by jane arie baldwin
I am currently writing about my early childhood experiences with vulnerability and how it shaped my understanding of love. Vulnerability is an uncomfortable concept historically associated with weakness. Yet the more I dig deep into my soul and my past to excavate my early beliefs, the more I understand where I gave up on myself and quit trusting love.
Just recently I listened to Brene Brown’s TED talk on her research in vulnerability. As a research scientist she offers refreshing information on the concept of vulnerability and some of the uncomfortable concepts associated with it. Namely, unworthiness, guilt, and shame. Finally! Someone has found a way to measure these concepts and offer empirical evidence that highlights the importance of vulnerability for true happiness. These uncomfortable feelings no longer merely exist in a soup of undesirable emotions but as concepts that can be brought into the light and transformed into authenticity and self confidence. Dr. Brown offers important information on the practicality and universality of these concepts. Her work forces us to look at vulnerability with fresh eyes offering a revolutionary idea – that vulnerability liberates the heart.
LISTEN TO DR. BROWN’S TED TALK HERE
Life can be a powerful mirror when we are willing to look. So this week, while I have been studying the concept of vulnerability my nine-year old daughter Ruby has been pushing my buttons. Last week was a doozy. It was a triple-threat of a week. We were butting heads at home, her teacher noticed at difference in her behavior in the classroom, she even had a hard time socially on the school playground. It felt like at our house that an uncomfortable itch had developed and we couldn’t locate the exact position to scratch. Finally on Thursday night the boil came to a head. Ruby had done a very convincing job all week of pretending to be studying for two upcoming tests. Because she was having such a tough week I had given her a wide girth – well, I was basically being as hands-free as possible because we were having such an uncomfortable week.
On Thursday night many blank pages and blank note cards surfaced from her school work. She did the opposite of what I thought she would do. I expected her to see that she was caught not doing her work and would decide on her own to do the work. Instead she became like a caged animal that had been bullied into a corner and lashed out at me as if I was the cause of the whole mess. I took her words as a personal assault, I let go of my heart, my authentic self that is the mother, the nurturer and the backbone. Instead of swallowing my pride I marched to the computer and began Googling, looking for local therapists of defiant nine-year olds. Fear welled up inside of me that I was failing at being a mother. Feelings, old feelings from my childhood took over. I questioned who I was. Suddenly, I wanted to run away. “That’s it! That’s what I’ll do! That’s what I know,” I thought to myself, “it’s what I experienced.”
In our fits of conflict Mom would leave because to stay meant anger that she did not know how to control, could not control. There was no alcohol involved, no pills, just unabashed anger – the kind she knew from her parents. The more I thought about it the more it seemed like the right thing to do, the familiar thing to do, just leave – just for a few hours – go to a movie, drive around, get a coffee or an ice cream, let some steam off. I could leave until this whole thing washes over and then come back and there will be hugs and apologies and then I would have bypassed this uncomfortableness.
My husband, Jimmy, walked toward me where I sat at the computer. I looked up at him and said, “Maybe I should just leave, just go away for a few hours.”
“Why would you do that?” he asked.
His question propelled me into the present moment. There was no judgement in his question, no loaded emotion. Jimmy lives straight from the heart and doesn’t let an overactive mind unnecessarily filter and hide his emotions. He asked a simple question that brought me back. “Why would I do that? Why would I leave,” I wondered.
I sat alone in my chair for a moment absorbing the honesty in my husbands question. It was one of the toughest moments I have experienced in a long time because every fiber in my being wanted to punish her and tell that nine-year old that I was the boss. Then I thought about the repercussions – the guilt, shame and unworthiness Ruby would feel and that would be triggered in me. I realized that my leaving because I thought it was the right thing to do for me could end up doing harm to her, sending her a message that it’s not okay to have bad weeks, that its not okay to vent and air grievances or have conflict.
Vulnerability says “I am going to risk listening to my heart, standing up for what I believe because this is me.”
For a moment I let myself feel vulnerable. I let go of knowing what I knew from how I learned it, what I saw my mother do. I decided to risk it, to listened to my heart and decide what to do based on what my heart said. I noticed without judgement that I felt weak. In that moment I realized that vulnerability isn’t weak but when we sit in vulnerability for a moment one of the first feelings that often comes up is the feeling of weakness. I let out an exhale, probably the first in about thirty minutes.
Jimmy walked back in the room,”Ruby wants to see you,” he said, “she said she’s ready for you to quiz her with the flash cards.”
And just like that – GRACE.
Profound grace washed over the moment. Grace that I could not have orchestrated had I not listened to my heart.
We were back. We studied. We laughed. Then we rested. Together.