The Vulnerability Of Exposing Your Dark Side

To expose our wounds to people we care about – the icky stuff, the ego stuff, the personal growth edges we’re working on that we haven’t yet mastered – is super vulnerable. Letting others see our “big ugly tails” (hat tip to my dear friend Amy Ahlers, who has seen my big ugly tail and trusted me enough to let me see hers) tends to trigger all our core fears of rejection and abandonment, of withdrawal of love. But to bear witness to someone’s wound is a privilege and an opportunity to deepen the relationship beyond the idealistic views we might have of each other into the real truth of both our light and our shadows.

This doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s job to baby our “owies.” But when we’ve exposed our vulnerable wounds to those we care about – and asked, but not expected them to tread gently around our wounds, we have a choice. We can poke needles into each other’s wounds – because now we know them and dang it, it’s their dark stuff to work on. Or we can choose to put salve on the wounds of those we love – not codependent salve that enables the wound, but more like a gentle touch with lavender oil to make something stinky smell a bit sweeter and to acknowledge the vulnerability and handle it gently.

Love Is Like A Jar Of Marbles

When we have been vulnerable enough to expose those wounds – and own them – and when we then ask those we love to be gentle with our wounds – and they choose to do so – it starts to feel like love. As Brené Brown writes about in her New York Times bestseller Daring Greatlyintimacy is like a jar of marbles. (I wrote about this analogy in more depth here).

The more we expose our vulnerabilities – and someone handles our sensitive spots gently, the more marbles we gather in the jar. Trust grows as the jar becomes more full of marbles. But when someone betrays that trust or chooses to stick needles in the wounds of our vulnerability, we lose marbles in the jar. If someone uses our vulnerability against us, we may feel like dumping out the whole jar of marbles. Over time, the strength of the relationship is based on how many marbles are in the jar.

(To listen in as Brené Brown and I dish on vulnerability and how it affects our health, sign up here to receive the recording of our FREE telejam.)

Big Ugly Tails

In a perfect world, we’d all be able to grow past our big ugly tails. But we’re destined to be human this go around, and our dark stuff ain’t going away. Part of what I love about my closest friends is that they’ve all done enough personal growth work that they’re mostly aware of their big ugly tails and are actively working on addressing them. It’s those who are blind to their big ugly tails who can be challenging to be in relationship with – and we must have compassion for those who are still blind.

But big ugly tails are so easy to judge – both in someone else and in ourselves. When someone else shines a light on our big ugly tails, we may be tempted to run the other direction because it can hurt to look at how blind we’ve been to our big ugly tails. If someone sends us the message that we have an unseen big ugly tail, we may be tempted to kill the messenger.

How Compassion For Our Big Ugly Tails Heals Us

The opposite is also true. If we illuminate a big ugly tail of someone else, we may be tempted to judge that person, to think less, to criticize, to demean, even to reject the person whose big ugly tail we’ve seen. But wouldn’t it be kinder if we treated them gently and with compassion?

When someone exposes his or her big ugly tail to you, or when you see your own, this calls for a big, beautiful dose of love, kindness, and abundant compassion.  Beating yourself up – or going on the attack with the person whose big ugly tail you’ve witnessed – only deepens the vulnerable wound and leads to fewer marbles in the jar. Instead, seeing big ugly tails – in others or in ourselves – is an opportunity to deepen trust and intimacy with others – and learn how to unconditionally love and accept ourselves, even those parts of ourselves that lead us to feel the poisonous emotion of shame, which not only poisons our minds – it poisons every cell in our bodies by signaling threat emotions in our amygdalas which, as I describe in Mind Over Medicine, deactivates self-repair mechanisms in our bodies.

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