I felt inspired to take the above photo yesterday because to me it symbolized an emotion I have been exploring a lot recently – vulnerability. Just seconds after I took the shot my daughter blew on the dandelion, scattering its seeds which were carried away on the breeze. But the core of the dandelion remained strong and upright, it had shed what it no longer needed in order for new growth to begin.

In relating this to vulnerability I found myself thinking how we hold on to parts of ourselves and protect them because we fear exposure. Many of us will go to great measures to avoid feeling vulnerable, myself included. But what is it that we fear? Judgement? Rejection? Failure? Losing control? Probably a mixture depending on the context.

It all goes back to programs we developed in infancy to make sense of our emotions and protect ourselves. They have been called by some teachers emotional programs for happiness. In our very early years we have no awareness of a separate self, but we do have needs and these needs come with emotional responses which are faithfully recorded in our memory banks. By the time we reach the age of reason we have in place fully functioning emotional programs for happiness based on emotional judgments we made as children in response to needs. 

When we are born we have two instinctual needs – survival and security. As we grow and become aware of being a separate self we experience more needs such as pleasure, affection and esteem. If one or more of these needs is perceived to be withheld, it becomes difficult for us to believe in the goodness of life. None of us escapes the emotional fragility of childhood because as children we only have our feelings to go by and cannot discern the cause as we can as adults. But because we develop programs for happiness before we develop reason, they have no limits. So when we are older and, for example, the desire for security is not met and we experience the emotions of grief, anger, jealousy etc we identify the value systems we developed at a young age to cope with unbearable situations.

This is one side of it, the other is that not only do we identify with these childhood programs but as we grow up it changes. What starts out as needs develops into demands and then shoulds which we expect others and life to meet. We don’t know we have these deeply ingrained programs. In fact people can grow spiritually, physically and intellectually whilst their emotional lives remain at the level of infancy.  

So how does this relate to vulnerability? It relates in that these emotional programs protect us from experiencing our vulnerability. We don’t want to experience the pain of childhood unmet needs that lie beneath. But in order to grow and live from a place of authenticity we must explore these deeply ingrained patterns and in doing so embrace our vulnerability. As Brene Brown writes in her book Daring Greatly:
‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose, or deeper and more spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.’
It is what connects us to others and to ourselves. In embracing and exploring it we can not only discover all of who we are, but we can also learn how to fulfill the needs we perceived as unfulfilled in childhood and also see that we no longer need to seek fulfillment outside of ourselves. We don’t need to control anymore, or have life look a certain way in order to satisfy our demands. What happens when we discover that is that we free ourselves up to being more creative, more loving towards ourselves and others, and as Brene Brown says, obtain greater clarity in our purpose. 
 
The first step is inquiry. Turning inwards and exploring with compassion the tender places. It only needs to be a tiny step, but its a step that can see the start of a beautiful journey of self love.