Being vulnerable is really hard. To be vulnerable means to be able to identify, name, and experience our feelings. Nothing about this process is simple, which is why I do not ask every client, “How do you feel today?” I am careful when and how I pose this question to my clients. Of course, the situations and scenarios in this blog are not going to be true or applicable to every person.
The reality is that trauma survivors may have lost access to the softer and more vulnerable parts of themselves. Growing up, it may not have been safe to say how they really felt about something. Perhaps they would be dismissed and met with invalidating statements such as “Get over it!” or “Just be positive!” Their caregivers’ inability to experience their own emotions was projected onto them, and it was not fair. On the other side, they may not have had the resources they needed to name and feel their emotions accordingly. After all, emotional regulation and intelligence are skills that must be taught and modeled. Many of us did not receive such support.
In the present day, when adult trauma survivors are encouraged to notice what they are feeling, it can be difficult or even impossible to name their feelings. They may feel immensely stuck and embarrassed when asked to lean into vulnerability. Many do not notice this part of themselves until they are faced with communication problems in their romantic partnership. This makes sense because to cope as children, they had to block their feelings to difficult events and situations that came up. These emotions may be living in their body, which is why many complex trauma survivors face illness or somatic symptoms of anxiety.
Many survivors will fervently avoid the discomfort of vulnerability. This is all to say that it is okay if you are not ready to name how you feel or if you truly do not know. As the title of this blog states, you may find yourself saying, “Don’t ask me how I feel!” However, perhaps there are alternative ways to gently invite vulnerability into your life and into your relationships. Here’s a list below.
- Say I am sorry (if you mean it) to a safe person you care about. Apologizing is an act of vulnerability and can lead to some uncomfortable feelings. These feelings will pass, and your discomfort does not mean you should not have given the apology.
- Compliment someone or accept a compliment directed at you. In a previous blog, I wrote about how nuanced compliments can be. Allow yourself to accept the compliment and to sit with the uneasiness it may elicit. Someone noticed you and you deserve to be noticed.
- Ask for help at work or home. Admitting you can’t do it all and need support is one of the biggest acts of vulnerability.
- Lean into silence. If you are someone who rushes to make a joke or finds yourself squirming in moments of silence, ask yourself if you are trying to manage the other person’s potential discomfort. Manage your own discomfort. You are safe.
- State what you need and if the other person does not respond well, stay firm in your needs. Someone not accepting your needs is not an invitation to push further; rather, it is information they cannot meet your needs.
Need a safe person to be vulnerable with? If you need support and would like to speak to a professional counselor about topics such as the one featured in this blog, and are in the Chicago area, please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.
Written by Liz R, Staff Psychotherapist