I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately and its connection to anxiety, gratitude, and the experience of being in love. Thanks to the brilliant work of Brené Brown, the word vulnerability has entered the mainstream and has led to an unprecedented level of cultural conversations about it. That, in itself, is quite extraordinary and hopeful for, in some ways, the next stage of our evolution as a species hinges on our ability to be vulnerable: to be soft, defenseless, humble, open, and willing to take emotional risks. These qualities speak to the feminine principle which has been steamrolled and violated for thousands of years and has led to the near-destruction of our planet, including the colonization mindset which is responsible for untold levels of inhumane treatment of anyone deemed “less than”. But this is turning around. Hope is on the horizon.

In light of the vulnerability conversation, I recently shared this on Instagram:

We love safety. We love staying in our comfort zone. And for those of us on the anxious-sensitive-creative person, we love it A LOT. But a life that is too safe, a life where we refuse to take risks and step just enough outside our comfort zone that we grow but not too much that we’re overloaded, can lead to feeling flat and unfulfilled.

I feel vulnerable every time I hit “share” on Instagram.

I feel vulnerable every time I press “publish” on my blog

I feel vulnerable every time I speak from a soft, undefended place to my husband.

I feel vulnerable when I let a friend know that I’ve been hurt or that I need more connection.

I feel vulnerable when I release a new podcast episode.

I feel vulnerable when I announce a course.

But I’m willing to take the risk of vulnerability and tolerate the discomfort of not knowing how I’ll be received because, for me, a life lived inside the safe bubble of my comfort zone feels flat and stagnant.

I create because it’s what comes through me. I share because even if it helps one person, the risk of sharing is worth it. I practice shifting into the soft place of need with my loved ones because it’s here that our relationships are most honest and alive. Is it scary to live almost daily on this edge of vulnerability? Yes. But it’s also alive, meaningful, and fulfilling. It’s a sort of grounded exhilaration that is akin to feeling in love – except in this case I’m in love with life.

There’s a current of aliveness that runs through me, and I’ve come to understand that it’s in direct proportion to the degree to which I’m willing to take risks in all of my points of connection. You have this place in you, too. You have a unique soul expression that longs to be heard. You have a place in your heart that longs to soften into need and connection. Where you’re willing to risk, you also open the pathways to soaring and a source of joy that is unparalleled.

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When it comes to relationships, we expect our partners to ignite this feeling of falling in love. What we fail to recognize is that if there was an infatuation stage in the early stages of a relationship (and the health or viability of a relationship does not hinge on having had an infatuation stage), it’s because both people were open-hearted, which means they were willing to be vulnerable. One of the reasons why we’re so addicted to the infatuation stage in this culture is that it’s one of the few times that we’re given permission to lay down our defenses, to soften the habitual places of protection, and open fully. New parenthood is another time when vulnerability is accepted and even expected.

But falling in love isn’t dependent on these stages of relationships, or on relationships at all. As I sit here writing this post, the creek is rushing past in full spring glory; the birds are singing their morning songs; the pea seeds my sons and I planted a few weeks ago are now three-inch high plants peering up over the edge of the garden box, full of hope and renewal and nourishment; my cat saunters past and squints her love-eyes at me; the cottonwoods that grace the creek’s banks shine their young, green leaves to catch the sun’s rays. If this isn’t love, I don’t know what is. When I fill my well in this place of joy, it naturally projects positively onto my husband and I feel those coveted in-love feelings. He becomes the receptacle for my own experiences of in-loveness as opposed to the originator of it. This is the state of positive projection that I’ve written about on this blog and in the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course. 

As I often write, letting ourselves soften into the goodness of love may be even vulnerable than softening into the anxiety, pain, and fear. For what we have and love we can lose, and it’s the fear of loss that lives at the center of most anxiety spikes. To dwell in goodness is to say, “I love this life,” which means I claim it, I step into the center of it, and I acknowledge that I don’t want to lose it. And the goodness of the natural world doesn’t even begin to touch the depth of love I feel for the three humans that sleep inside the house as I write. When I breathe fully into the depth of this love, I can feel anxiety pricking at the edges of soul. It can sound like:

  • “It’s too risky to love this much.”
  • “Good things don’t last and you’re tempting fate by acknowledging the goodness.”
  • “Who are you to have such goodness? You’ll be taken down a few notches one way or another.”

And this is the moment that intrusive thoughts are most likely to enter. For those struggling with relationship anxiety, a common trajectory is to come into awareness of the depth of love for one’s partner only to find the first intrusive thought – “What if I don’t really love this person?” or “I’m not attracted” or “I can do better” – close at the heels. The same is true for those struggling with postpartum intrusive thoughts; it’s the fear of loss that lives at the core.

The key here, then, is to slowly rewind those thoughts so that you can touch back into the moment of vulnerability and stay there, even if only for a few minutes. Allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable doesn’t mean that we have to live there every moment of the day; I’m not sure that that’s possible. Rather, it means slowing down enough to catch that one micro-moment of goodness and open-heartedness, tracking how the thoughts came in to protect against it, and returning back to the vulnerable space. It’s not easy work, but it’s what allows us to remain in the flow of goodness instead of living up in our heads in a futile attempt to control something bad from happening.

Whether it’s in work, love relationships, friendship, or parenting, what is one small way that you can step outside your comfort zone into the space of vulnerability, remembering that every time you do this you move closer to the experience of true love?

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Note: I very much value your comments and I love hearing about your insights and breakthroughs. However, if you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, I know it’s tempting to ask for reassurance or guidance, but unfortunately I’m not able to offer advice in this format. I encourage you to consider the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, and, as always, work with a skilled and loving therapist who can be a guide and witness for your healing. If it’s the fear of loss and death that lives at the center of your intrusive thoughts, I’ll be offering my Grace Through Uncertainty course LIVE in a few weeks. 

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