Sitting in the semi-worn leather bucket chair, my legs were crossed so I was half facing my husband, half facing our therapist. My red sneakers added a sharp contrast to the soothing neutrals throughout, to my husband's business suit. The light in the room was soft and warm. So was her voice. It was dark out because our appointment time was in the evening. Even so, I always wondered what was outside her sliding glass doors.
It was there in that warmly lit, earthy room that I learned about true vulnerability--the courage to show up, be present, dig deeper. For myself and for those I love. I had no idea what this meant or what it looked like. We had our grievances, but amazingly, they didn't matter. We never touched one of them. We simple worked on what it meant to see the other. Hear each other. Holding the space for each other. Allowing the other to feel their feelings.
This was new territory for us both, but we learned quickly because the outcomes are so spectacular. Connection, love and warmth are the end result. Every time.
Vulnerability, courageousness and bravery are learned through our closest relationships---people acting brave and courageous in our presence. We see it, we feel it, therefore we know it. As a parent, this hit a raw nerve. Most of our couple's therapy did---but in a hugely circular, everything-is-totally-connected way; the-universe-has-a-maddening-sense-of-humor way.
Let me back up slightly: when Little Mister was born, I worked diligently to learn and understand as much as I could about strong early attachment bonds. What they looked like, how they're formed, how to facilitate them, the research, the science and the stories--I read through it all like a half starved animal.
I was terrified.
It started with the book, Parenting From the Inside Out, by Dr. Dan Siegel. This was my first introduction to I attachment theory between humans and it's origins.
I also started realizing that these real and respectful "attached" bonds were not part of my own history. This explained the fear.
There's a mantra I've held close, going back well before I ever imagined myself a mother: the buck stops here. The perpetuation of emotional neglect, disrespect, and narcissism were going to stop with me.
So, about eight years ago, I found a life-changing therapist and starting reading as many self-help books, blogs, websites--ALL OF IT AND EVERYTHING--I could possibly digest.
Transformational is the closest I can come to describing that period of my life. The gratitude I feel for those experiences goes beyond words. They, quite literally, saved me. They gave my life purpose and direction. I was not my past. I was not my thoughts. Things can change. They do change. And I have the power to make them better. Holy crap.
Fast forward to now: last fall, we were recommended to a therapist who, it turns out, the basis of her work is solely based on attachment. (Enter the-universe-has-a-strange-sense-of-humor remark here!). Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT, gave us a new vocabulary for our usual responses to each other. Instead of feeling more isolated, alone and scared after an interaction---especially if we had to talk about something that mattered to either one of us---we worked on refining our approach with each other---from a place of love.
The book written by the founder of EFT, Dr. Sue Johnson is called, Hold Me Tight. (Highly recommended if you're looking for some clarity in your relationship.)
We learned how to tap into our vulnerable selves so our conversations were non-threatening. It's hard to get defensive when someone you love comes to you and says something along the lines of, "hey, I've really been struggling with these thoughts/inner gremlins I've been having/experiencing today. They make me feel so small and insecure, then I feel totally disempowered. Mind if I bounce them off of you to get some perspective?"
Validation and empathy as true listening skills were also honed and refined. We are now on the look out for these key moments when the other shows up with their vulnerable selves, to validate and hold.
Showing up for each other in this way has been huge. A huge, GIANT leap in the direction we would like to head in our life as a family and as a couple.
But it took guts. And hard work. And some serious courage to even admit something wasn't right, that we wanted to love richer, deeper. What we found out that really meant was loving each other from our most vulnerable selves.
This is still a challenge for me. Andrew has been doing great. I'm impressed and amazed, actually. No one has ever come through like this for me before--stepping up to the plate, facing demons, facing themselves and then digging deep to reach out. I'm humbled and intimidated at the same time.
And we still stumble. We have our moments but--holy hell--the repair process is so much faster, so much smoother, it doesn't leave us reeling for days. We have our weekends back! We have each other back. We have our selves back.
So, vulnerability? Yeah, I'm working on being mindful about it throughout the day. Opportunities present themselves daily in my relationship, as a mother, as well as with my friends.
One step at a time, I'm learning what it means to show up, even when I feel like shrinking. Now, when that shrinking feeling comes along, I'm able to question it a little, prod it gently and ask it a few questions. I soften into it, the beginnings of self-compassion.
This is not easy for me or natural. But it's essential to do in order move into the life I want to live, so--onward.
I try to keep in mind a simple, personal rule that's not necessarily new or earth shattering. I was reminded of this truth while reading one of my favorite writers, Alexandra Franzen, who has a similar philosophy. Through the years it's been a compass for decision making:
Leave things in better condition than when you found them.
I believe that's the whole point of living. Don't just help someone, but show up. Have the courage to be there, uncertainties, fears and all. You, as you are, vulnerabilities and all, are enough.