David Benner in Surrender to Love makes a profoundly simple and true assertion: "Genuine transformation requires vulnerability". This captures the challenge of my daily work with individuals, especially couples. Those individuals who struggle with being vulnerable are very difficult to help. Being vulnerable means "to be without adequate protection and open to physical or emotional harm" and most of us do not like that particular state of being.
There are obviously situations where we should not be vulnerable because we are around unsafe people. We need to have our guard up and be careful about what we reveal because there are manipulative and abusive individuals. And sometimes it is a spouse or parent. There is probably nothing more negative and destructive to our being than the betrayal of our source of trust and affection using and abusing us.
The context for Dr. Benner's comment is the healing power of love. As a marriage therapist anything to do with love catches my attention. As a human being it should catch everyone's attention. For some the thought that love heals is foreign; for others it is ridiculous and for most of us it is a pleasant platitude that we believe but don't really understand. Love heals? Of course it does! And in the hidden comments of our self talk we wonder how that really works.
The reason vulnerability is so critical to transformation is that without it we cannot receive love. If we are busy protecting ourselves then when love comes we miss it. Dr Benner says that it is not "the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life changing….It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally."
I cannot count the number of times I have heard "he/she does not love me unconditionally" and yet most people have had someone love them unconditionally. They might not be parents or lovers but most have experienced mercy and compassion from someone who was not looking for anything in return. Most parents and lovers know that love needs to be unconditional and make their best effort to give it. Why is it so difficult for us to receive love when it is offered? What makes us refuse it when love is standing right next to us?
One critical factor is the lack of self acceptance; we don't like ourselves. How can anyone else like us or love us? We are conditioned to believe that we will only get what we need if we are good enough. This critical piece is difficult to grasp. We are often unaware of our lack of self acceptance and this makes it very difficult to accept. Even if we realize or lack of self acceptance how to we get over it?
We get over it by risking rejection, the very thing that most likely caused us not to accept ourselves in the first place. We need to be like the cartoon character Popeye: "I am what I am, I'm Popeye the Sailorman." Most likely you will find that the people in your life are struggling with the same struggle. It is by making ourselves vulnerable, "naked and unashamed" that allow us to receive what we need. Are you willing to risk it?
If you have experienced the healing power of love how has it changed you? Are you able to find the words to describe your experience? If so, please do and tell someone else about it. You are a witness to the power of love and your witness can change lives. You will be a bearer of good news!