Underlying Vulnerability

When faced with events, people or relationships that we think will endanger us, we feel a feeling that is best described by the word ‘vulnerability’. A typical dictionary definition of vulnerability is:                                                                       

1. State of being defenceless; susceptible; unprotected; exposed to danger; open to being wounded or hurt either physically or emotionally.                                                                                                                                  Hit Counter

A sense of vulnerability such as this is a natural part of the daily experience for all living creatures, animals, birds, plants, insects, bacteria, and humans. That doesn’t mean that vulnerability is a bad thing. If we didn’t feel some vulnerability we wouldn’t survive for long. So, while there is much you can do to learn to handle vulnerability more effectively there is nothing you can do to make it go away completely. Areas in which vulnerability is at risk for most people include survival, sanity, self esteem and spirit.

Whenever your vulnerable feelings involve deep emotional pain, you can be sure that one of your inner child parts is being reminded of the fear, pain, guilt, shame, loneliness, terror, devastation or despair they felt as a child, hence the term underlying vulnerability.

Recognising our underlying vulnerability and talking about it helps us to connect with some of our deepest feelings and, in addition our even deeper fear of having to feel like that again. Our sense of underlying vulnerability is also closely linked to the negative core beliefs we hold about ourselves that developed in our childhood. Vulnerability is the basic issue out of which adapted behaviour (the selves) and bonding patterns grow. It is therefore at the heart of the way our inner selves think, act and what they tell us about what they imagine is happening in the world around us.

Often, of course, they don’t tell us about our real vulnerability. In fact part of the role of the protector selves is to protect us, in the way they do best, which is immediate and short term protection. This often involves denial, blocking or unawareness of the deeper underlying vulnerability.

Short term protection - long term pain

This kind of unawareness means we may miss some very important things out there that are real and that we should be noticing, if we are to avoid long term pain and vulnerability, such as the break up of a relationship caused by unawareness.

Vulnerability, by the way is an internal state of feeling and being. We don’t ‘do’ vulnerability, rather we are vulnerable.  Just complaining about feeling sadness or pain  is not really recognising our vulnerability. Telling me how much I have hurt someone else does not mean that person is being vulnerable. Actually it is more a self in them trying to get me to feel more vulnerable so they will feel less vulnerable.

Our selves often blame others as a way of trying to help us feel more protected, though usually with very little success. Most of the time the other person’s selves just do the same back to us in return. This is what makes negative bonding patterns so painful and non-productive for both people.

Dialogue with selves helps identify underlying vulnerability

Dialogue with our selves gives us a wonderful opportunity to become more aware of, not only what the selves are doing but why they do it. This in turn helps us see our underlying vulnerability often for the first time. As facilitators it is often worthwhile during a session to ask the client just to move out of the self side and into their vulnerability.

At that point, if you and I, as aware adults, can look at the underlying vulnerability behind what our selves are doing, we will find it easier to deal with the real issues and so become truly less vulnerable. Once I can see this clearly from my aware ego or inner adult parent position, my inner child will feel safer and more protected which in turn means less work for my protector selves and more time and energy for me to be me.

Long term negative bonding - enmeshment
Couples who spend years together lurching from one negative bonding pattern to the next, become so enmeshed that they no longer know how to escape and become trapped in the on-going cycle. Enmeshed couples are easy to identify. One or both partners complain loudly and at length to friends, family, counsellors and anyone else who will listen, about how terrible things are in the relationship. However even after years like this they stay stuck in continual negative bonding. Enmeshment is like being caught in an emotional net from which there seems to be no joy and no escape.

Understanding and awareness of underlying vulnerability is the key
Understanding and true adult awareness of each other's underlying vulnerability is the key to getting out of bonding patterns. Understanding and awareness of underlying vulnerability as the source of negative bonding plus awareness of the role the inner selves play as protectors of the inner child provides a starting point for getting out of enmeshment.

Unawareness - 'not seeing', ‘not hearing’ or 'not noticing'
Enmeshment and repeated bonding patterns are often characterised by an incredibly high level of 'not seeing', ‘not hearing’ or 'not noticing' on both sides. This may mask an unconscious and more subtle side to enmeshment, a hidden and unconscious payoff for each partner which keeps them coming back for more.

For example, for some people staying enmeshed in a long term negative bond feels safer than being alone or abandoned. For others the process of repeatedly blaming or criticising the partner seems to help relieve their own pain, pain which is really about their childhood abuse rather than caused by their partner. Unawareness stops them seeing this. Interestingly, it may also stop the partner who is equally enmeshed from seeing it too!

Bonding patterns based on blaming a friend or partner for our pain may seem to a protector self as though this helps in some way. There is no doubt that some selves tell us we are less vulnerable each time we make someone else more vulnerable. Someone with selves like this may find it much harder to see the damaging nature of the bonding pattern they are stuck in, until it is too late.

Facing our underlying vulnerability as aware adults, clearly increases awareness and stops enmeshment and bonding patterns.


Feedback - please e-mail  me John Bligh Nutting -   at   nutting@growingaware.com.au


Copyright John Nutting 1996 - - 2004  and      GROWING AWARENESS   All rights reserved World Wide   LAST UPDATE  Thursday, 07 February 2008 17:30

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