|As some of you will know, Peter often talks of 'scary honesty'. As I see so many people appreciating his sessions, I've asked Peter to give us his own take on how it helps to show our vulnerability - and his tips for ways to do it.|
Revealing nakedly to somebody how we feel may sound scary, and the least likely option to lead to a connection - especially in moments when we don't feel at ease. Yet, admitting to ourselves that we're scared, tired or despairing could be just what it takes for our connections to deepen.
How open are you?
I was listening to a radio broadcast recently in which three renowned actors were asked the same question: 'Do you ever experience stage fright?'
Who would you like to talk to?
For a moment, I imagined myself as a fellow actor sharing a dressing room with these three. Which of them would I feel the most at ease with? How would it feel to tell them a cherished hope or niggling fear?
At least from this short interview, I'd choose the first. I'd like to be with someone with whom I don't need to be perfect; where, it's okay not to be okay. Since he's able to acknowledge his own fears openly, I guess he'd be able to take in mine; that being open about himself, he'd be open to me too.
With the other actors, I'm less sure. The woman may wish to be supportive, but I suspect she'd hand me a dose of worthy advice (which I couldn't live up to!). The final actor seems likely to simply contradict what I feel. Both would imply in some way that I shouldn't be feeling what I'm feeling - because that's what they imply about themselves.
Being vulnerable or weak?
Of course, if I choose to share my feelings, I'm vulnerable to all sorts of different responses - some of which I may not like. Is there any way around this?
Since we all feel difficulty and pain at times, we are all vulnerable at times. What counts is how we deal with our vulnerability.
At best, we make space for what we feel. When we can acknowledge what we fear without feeling ashamed or guilty (or blaming anyone else for making us feel that way) - it becomes OKAY not to be okay. ('I do experience stage fright and I'm okay telling you about it!') That's when we can hear the positive message of our feelings. (Perhaps stage fright is a signal that what I am about to do matters to me; that I want to feel safe as I stand up before you all ...)
But sometimes, we make life much harder:
Adding judgements to what we feel
When we experience something difficult or painful, we think we shouldn't feel like this. We may add judgements to our feelings.
Labelling what we feel
Our judgements often appear as labels like idiotic, daft, oversensitive ... (you can fill in yours). Sometimes this is a pre-emptive strike - to stop other people labelling us first!
Labelling ourselves as 'weak'
A very common label is 'weak' - perhaps because, as a feeling, 'weak' is so close to 'vulnerable'. And who wants to be weak? With such a powerful criticism around, no wonder if we fear sharing our feelings with another person. Or we dress them up in worthier costumes ('responsibility', perhaps); or dismiss them as unnecessary or unfounded ('Stage fright? Never!)
Welcoming our experience
It's very understandable that we want to get rid of aspects of ourselves that we don't like. So often, life teaches us that it's not okay, not to feel okay. It takes strength and courage to recognise when those parts of ourselves are around. It means admitting to ourselves, and perhaps to others, that we are in difficulties; that we feel pain; that we are vulnerable.
So here are my tips for welcoming what we experience: for making it OKAY not to be okay - if that's what is honestly happening:
This is your vulnerability ... it's what matters most to you. If it feels right, welcome it.
Would you tell anyone how you feel? That's up to you (and how safe you feel) - but I do believe that even if you didn't say a word, you'd be better able to embrace your vulnerability. And that will open the doors to a more open and honest connection with others.
Often, like stage fright, our feelings shift or melt away a short time after we've acknowledged them. The next step follows naturally.
(With Elizabeth English)
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The words of Eugene Gendlin (who originated the practice Focusing) capture the essence of welcoming and feeling our experience - and the potential of doing so:
What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes. Most people don't know this! They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year. A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change. If there is in you something that is bad, sick, or unsound, let it inwardly be and breathe. That's the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs.
Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams (Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron Publications, 1968), p.178. Emphasis in the original.