Why is it that we still hold back?
In my work as an embodiment coach, I was always working to hone the art of allowing and listening to vulnerability. As a friend and family member, I strive to do the same (not that I always necessarily succeed!).
Probably because I am so aware of this, I find it incredibly difficult when I am on the receiving end of the very opposite reaction. That is, when I am sharing a difficult or vulnerable truth, and end up feeling shut down, invalidated or unheard. I know for a fact this experience is shared by many - it may be partly why we still hold back.
The reality is, the person doing the listening is usually trying to help, but what ends up happening is the attempt to solve the issue actually causes disconnection, and withdrawal back into separation. It can be painful.
This is why this excellent animated video on the difference between sympathy and empathy really spoke to me when I came across it the other day. It is narrated by Dr Brene Brown, a researcher and storyteller whose work focuses on shame and vulnerability. In fact, I am loving all of Brene Brown's work at the moment, because she is nailing some truths that I have long held dear.
Listening to Vulnerability
After watching the video, and reflecting on my own understanding on this topic, I realised that not everyone feels comfortable listening to vulnerability, and the attempts to solve or shut down the issue are really just borne out of that discomfort.
I believe it is because we are so wired for connection, because it is so incredibly crucial to our true expression as human beings, that we can become so uncomfortable when someone shares their vulnerability with us. In essence, allowing ourselves to be seen is the cornerstone of connection, but we have been mired for so long in the fear and pain of separation that vulnerability, either our own or another's, can be confusing, if not downright terrifying.
But what if listening to and receiving another person in their vulnerability is exactly the opportunity we are looking for to go beyond that alone-ness of separation, and into the true joy of connection that we know we really want? It just stands to reason, right?
So, if someone has chosen to share their deepest pain, hurt or shame with you, and you are interested in making it an opportunity for connection, rather than disconnection, here are some simple things that I believe are important to really get.
Firstly, really focus on allowing, and let the person sharing know that you have heard them. Statements like “That sounds tough" or "I hear you" or "I feel you" or "I understand and am here if you want to talk more" can work wonders in allowing someone to feel they have permission to just drop into what is going on for them and find their own answers.
Second, it's SO important not to invalidate the speakers truth by immediately trying to jump in and make it better.
When we are confronted with someone's darkness or pain, often we just want to make it better, and will try and come up with ways to do this. However, this rarely works, and worse, can make the other person feel unheard and unworthy. Keep in mind this fantastic quote from the above video:
"Rarely is it a response that makes something better - what makes something better is connection"
Often what someone is saying is only the tip of the iceberg, or the first layer of what is actually going on for them. Therefore jumping in at this point and trying to solve that first layer, even if your intention is to help, can squash that opportunity for some deeper understanding to emerge.
Connection is, fundamentally, what we really want, and is also our most natural way of being. We may have got a bit lost along the way, and our yearning to connect may have become bogged down in fear, pain and hurt, but learning how to be vulnerable, and how to listen to vulnerability are two key ways that we can find that which it is we truly seek.