What’s the toughest part of loving someone well?

April 29, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Posted in Truthtelling | 6 Comments
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As a recovering “good girl” (one who works overtime to protect herself by trying to be perfect, keeping others happy, and avoiding conflict at all costs), certainly the toughest part of loving someone well is telling the truth about who I am.

And yet, learning to step out of fear and self-protection, and expressing my truth in as caring a way as possible is the essential element in living authentically.

I would hazard a guess that for many of you, like me — whether you’ve spent much of your life hiding your true self behind being “good” or “tough” or “focused on fun” — truth-telling in your meaningful relationships can feel terrifying. Because you may have experienced a long time ago that when you honestly shared your feelings and needs, you were minimized or ignored or abused or abandoned. (For more details on key styles of relating, see Dan Allender’s The Wounded Heart, even if sexual abuse is not a part of your story.)

What could be more important than engaging with a process that supports you in trusting and loving yourself, so you can love others well?

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How do you keep your love alive? Try affirmation.

October 14, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Posted in Affirmation | 4 Comments
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What do you suppose this woman has just told this slightly amused-looking man?

• “Not here, John!”
• “No, you didn’t really tell my mother that story!”
• “We’ve been dating for 3 years now, don’t you know I love you?”

Or, perhaps, this guy has just received an affirmation from his friend, a few encouraging words about an aspect of his character – “John, I really admire how calm and steady you are, you always put me at ease.”

It’s words of affirmation like this – when spoken by someone you trust — that help you feel valued and cared for. At times when you’re discouraged and insecure, words of affirmation also can remind you of who you are and help you get back on track.

You may have been told that receiving too many compliments will give you a big head, but I disagree. Experience tells me that when I receive honest affirmation from someone who truly knows me, I feel humbled and just want to keep embodying the qualities my friend says are true about me.

Setting the intention to be affirming to others is one of the most loving gifts you can give someone. Begin by looking for those qualities that you appreciate most about your partner, spouse or best friend, then communicate how you feel. Try at least one affirmation a day to start.

Can you recall the last time you were affirmed or you affirmed someone else? How did it make you feel?

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Practicing relational vulnerability (Part 4)

March 3, 2008 at 10:57 pm | Posted in Vulnerability | 1 Comment
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Vulnerability is better than self-protection.

During the last month I’ve addressed, in a very basic way, various aspects of vulnerability. Today’s post is the fourth and final in the series.

Here’s a review of the key points included in the three previous installments on vulnerability:

1. Vulnerability is not a dirty word. When we choose to let others who have earned our trust influence our lives with their insight and wisdom, we are being vulnerable with them. We are giving them permission to protect us in areas of our immaturity and/or limited capacity (our weaknesses).

2. We can learn who it’s safe to be vulnerable with. Of all the people you associate with, think of those you might like to be in closer relationship with. Watch and listen for those who seem to be trusted by others, who seem to participate in deep and meaningful relationships. Slowly begin to initiate relationship with someone you feel you could eventually be vulnerable with. If you have trouble trusting (and, to some degree, many of us struggle with this), be honest about it and look for someone who can accept this about you.

3. There can be hope and healing after relational wounding. Many of us become vulnerable to people who seem to care about us, but often we’re not mature enough to assess their trustworthiness. We can end up being deeply hurt and become self–protective. Having an emotionally safe relationship in which we can work through and forgive the hurt, can bring us hope for experiencing healthier relationships with others in the future.

So, why is vulnerability better than self-protection?

All of us have been hurt by others in varying degrees. I don’t know anyone who escapes relational pain, do you? When there is no one in our lives to help us process and forgive the pain done to us, our human tendency is to cover it up, to pull back a little further within ourselves where it feels safer than risking further wounding. On the outside we may seem fine — going about our usual business, carrying on non-threatening, surface kinds of relationships — but inside we can feel starkly alone and afraid.

When we stay trapped in this lonely, fearful interior space where it’s difficult to trust ourselves and others, we cannot receive the love others have for us. It’s way too scary to come out of hiding. We might get hurt again. We are mired in self-protection.

Finding trustworthy people with whom we can learn to be vulnerable can be challenging. Sometimes we have to search for them, at other times they find us. Whatever your situation is, it’s essential for us to cultivate trustworthy relationships where we can practice vulnerability. Not only can vulnerability free our hearts to receive love . . . vulnerability releases us to truly love others.

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Practicing relational vulnerability (Part 3)

February 20, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Vulnerability | 3 Comments
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There can be hope and healing after relational wounding.

For the purposes of this series, I’m defining vulnerability as the choice to let someone who has earned our trust, protect our weaknesses. Weaknesses are areas of limited capacity or immature character that can cause us to hurt ourselves or others.

What happens, though, when we let ourselves become emotionally vulnerable to the wrong person, someone who violates our trust, someone who breaks our heart?

During our very dependent growing-up years, our vulnerability isn’t always a matter of choice; we’re vulnerable because we’re young, and sometimes we’re hurt (often unintentionally) by those whose responsibility it is to protect us. As we grow older and seek acceptance outside our families, many of us become vulnerable to people who appear to care about us . . . but we may lack the discernment to assess their trustworthness. Instead of feeling loved, we may end up being used and deeply wounded.

When we’ve been hurt in a relationship, it’s our human tendency to keep our defenses up in the next relationship. With every hurt that goes unaddressed or unforgiven, our defensive shield becomes a little thicker . . . until one day we wake up and realize that most of our relationships may be fairly shallow. We may trust no one, including ourselves.

Having an emotionally safe place to tell the truth about the hurts we’ve experienced — a relationship where we can work through forgiveness of these hurts and the power they’ve had over us — is the key to developing a new, objective approach to relationships. Even though we may have been terribly wounded, when we dare to move out of self-protection and embrace forgiveness, we can find hope for authentic, trustworthy relationships in the future.

Next post – understanding why vulnerability is better than self-protection.

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Practicing relational vulnerability (Part 2)

February 13, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Vulnerability | 1 Comment
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We can learn who it’s safe to be vulnerable with.

In my last post I shared a definition of vulnerability that may have been new for some of you:

The act of allowing someone who’s earned our trust to protect our weaknesses, or those areas of limited capacity and immature character that can cause us to hurt ourselves or others.

Vulnerability exists when we choose to let someone know us wholly — not just the healthy parts but also the wounded places we’d prefer to keep hidden — and allow them to influence us with their insight and wisdom.

So, how do we know who it’s safe to be vulnerable with?

Consider the various settings where you routinely interact with people — your family and friends, neighborhood, work, school, church, support group, professional organization. Perhaps, you already have one or more people in your life with whom you’re authentically vulnerable. But if not, of all the people you associate with, who might be one you’d like to be in closer relationship with? Think about those individuals who seem to be trusted by others, who appear to participate in rich, fulfilling relationships.

One of the biggest reasons many of us remain in isolation or “surface” types of relationships is that we’re afraid we’ll be rejected if we try to initiate something more meaningful. We may have a hard time believing in our own value and ask ourselves, “Who do I think I am? Why would she want to talk with ME?”

Here’s a suggestion. This week be intentional about choosing someone with whom you feel you could progress toward vulnerability. Let this person know that you’d like to get to know them a little better, hopefully you already have a few things in common to begin a conversation. If you know you have trouble trusting, tell the truth about it and seek someone who can accept this about you.

Give this new, deeper level of relationship plenty of time to grow. Refrain from being fully vulnerable — try to share who you are gradually, in stages — until you see that the other person is just as committed to earning your trust as you are about earning hers.

Next post – knowing what to do when we’ve been vulnerable with the wrong person.

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Practicing relational vulnerability (Part 1)

January 30, 2008 at 1:14 am | Posted in Vulnerability | 1 Comment
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Vulnerability is not a dirty word

There’s a word in our English dictionary that may have a bad rep for some of us. Vulnerability. The negative connotation is understandable since many of us may interpret being vulnerable in the same way the American College Dictionary defines it, as the state of being susceptible to wounding or physical hurt.

Who wants to be thought of as someone who’s easily hurt or wounded, someone who’s defenseless against attack?

I’d like to set forth an alternative, more positive meaning for vulnerability (with a nod of gratitude to my friends at Leadership Catalyst). Manifesting vulnerability also means allowing someone who’s earned our trust to protect our weaknesses, or those areas of limited capacity or immature character that can cause us to harm ourselves or others.

For example, one of my weaknesses can be the tendency not to deal directly with relational conflict; I’ve done a lot of personal work in this area. Fortunately, I have a couple close friends who know me inside and out, with whom I can be vulnerable. I’ve given them permission to let me know when they feel I’m acting or speaking from a place of non-truth or avoidance. I need their protection and encouragement to stay real and honest.

This week, consider this question. Who do you trust enough to be vulnerable with, to let him or her protect your weaknesses?

Watch for my next post — knowing who we can be vulnerable with.

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