Vulnerability, by Definition, Is Painful and Scary   5 comments

I finally have enough emotional space in my life to continue my conversation about the conflicting needs in my marriage.  I will first restate my perspective on emotions so you can understand my explanations (whether or not you agree).


No one likes unpleasant feelings, and so we all try to escape them.  I think that is actually their purpose–like bodily pain that alerts us to physical harm, emotional pain alerts us to psychological  harm, though it is the source of the pain rather than the pain itself that needs to be addressed.  In other words, our unpleasant emotions are valuable and beneficial in protecting us.  But since they hurt, we want to avoid the feelings themselves, and when Christians teach that such feelings are wrong, we believe we ought to avoid them: fear is a lack of faith, sadness is a lack of joy, despair is a lack of hope, anger is a lack of love, and so on. Not only do you feel bad, but you are wrong for feeling bad.  As a result many of us have tried to directly control our emotions as a moral obligation, “get over” our weak and “sinful” feelings, talk ourselves into feeling better by controlling our conscious thoughts with “truth.”  My own perspective is that when truth is wrongly applied it is simply another form of untruth.
Talking down our feelings may work with superficial and circumstantial emotions (ones which do not connect to deeper underlying issues).   But if they are revealing more profound issues, I believe this approach waylays our attempts at growing more mature and healthy, like using aspirin to fight migraines that come from a brain tumor.  I think we undermine our growth whenever we disrespect our own feelings (through denial, dismissal, shaming, etc.). As long as our coping mechanisms successfully distance us from our true, unhappy feelings, we are unlikely to recognize and work through our big issues.Coping mechanisms can be more addictive and blinding than pain killers when they are habitually used as the answer to our pain.

Neither Kimberly nor I would have faced our painful feelings if we could have successfully avoided them.  I have numerous coping mechanisms: redoubled effort, procrastination, comparing myself to others, busyness, self-castigation & repentance, fixing, passing blame, detailed planning, control… and I could go on.  Unfortunately, all these combined could not protect me from those unwanted feelings.  I needed help.  I needed to find a spouse that would shore up my inadequate defensive arsenal, someone who would be so sweet and supportive and gracious that I could find peace and security at last.  I was sure I had found this in Kimberly.Kimberly had spent her life hiding her true feelings from others because she quickly learned the world did not like her unhappy feelings.  She badly needed someone to accept her fully as she was, and she found that in me, or so she thought.  I had very little discomfort with her depression and felt honored that she would share with me these vulnerable parts of herself.  She discovered that she could trust me to accept all of who she is.

But as we grew closer and more fully knew each other, as we grew in trust and shared more vulnerably, our conflicting coping strategies poked out.  To protect myself against this assault, my coping mechanisms kicked in, and when she smacked against my defenses, she put up a wall.  I would feel blamed and shame her in defense.  She would withdraw into self-protective silence or try to explain her words in ways that simply hurt me further.  The tension escalated, and all we knew to do was to keep talking it out… for hours… for days… for months and years.

We were committed to the relationship and to honestly working through our issues, we respected and loved one another adamantly, so our only way forward was to try to understand the painful dynamics.  I explained myself over and over to Kimberly and she asked questions and tried to understand.  She told me about herself, repeating the same confusing messages week after week while I struggled to make sense of it.  Our way was slow, painful, scary, confusing, but we found ourselves on a journey of deep self discovery and healing wounds.  We were constantly dumbstruck by this unexpected dynamic–that understanding and sharing our pain with someone who loved and accepted us was so amazingly transformational and life-giving.


Posted October 26, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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5 responses to “Vulnerability, by Definition, Is Painful and Scary

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  1. Your thoughts always articulate emotions that resonate with my own. I am greatly encouraged when I read your thoughts. I am glad for your posts.(Glad to have you back at it.) Your process helps my own. Thank you.

    Self-silencing, for what ever reason, takes deep hard work to get over. Certainly the lovely environment of unconditional love and acceptance such as you describe with Kimberly helps immeasurably. That is such a soothing grace. It follows that commitment and resolve grows stronger in those welcoming times, so one feels more able to bring their full self to the table even when the invitation is less than wished for (or craved). At some point I have to move forward and learn to ‘bring it’ even when my sense is that the level of welcome is very low. I want to offer myself because I chose not hold back or give into my fears. I have a growing sense of security and steadiness as I simultaneously grow in confidence of God’s infinite invitation for all of me…always.

    • Beautifully said. Thanks for the encouraging words of identification. This blog is the only work I do that has a sense of significance, so it always helps to know someone is encouraged, and when I am encouraged, I am more likely to write.

  2. Don’t write this as discouragement, but write this to overcome the hell I lived through growing up. Must admit that me and my family growing up still had life so much better than most in the world even in spite of the worst things that happened to me.

    So wish I had someone to share my life with today and someone to love me unconditionally as you and Kimberly have found in one another. Thankful, that I can work at my growth by reading blogs such as yours, talking with friends, and praying to God that he will fulfill his promise, ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

    Yet, because I had chosen to be alone, single when I likely would’ve had the chance to marry (in my 20’s to 30’s – not to say I won’t be able to marry as an older woman, but times are different now too) and of what I believed marriage would turn out to be like (basing all my relationships with men on the bad, difficult relationships I grew up with; brothers who violated and then would act as if they loved me, and a father who was so angry I thought he might snap one day) thought I chose the best of the two worlds to be a single woman and never have known how to truly love another, or be loved by a man as the result.

    So silenced myself for 25+ years to “pick myself up by my bootstraps,” move on, deal with the truth by acting as if the violations did not happen, fear kept me in line too…..thinking if I faced this monster I would be vulnerable to those who had more power, control over me and then had no idea what speaking up might mean in the end. Only now I am twice in age and very sad that I don’t know where I will end up now. The irony of it all is that I have always been a talker and person who expresses their feelings by nature and don’t keep anything inside and find freedom in bringing the truth to light in areas when I have not sensed threat for doing so. Today I am free to speak about the horrors I experienced because no man has control, or power over me anymore.

    Today my life is all about learning how to trust Him even when none of life makes sense. If He is all I ever have, then I know I have the most this life (and the next) has to offer.

  3. Loneliness is a terrible, miserable feeling. I have found deep comfort in close friends in the past, so I know marriage is not the only answer. May you find such a place of comfort.

  4. It’s not lonenliness in and of itself, but the fear that has held me so long, even had me trapped that all people are ultimately alike (had a “loving” father and brothers who went from one extreme to another in their words and actions) in that the worst can and is brought out in everyone’s emotions at one time or another. In anticipating the worst could, would occur always have had a guard up anxiously anticipating, avoiding what could potentially be the worst, and knew I was even defenseless as a child. As an adult I just never “dug” too deeply doing what I could to avoid potentially dangerous, hazardous situations. Have wondered if this is in part why God has allowed me to survive to this point! Now I just find myself being skeptical with the majority of people in and about who they really, what their intentions are, etc.

    Had a pronounced sense of where I was at the only time I heard you preach so eloquently about your missions, scriptures and I thought to myself, I want what he has, yet, when I met you face to face you were unapproachable and a total opposite of what you spoke and again confirmed what I have always believed about people. My mistake was in assuming I knew who you were just from what you preached and the way you interacted with me.. One act does not make a whole person in and of itself. I have also learned to take the good and forgive the bad in people.

    Yes, friends are dear to have and long be dear friend(s) to those and some may last a lifetime.

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