The Upside of Vulnerability: How to deepen your experience of love and joy by expanding your capacity for vulnerability.
February 2011   Issue #26

Today’s Topic:  The Vulnerability of Loving

Dear friends,

Happy Valentine’s Day!   I hope you find some sweet ways to celebrate love in your life.

Inspired by the research of Dr. Brene Brown, I’ve been mulling over a new awareness about the important role of vulnerability, in our experience of love, joy and connection.  Given my topic, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I'm feeling a little more vulnerable than usual in sharing my thoughts!  I found this topic more difficult to articulate than many of the topics I've tackled in the past.  I hope it touches a chord for you.

For those looking for some new inspiration around generating romance in your relationship – romance that will continue beyond Valentine’s Day -- check out my earlier article Creating Ongoing Romance. Refresh your ideas about romance and how to experience more of it.

Here’s to the spread and expression of LOVE in our world, this month and always!

Warm regards,

Something to think about

Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.

-Brene Brown PhD

How to deepen your experience of joy and love

Valentine’s Day is traditionally about flowers, chocolate, dining out – and coming up with new and creative ways to let your partner know that he/she is loved.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for finding special ways to celebrate our relationships.  And any reason for a dinner out is OK in my books!

However I would like to suggest an additional focus on February 14th and beyond.  I’d like to suggest that you focus on cultivating your inner capacity to experience joy and connection.  How?  Some recent research confirms that expanding your ability and your willingness to be vulnerable is a potent strategy for deepening your experience of love, joy and appreciation.

What does vulnerability have to do with experiencing love, joy and appreciation?

Some of us have an aversion to the V word – vulnerability, that is!  Given that vulnerability is defined as susceptibility to harm or injury, it isn’t surprising that most of us don’t pursue it.

However here's the catch:  an experience of deep joy REQUIRES the courage to be vulnerable.  For inherent in the joy of every loving relationship is the possibility of loss.  Loving IS a risk.  When we open ourselves to another -- and experience the joy and fulfillment of doing so -- we become vulnerable to losing them.

Loss may occur in a variety of ways.  When we are younger, we may fear our lover leaving us – for school, for a job, for another or even to “find themselves”.  As we age, we increasingly fear our loved ones leaving us through illness or death. 

When we can’t tolerate our vulnerability

If you’re like me, you’d probably prefer not to focus on your vulnerability to loss.  After all, we can’t change the inevitability of loss, can we?  So why think about it?  I recently heard a very good case for the importance of acknowledging our vulnerability. 

Last fall I attended a talk by Dr. Brene Brown, a writer and researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.  She has spent her career listening to people’s stories and discovering underlying patterns related to people’s experience of their deepest feelings.  In her talk, The Power of Vulnerability, Brene pointed to the inescapable relationship between vulnerability and joy.  I’ve been chewing on this connection ever since.

According to Brown, if we have no capacity for vulnerability, then our joy will turn into foreboding – or a sense of impending misfortune or disaster.  In her talk, Brown gave the example of gazing blissfully on her young sleeping daughter, engulfed in joy and gratitude – only to be jolted out of that joy by imagining something bad happening to her.  “Sound familiar to parents?” she asked the audience.  Heads nodded all around the room. 

Practising for loss

I was among those nodding in agreement.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say how often I find myself imagining coping with the loss of my spouse, my children or my parents.  It happens when I read in the newspaper about a child killed in an accident -- or hear of a friend or relative losing their partner – or their parent.  I imagine my own loss, how I would feel, how I would cope.  These thoughts arise in response to hearing about others’ losses, when  a loved one is leaving to travel or pehaps doing some activity involving risk.  Sometimes these thoughts arise for no apparent reason at all.

According to Brown, we circumvent feelings of vulnerability by “practising for loss”.  Ah!  Perhaps this is what my imaginings and worry is all about.  Perhaps worry also gives me the illusion that I’m actually DOING SOMETHING in the face of my vulnerability. 

Says Brown, “The willingness to soften into joy is the greatest risk we take, next to loving.”  We don’t control life and we ARE vulnerable to loss.  However the more courageously we can soften into that vulnerability, the deeper the experience of joy and connection that is available to us in the present moment. 

So how do we cultivate a capacity for vulnerability?

This is an ongoing learning for me.  Like most things, I believe cultivating a capacity for vulnerability takes willingness, practice and awareness.  Because I’m often unaware that I’m feeling vulnerable, I’ve found that it actually works best for me if I approach it backwards. 

I have started observing when I am engaged in thoughts of foreboding, worry or obsessing about the future. (Not surprisingly, it often comes up for me in relation to my kids.)  Each of these is a sign for me that I am feeling vulnerable and may not even realize it. 

When I acknowledge the feelings of vulnerability, then the foreboding, worry and attempts-to-control-the-future-through-my-thinking subside.  I am present to the vulnerability of loving someone I could lose.  And somehow that returns me to the present moment and to my joy and gratitude for having that someone in my life -- whether my husband, my kids, my family or my friends -- whom I treasure  and love so very dearly.  

This vulnerability to loss is part of the human condition that we all share.  Through embracing our vulnerability, we can all open ourselves to a deeper experience of love, joy and connection.

Invitation to action

Observe your own tendency to worry or fantasize disaster regarding your loved ones.  Take it as an indication that 1) you deeply love this person and 2) you are feeling vulnerable in relation to their potential loss.  Allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings of vulnerability.  This too shall pass.  Then savour the depth of your love.

Shirley’s Update:

If you’d like to hear more on this topic, treat yourself to Dr. Brene Brown’s Ted talk on The Power of Vulnerability.  I also highly recommend her books:  I Thought It Was Just Me and The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are.

Another Ted Talk which I recommend for post-midlife women is one by Jane Fonda on “Life's Third Act".  She presents an inspiring model of aging.

Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at
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