing in such a way that a solution is obvious and easy to find. If not, you’re probably just dumping your negative feelings on your buddy and calling it vulnerability, when in fact, it is just all the shit that is covering up your actual vulnerable and workable offering. For example, if you’re not feeling supported by a friend or by the way they’re showing up for you, before having a chat come to a place where you can also share what it would look like to show up for you in a way that felt good, hopefully for both of you. This opens up an opportunity for growth in the relationship and a clear path to change rather than a big cluster of volatile feelings with absolutely no solution in sight.
Secondly, I realized that I wasn’t super discerning about who I was being vulnerable with. And it was getting me into trouble and causing me to feel pretty unsafe (as throwing yourself under the bus can tend to do). I would share vulnerably about some wonderful vision or idea and have it immediately crushed by a person who was never capable of holding space for it in the first place. Then I would take their experience of it on, and often, let my dream shrivel up and die. Not cool.
Let me be very clear here. There are certain people that are worthy of your vulnerability and those that are not. And there are levels. Perhaps you share something pretty deep with random dude on a plane because it just feels right and you know you’ll never see him again. Or you choose to wait to share a certain idea except with an absolutely core group of beautiful space-holding souls who you know have your back. And you’ve tested that water out already to know it’s ready and waiting for a deep dive. Know what I mean?
Third thing. So critical. Pay close attention to your yes and no. We live in a world where we are actually encouraged to over-ride feelings of unsafeness (is that even a word?). You’ve probably been told time after time to “push through it” “feel the fear and do it anyways!” and so on. I call bullshit here. Your feelings of being safe or unsafe and most importantly, listening to them, are an essential aspect of cultivating trust – trust of your body, trust of your environment, trust in your decisions and your knowing. Otherwise a more accurate term for what you’re up to is bypassing and you’re gonna have to go back and deal with a little or a lot of stuff later on.
Sometimes our fears are just excuses and we get a great big full body yes to move forward anyways. Awesome. Yes, very often moving towards the fear is powerful stuff, deeply healing, especially when you’re letting your innate yes and no take care of you and your body throughout. But it is worth remembering that we have grown up in a culture of “feel the fear and do it anyways” and “fake it till you make it” – it’s little wonder we’re well-versed in over-riding our inner no’s in favour of pushing onwards. It is essential that you allow a pause and reflection when things aren’t feeling safe. Case in point is the tremendous success of approach and retreat with horses when approaching something they are scared of. Giving them the opportunity to leave if they need to allows them to build trust not only in themselves and their environment, but also in you.
Not super connected to your yes and no? Most of us aren’t and that’s ok. It just indicates an opportunity to start the process of getting integrated in your body and letting yourself feel (check out this breathing video for a little help with that). You might notice that a lot of stuff feels pretty unsafe to start. Trust that and work with your body rather than against it, breathing deeply and practicing your own version of approach and retreat. Eventually, as trust grows, life will naturally feel way more free and full of possibilities. You may also feel the need to work with a wellness practitioner to find more ease in this transition…remember you’re shifting some fairly deeply ingrained ways of thinking and being!
Are safety and vulnerability cut from the same cloth? Not completely. But they definitely aren’t oil and vinager either. A little more like apples and cheese…you wouldn’t think they would go together but somehow they just work.
To your fabulousness,