Brene Brown has an amazing Ted Talk which has been viewed by millions of people called “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s powerful. And raw and incredibly moving. And at times difficult to take in and practice because it requires such courage and bravery to do.
After my husband and I split up, I had a number of friends who recommended that I listen to it. Nobody was of course suggesting I open myself up to being vulnerable anytime soon but those closest to me could see that the sweet, affectionate, loving, woman who had always worn her heart on her sleeve was most likely going to shut down completely after the betrayal I had just suffered. They were not wrong.
The protective box I built around myself was instantaneous and nobody was ever getting back in. The person I loved the most in this world had hurt me beyond anything I had ever experienced and I became convinced it was somehow my fault. Why hadn’t I seen it coming? How could I be such a poor judge of character? WAS I a poor judge of character or was what happened to me something that nobody could have seen coming, even the most intuitive and discerning person?
As I lost trust in myself, I was surrounded by people who only reinforced that distrust. I remember my father driving me to the airport right after I found out my husband was not who I believed him to be and he said, “Didn’t you have any idea this guy was going to do this to you?” Um. NO. Did YOU? Did ANY OF US? Of course I didn’t know. I certainly wouldn’t have consciously chosen a life partner who would break my heart. But seeing in his eyes that he would never trust my decisions again when it came to men broke my heart. Whether it was real or imagined, I took on the false story that I couldn’t trust myself ever again.
As I began slowly dating after my split, my well-meaning friends started to chime in. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt again.” “You really need to be careful.” “You have to be more discerning…” “You’re too trusting of people…” Yes.. I get it. At a time when my self-esteem was already at an all-time low, I began to feel that NOBODY trusted me or my ability as a grown woman to learn from my mistakes and make good decisions moving forward.
When we have been hurt, it’s a long and arduous process to trust ourselves again. To trust in the universe or God or whatever you believe in, that every relationship serves its purpose and we can’t punish or beat ourselves up forever for what happened. And we definitely can’t deprive ourselves of being loved by another person because we could get hurt again.
When Brene Brown asked a group of people at one of her lectures how many of them would be willing to give up ever being loved again, not ONE of them raised their hand. Not one. That’s because all of us NEED to be loved. And to find it and feel that beautiful, powerful connection, we have to take some risks. We have to reveal our true selves to another person, open ourselves up, put ourselves out there by sharing our feelings, not knowing if they feel the same way about us. And then, even if that person reciprocates our feelings, we will at times hurt each other. We won’t always be in sync. That is part of being in relationship with people. It’s part of loving.
I thought back just the other day to my very first love… the simplest, most pure, most innocent love I’ve ever known. I was just 16. And although we loved each other in our innocent “first love” kind of way, and only parted ways because I went to college and we were too young to do anything but move forward with our lives, it still hurt like hell. Should I have never loved him at all because I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life with him? Should I have never ventured out and opened my heart to the many men that came after him because I got hurt? Absolutely not. Had I done that, I never would have experienced the passionate, powerful, transformative love I shared with so many different people in my life, all of who made me the flawed, yet beautiful, and powerful woman I am today.
Brene Brown defines love as this, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. When we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.” Love isn’t something we can give or get. It can only be cultivated and grown. That love won’t be found by putting up walls and trying to protect ourselves from feeling any kind of pain and loss ever again. It has to be given to be received.
It’s now been a year and a half and I am learning to trust myself. That has taken a lot of work on my part and I have cried many tears getting there as the fear of opening myself up to getting hurt again sometimes engulfs me.
But when I need that little push to remind me of what’s possible, I think of my dear friend, Mrs D, who lost her husband of over 40 years to lung cancer. Never have I seen a heart so broken or devastated, having lost the love of her life. She thought she would live the rest of her days alone and that was truly what she wanted, than to ever suffer the pain and loss of losing someone she loved again.
But 3 1/2 years later, she found another soulmate. She took a chance, opened herself up… and allowed herself to be vulnerable. And at 70 years old, is the happiest I’ve ever seen her.
If there was every a reason to risk being vulnerable again, let her be an example of the beautiful payoff to taking that chance.
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