By: Craig Salazar
Every time I type vulnerability I wait for the red line to appear underneath it informing me I’ve misspelled it once again. If I happen to be actually writing it on paper, I cheat and hurry up and Google it to make sure I actually spelled it correctly. Both of those facts are kind of a good indicator how unacquainted I am with vulnerability. To be honest, unacquainted is a nice way of saying how much I struggle and suck at vulnerability. (Quick side note, that last vulnerability I just typed, only the 3rd one so far, the red line appeared underneath. See what I mean.)
Vulnerability is something I have been practicing and bringing awareness to ever since I attend the first Evryman Yellowstone Expedition. Evryman is an organization focused on getting men connected to their emotions and doing so with the help and support of other men. The expedition I went on was a week long adventure with men I had never met and culminated in 4 days of hiking through the back country of Yellowstone. Looking back, vulnerability was plastered all over that experience.
I came home and started an Evryman mens group in Salt Lake City. For 3 hours every week a committed group of men show up and practice vulnerability with one another. We’ve been sitting together for nearly a year and half now and I still misspell the damn word. I still struggle with it. I still fail time and time again when it comes to vulnerability. Just recently we dove into the topic at group and I really started to grasp how deep my struggle really is.
If I say what I’m thinking, what will they think? If I show what I’m feeling, they won’t like me? If I share my fears or show my weaknesses, I will be hurt.
If I expose myself, if I admit I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, if I’m vulnerable then she won’t love me anymore. I’m stupid. I’m a failure. I can’t handle this.
The pain is to much and I might break. I should be over this by now. I should be better at this by now. I should have my shit together by now. The rabbit hole is deep. Endless if I really allow it to be.
Vulnerability is always risky for me. No matter how I look at it. No matter the situation or the experience. If I simply look at my feelings associated with vulnerability and the times when it comes up for me in my life, I always feel exposed. It always seems like the risk I’m taking, the part I’m exposing, is huge. By huge, I mean life threatening. It’s always scary.
I’ve come to recognize and somewhat understand that when I’m struggling with vulnerability I will usually do one of two things. First, I get angry and no one likes Hulk when he’s angry. This anger stirs in my belly at first and then spreads throughout my body. Sometimes it works it’s way out and I’ll lash out. Sometimes I keep it capped and buried inside of me. Lashing out usually looks like me raising my voice, speaking faster and trying to overpower the other person. If I’m by myself with no one to lash out at, the anger is almost worse. It burns and festers inside. Building and building. My self-talk, my internal dialogue, my thoughts, all turn destructive. It gets ugly.
The second thing I’ll do in struggling to feel or express vulnerability is disconnect completely. By disconnect I mean go, take off, leave. Sometimes this is literally getting in the car and driving away. Sometimes it’s simply going to another room. Most of the time it’s simply leaving my body and checking out. I hear the things going on around me. The person speaking to me perhaps. But I don’t feel anything, I don’t connect in anyway. It feels like a shell of who I am. Just my body is present. I stop caring. I stop expressing. I stop connecting or even wanting to connect. I stop feeling.
I know from having worked with other men that I’m not alone in my reactions to vulnerability. I’m also well aware that men aren’t alone in these reactions. Women tend to be in the same boat when it comes to vulnerability. I can also clearly recognize and see how my standard reactions to vulnerability mirror the fight, flight, or freeze response that’s innate in all of us. It pretty much defines it.
Here’s some other things I recognize about vulnerability. When I’m vulnerable and I can see my way through vulnerability, I feel better. When I can connect with my Wife and truly open up and be vulnerable with her she responds by doing the same. In open, true vulnerability and connectedness with one another our relationship is strengthened. Our love expands and everything feels better. My body feels better, my heart feels better, my outlook on life and any given situation immediately improves. This all happens when my Wife leads the way with vulnerability too. There’s countless times I revert to anger or disconnection but her willingness to open up, to show up, takes us down the road of vulnerability and true connection.
I’ve seen men open up and be vulnerable over and over again. Expose themselves, share their fears, their weaknesses, and by doing so lead the way for other men to follow. I’ve watched the ripple effect vulnerability has between humans and I’ve felt it myself. It’s powerful. It’s life changing if you let it be.
For me, the practice has been letting go. Letting go of the urge to fight or flee. Letting go of my anger in the moment and not burying it. Letting go of the idea they won’t like me or she won’t love me or I’m a fucking idiot loser who’s failing at everything. Letting go of the pain of the past and the fear of the future. Letting go my need to control everything so I can control how it feels. Letting go and trusting that I’ll be ok. Trusting that I’ll survive. Letting go of the outcome and simply embracing the moment. Feeling the feelings.
Letting go into the unknown.
Letting go of it all and just be v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e.
Find out more about Evryman at evryman.com