Emotional Awareness in Relationships
We are reviving this podcast for a second season, but this season will be radically different. The first season was just Adam and I chatting it up, talking about technology, movies, or whatever was on our brains. The second season has been inspired by some things in my life. One of those things is pondering becoming a lifecoach, and also some podcasts that have really impacted me. So, we’re going to take a stab at this ourselves. Neither of us are experts, but we’re both passionate about this. We’re going to come at this as Christians.
The general theme is emotional awareness in relationships. And we’ll be coming at it from the perspective of Christian men. Jonathan is single and Adam has been married for seven years. So we’ll have slightly different perspectives from each other.
Show People Who You Really Are
The first topic we want to look at is vulnerability: defining it, what it looks like, how we typically do it, how we can do it better, and clearing the air on the whole topic.
A good working definition of vulnerability is showing people exactly who you are.
There are varying stages of vulnerability and it takes some people longer to become comfortable enough with someone to be vulnerable with them. I’m an introvert and so I have to get to know someone before I share certain things about myself.
It’s definitely a process, and it’s not as simple as being vulnerable or not vulnerable. Everyone has differing levels of vulnerability with different people. You might be pretty vulnerable with a close friend or a spouse, but probably not with someone that you meet at a party because you don’t know if you can trust them.
A big part of vulnerability is allowing yourself to trust people.
If you’re being vulnerable with people that you don’t trust, then that’s not healthy.
Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
You do want to be vulnerable, because you do want people to see who you are, but at the same time you need to make sure that those people are worthy of your trust. If you’re vulnerable with the wrong person, they can go and crush your heart.
Another verse goes along with that. Proverbs 27:6 says “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” The wound from a friend only comes when you’ve trusted them, and you were vulnerable with them enough that they knew you enough to tell you some truth that hurt. But you’re going to be able to take that feedback and do something with it.
Sometimes that friend sees an infected wound and they have to cut it open and sear it in order for it to heal. It’s not a fun process, but it’s important.
Being Your True Self Requires Vulnerability
There’s definitely some benefits to it, even though it might hurt. James 5:16 says that when you confess your sins to each other, then you can pray for each other, and it can help you heal.
In order for you to be who you really are, that requires vulnerability. You can live a life where you are just a shadow of yourself. A lot of people have gone through this at some point, in high school, or junior high, where you just wanted to be one of the cool kids. So you tried to match what the cools kids were doing, but it wasn’t really you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fit in. We all want to feel like we belong. That’s part of the way God designed us. But it becomes a problem when you can’t live out who you actually are.
We all have this deep desire to know people and to be known. And to love people and to be loved. This goes wrong when we want to be loved, so we hide who we really are, and put on a mask of who we think people want us to be.
The Standard is Superficiality
I see superficial conversations all the time about common interests. Take season 1 of this podcast as an example. We talked about movies, technology, and other things that don’t really matter. I could talk to people at church about that kind of stuff for hours, and then never know them.
I could talk to someone for years, but never really know them.
The opposite of that would be to say, “Hey, what’s going on in your life.” Guys in particular, don’t ask that question.
There was someone in my life that would say “How are you doing?” and I would say, “I’m good”. And then they would look me in the eyes and say “No, how are you doing?”. So, dig a little deeper and don’t just be satisfied with “I’m fine.” Tell me what’s going on in your heart. What are you struggling with. What are your highs? What are your lows? It’s really challenging.
Why is it so difficult?
When you’re vulnerable, you’re opening yourself up to potential hurt. You might wonder if it’s worth it. If you go through with all this effort to get to know someone, and open up to them, what if you don’t like them? Or what if they move away? Or what if they hurt you?
I saw a video where they posited that there is no such thing as boring people. There is only a lack of vulnerability. Usually when you sense that emptiness, or boringness in a person, it’s just that they’re not telling you anything. They’re saying words, but those words have no meaning and no weight.
That’s especially frustrating for introverts. I want the depth. I’m not looking for that surface level conversation. I’m looking for that conversation that ultimately helps me to understand who you are and maybe you can understand who I am.
Once you understand each other, you can actually have meaningful conversation.
Recently at work, instead of having the same boring conversations, I started asking, “What is the thing that your mind naturally wonders to? What is the thing that you’re thinking about all the time?” I found out some really interesting things about my coworkers that I never would have known.
There’s an awesome TED talk by Brené Brown, and she said that a big part of what keeps us from being vulnerable is shame and she defined shame as a fear of disconnection with people.
When we feel shame, we’re afraid that if people knew that information about us, it would disconnect us from them.
There’s so much power in understanding and accepting that Jesus paid for all of your sins, not just the ones you can solve overnight. You just need to accept that grace, and not be willing to live in your shame anymore. Jesus died so you don’t have to feel constantly bad about yourself. He said in John 10:10, “I have come to give you life, and give it more abundantly.” And it’s up to us to take hold of that abundant life.
Vulnerability is a key to living. Whenever you start to be vulnerable is when you really start to feel like yourself.
There’s been plenty of times in my life when I had this thing that I didn’t want anyone to know, so I held on to it. But once I told people about it, I felt a sense of freedom. You’re letting yourself be held in bondage. There’s no reason to continue to live that way. It’s a choice to live there.
And it’s freeing, no matter what happens in that relationship, no matter how that person responds. Just laying it out on the table is a freeing thing.
Whenever you don’t share, you’ve created disconnection. There’s an illusion that you haven’t created disconnection because you think “I haven’t said anything, so it must be fine.” But it’s not fine. It’s the opposite. But you don’t think through that logically. That part of your brain is turned off because you’re so afraid of what that disconnection would look like.
It’s really a childish thing that kids do all the time, where they think “No one has to know.”
Another benefit is that this shame is a heavy burden. Telling someone is freeing, but they can also help you to easy that burden. Galatians 6:2 says to “Bear one another’s burdens…”
Not Everyone is Ready for this
Not everyone that you want to be vulnerable with is ready to handle your vulnerability. And that’s ok. And it’s not your fault. Sometimes you want that so badly from someone, and sometimes that person will reject you. When that happens, don’t think that vulnerability was a mistake, or that there’s something wrong with you. I’m so happy that the God I serve accepts me exactly as I am. And He knows who I am, and He didn’t make a mistake creating me the way I am.
I want to give you permission to accept that. This may not always work out well. This doesn’t mean that person will never be ready. There’s just not ready now. Maybe you just need to give it some time.
Be vulnerable where appropriate, and as much as is appropriate. You shouldn’t just go out and tell everyone your deepest secrets.
Make Sure You Have The Right Kind of People In Your Life
You need to make sure that you have people that you can be vulnerable with. You should be cultivating those relationships. And if you can’t think of anyone that you could be vulnerable with, then it’s time for you to make some new relationships because there are people out there you are ready for this.
I found those people by extending grace to people. Henry Ward Beecher said “Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.” And it’s so true because if you’re having a real relationship with someone, you’re going to get hurt in some way. And conflict is something we’ll talk about on a future episode, but conflict breeds vulnerability.
If you do a conflict well, at the end of that conflict, you should be closer to that person, not further away.
And you have to put yourself out there in a position where you can be hurt, which by definition is vulnerability. I would start with the people in your life who feel safe. If you can’t think of anybody, start praying about it. Say, “God, reveal the people in my life who are safe, and if there is no one in my life, bring me that person.” And I would hope that you would be able to find some safe people in whatever church body you’re plugged into: people who can look at you in love and say “I accept you for where you are. I don’t think you’re perfect, but I accept you, and I’m going to choose to love you anyway.”
And those people may not look just like you. They may not look like someone that you would expect to be your best friend.
Find one person and be vulnerable with them. Share one thing that you don’t want to share.
I want to recommend a song that everyone should listen to. It’s called I am Understood? by Relient K. The first line is:
“Sometimes it’s embarrassing to talk to you. To hold a conversation with the only one who sees right through this version of myself I try to hide behind. I’ll bury my face because my disgrace will leave me terrified.”
This is really talking about what vulnerability with God looks like and it’s powerful stuff.