Trauma-Informed Truth: You are Strong Enough to be Vulnerable

I invite you to notice the feeling you have when I say vulnerability is strength! Does it feel like a pit in your stomach? A lump in your throat? Does the idea of being vulnerable scare you?

I am asking you to think about what’s not working for you in your life. Have you been trying to handle everything yourself? Do you think that is what strong people should do? Are you keeping secrets so that others only know the person you think you’re supposed to be? Are you trying to seem “perfect”? Are you numbing your feelings through drinking or getting high, starving yourself, Self-harm, or another coping mechanism—all of which just results in more trauma, loneliness, shame, pain and lack of connection?

I invite you to consider a new way of presenting yourself to the world—with authentic vulnerability!

True Vulnerability

Because, true vulnerability creates and deepens an authentic connection. Also, it enhances and lightens your load in life. Vulnerability means not having to wear a mask in front of others and not having to “be” someone. Vulnerability feels like a relief. And vulnerability expressed while feeling safe, stable, and present, it feels freeing and exhilarating, and continues safety in your life!

Imagine being able to say or do anything—and still feel loved and accepted.

These feelings of freedom and safety happen when you live from a place within yourself that has experienced secure attachment. These feelings also are what happen your feelings are emotionally held in securely attached relationships. And guess how those relationships are formed? You got it—through vulnerability.

Why should I be vulnerable? It has gotten me hurt in the past.

If you didn’t have safe, secure relationships in childhood, vulnerability is probably really hard for you. Perhaps it even feels dangerous. Perhaps impossible. But as we have spoken about before in prior articles, you can build these healthy relationships in adulthood. SAFELY!

Daily in my office, I hear that vulnerability is weakness. I hear from individuals that problems should be solved independently and if not, they are weak and there is something wrong with them. Because they haven’t been able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and “be strong enough,” they’ve failed. Interestingly the path forward begins with approaching the problem in almost the exact opposite way from before – with self-compassion.

Many think feelings are the f-word and have come to therapy as a last resort. In the past, they often learned that feelings were used, manipulated, or ignored. They didn’t matter. Many feel pretty beaten down before they even consider therapy, because they don’t think asking for help or seeking connection will work. Unfortunately, therapy isn’t top on the list for most people—yet—but I’m working towards a future where it is.

You are trying to protect yourself.

I understand. You feel it’s not safe to be vulnerable. It’s scary, and in the past, it could have resulted in abuse, manipulation and pain. If our past relationships hurt us, we live with that pain in our bodies until it’s healed. When vulnerability has proven to be unsafe, protective parts show up to keep us safe.

But we are wired for connection. As humans, we cannot thrive in a relationship with another person, unless we are sharing our authentic selves. Authentic relationships require us to be there and hold safe space for others, and also to give of ourselves so they can hold safe space for us. By healing ourselves, and our past traumas, we can move forward. We can learn how to move past the protective parts and be vulnerable in secure relationships. Showing our true self to others allows us to live a richer life and heal from past traumas.

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Avoiding vulnerability at all costs and, therefore, connection only reinforces living our lives from a place of fear, likely from past trauma. Living in the present, which with work toward healing, can feel less painful, less badly, and safer!

I want you to know:

You can be vulnerable—and safe—at the same time!

Developing and noticing safe relationships (with yourself, and others) you will create a place where safety and vulnerability can exist together. Here’s what I mean:

  • Unsafe vulnerability: There may have been times in the past when you were vulnerable with people who were supposed to be safe, but weren’t. The relationship and the lack of safety continued because of loyalty (perhaps because they were a caregiver). Perhaps you began to think this is what you must tolerate in life, which resulted in new relationships with unsafe people, and the trauma cycle happens again.
  • Safe vulnerability: The goal is to develop and have relationships that provide safety in being authentic and vulnerable, which include empathy and care. This means the other person will hold your feelings, not invalidate or manipulate them, which creates a safe space in a relationship. Remember how Elton John and Freddy Mercury went towards the securely-attached relationships in their lives when they were ready for help and healing. With relationships that provide secure attachment, that person will always be there for you. The helpers are the people with whom it’s safe to be vulnerable.

I’m NOT suggesting you be vulnerable with everyone. You (and they) have to be safe, and trusted, in order for vulnerability to improve your life. I’m hoping that you can begin to notice the safe relationships in your life—including the one with yourself! I am hoping we can work to help you build more safe relationships in your life. To believe you deserve safe relationships. To believe you deserve to have your vulnerability compassionately held!

Vulnerability Statements

Though they may feel true for you at the moment, these statements are false:

  • Vulnerability is weakness
  • Being vulnerable is bad
  • Relationships are unsafe
  • Feelings are bad
  • You’re supposed to be able to take care of yourself without help
  • You’re supposed to do it perfectly
  • Men who have feelings are weak

 What is true?

  • Vulnerability is not a bad word. It means strength!
  • Vulnerability is strength!
  • Vulnerability allows you to be present for relationships!
  • Vulnerability makes you human
  • Vulnerability can lead to rewarding relationships
  • Vulnerability heals trauma

Wouldn’t this feel like a relief?

If you could be authentic, own who you are, and admit you don’t always do it perfectly? (No one does!) What if you could compassionately understand you are human? If you could let the walls down and build relationships based on genuine connection? The fact is, it’s really hard to connect to a person who’s not authentic because that relationship would be based on an image or a falsehood, a mask! A great relationship with others and yourself must have authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, compassion, connection, growth and imperfection. Relationships heal.

Where to start?

Admitting that you need support—that you don’t have all the answers on your own—is an incredible first step toward allowing people to connect with you. Embracing the vulnerability will help you build a brighter, more peaceful, more rewarding future for yourself.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”― Roy T. Bennett

The freedom that comes from vulnerability starts with a secure relationship. For many, this first secure relationship begins in therapy, where you can learn how to build safety—and then bring that knowledge and safety inside yourself to other relationships in your life. This is done through the three stages of trauma-informed care.

Ready to embark on a therapeutic relationship? We can help, contact us at 703-518-8883 or email robyn@robynbrickel.com.

More Resources:

Articles:

Books:

3 Ways To Empower More Trauma-Informed People in 2020

Trauma-informed 2020

Entering a new decade is an important time to look at where we are and where we’d like to go. It’s a chance to leave behind old ways that have not been so helpful and embrace new ways — the kinder, more trauma-informed, more compassionate ways that nurture our best selves. When it comes to mental health, I’d like to move past the things that aren’t serving us as individuals, families, communities, or human beings—and embrace and enhance the ones that are.

Continue reading

How People Heal From Trauma, Thanks to Helpers

heal after trauma with helpers

What happens when children witness disaster in the news, movies, or real life? It’s only natural for them to feel worried, unsafe, and scared. Adults could feel this way too. Children’s television host Fred Rogers explained how his mother taught him to restore his own sense of safety and stability when witnessing a catastrophe:

“Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers…. That’s why I think that if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams… anybody who is coming into a place where there’s a tragedy, to be sure to include that. Because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

I can’t stress enough the importance of even one safe relationship in the life of someone who experiences trauma. Continue reading

A Compassionate Look at “Borderline Personality Disorder” From a Trauma-Informed Lens

DSM 5 terminology for Borderline Personality Disorder

When someone has a mental health issue or illness, therapists look to a diagnosis, so we can better understand it, gather information about it and treat it precisely as mental health professionals.

However, sometimes the terms themselves may add to the challenges in working with the patient. I admit, I’m troubled by the diagnostic term borderline personality disorder (BPD). The negative traits and pathologizing language usually associated with this term make it hard to use the terminology or diagnosis without also being extremely detrimental to the client. These kinds of terms can then worsen the problem of the stigma associated with mental illness, which we all have to confront. When we use certain terms, we may unwillingly subject people to prejudice, judgment and stigma that can prevent them from getting help, receiving compassion, and seeking out a trauma-informed approach to treatment. This is not okay!

Continue reading

7 Powerful Trauma-Informed Lessons from Rocketman

trauma-informed-rocketman

*Spoiler warning: This article reveals the general storylines of Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody*

Have you seen the film Rocketman yet? I hope you do! Here’s why I think it’s a beautiful movie that everyone should see. Like the film Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman provides a powerful example of how attachment trauma in childhood can fuel a cycle of shame, pain, and addiction. Even better, it also reveals a pathway to recovery. Rocketman is trauma-informed because it helps us understand how emotional injuries impact a trauma survivor’s behavior and what that person needs for growth and healing. Through compassion, support and reparative relationships, healing is possible.

Continue reading

Feelings: The Other F-Word for Trauma Survivors

Fear of emotions

Some of my clients have called feelings “the other f-word.”

Can feelings be scary? Yes, they can, especially if the emotions you experienced early in life felt overwhelming or were ignored. You may have a fear of emotions if no one helped you learn to regulate, comfort or understand them. You probably tried to do anything you could to not have them!

Continue reading

This Is Why You Can’t Be In a Rush to Heal Trauma

how long to heal trauma

A question new clients often ask is, “How long is therapy going to take?” They are eager to feel better, heal and move forward. They want to pour out all the details of their story during the first session because they think it might help them heal trauma faster. But, because we are dealing with emotional pain or even trauma, we have to slow down and take it one step at a time.

Continue reading

Why a Bottom-Up Approach to Trauma Therapy is So Powerful

Bottom-up Top-Down

There are numerous approaches to psychotherapy. I’ve studied many. Because there is never a one-size-fits-all approach, I integrate many therapeutic approaches into my work with clients. One thing I can say for sure is that, in my experience, a bottom-up approach to therapy works better in trauma-informed care. In my experience, it is the best all-encompassing approach to help create healing, and lasting change in a person’s ability to think, feel, and find healthier ways to live after trauma.

Continue reading

Using ‘Big T’ and ‘Little T’ for Trauma Can Be a Big Mistake

false types of trauma

Some people seem to believe that when it comes to trauma, size matters. We even have terminology that allows us to talk as if some types of trauma are less damaging, less serious, or matter less than others.

Sometimes people will describe someone’s trauma as “Big T (Big Trauma)” or “Little T (Little Trauma)”—and today, I’m calling for an end to this type of nomenclature.

Continue reading