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Open Wide Your Hearts: The Practice of Vulnerability by Karen Bergstrom PH. D.

A village in central Italy has become a global phenomenon. CNN reported in a 2018 study that the townspeople living in this village live without normal depression and the male residents are 10 times more likely to live to be 100 years. Researchers discovered that the common factor was the strength of their social relationships rather than genetics, and food and exercise. (CNN, 2018)

We were created to need relationship with one another. The art of “one- anothering” is mentioned over 100 times in scripture. Neurobiology supports that we are wired for connection and relationship, and research supports the necessary practice of connection in health and longevity. Close relationships are vital; but how do we get there? The first step is to develop skills of vulnerability: taking a risk to promote a safer and deeper relationship. “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage,” affirms research professor and author Brené Brown in Rising Strong.

2 Corinthians is a great vulnerability passage as Paul pleads with his people, the Corinthian church, to open wide their hearts and be vulnerable to him.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 The Message (MSG)

11-13 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively.

Paul had opened his heart to the Corinthians, but they were restrained, cold, small and unresponsive. He was the text book example of masculinity; however, he did not shy away from loving others well.  He had poured out his heart to them and shared his trials, imperfections, imprisonments and in return he needed them. These painful experiences of isolation helped create his longing for community.  He felt misunderstood and disregarded. His desire for them was to move beyond the narrow boundaries of their own selfish lives and to open their hearts to him. Even in his pain, he reassured them that his heart remained open to them and that he was calling them to reciprocate for their own good so that they could live expansively. He personally needed their vulnerability, but he also understood that it was vital for their well-being.

We don’t know why Paul’s people didn’t open wide their hearts and practice vulnerability, but we do know that there are some common obstacles to being vulnerable. Our relationship to vulnerability is something we were acquainted with as we were born vulnerable and stay that way for our whole childhood, yet as we become adults, is something we guard against. Your guard may have been needed for protection in the past and even with your family of origin. But as an adult it is important to be curious about the barriers that you have built around your heart and begin to determine if you still need these protections and what you can now release. While these barriers may have guarded you from being hurt, they now restrict you from loving and being loved, which is the desire of all our hearts. Restraint from vulnerability can come from a sense of not knowing ourselves inside, a lack of experience in sharing our history of broken trust or an over emphasis on the part of ourselves that are strong and “together.” Voices from past relationships of shame may restrict vulnerability.

To encourage you, even the smallest act of letting down your guard will begin the process of opening wide your heart. Here are a couple relational skills to get you started. You can do this!

Skills of Vulnerability:

Can we talk? Take initiative to express your heart in one of the following: a mistake, a struggle, a weakness, a need, or an emotion. Vulnerability takes practice.

We do not have because we do not ask.  Therapists refer to a term called the passive rescue wish which is the death of vulnerability as others can’t read your mind. Many passively wish for their unmet needs of yesterday to be met today. This wish can become a reality as you reach out and allow others to know your heart.

Would you be willing to tell me more about you? Take a risk to let someone know that you are available and ask others about their needs, feelings and emotions. Connection is the fuel of life so your only role is to listen and practice attunement. This is a time of connection without correction. Appreciate the reciprocal nature of love. Love is a two- way street. It always is, inherently so. Love requires a response.

As we grow and continue to better know ourselves and understand what it is to be human, we see time and time again that connection and being “known” are at the root of human needs. We also have learned that to fully live, we ourselves must learn to be vulnerable, not only with ourselves but others too. We see the beauty of vulnerability in the depth of connection we have with family and friends. We see the benefits in not only our emotional, but also physical health. Vulnerability leads to a better connection which in turn deepens relationships with others.

I would love to reintegrate to you what Paul told his church over 2000 years ago; open wide your hearts so you may live openly and expansively.

Karen Bergstrom PH. D.

Find out more about Karen

5 Comments

  1. Sheila Fontenot on August 22, 2018 at 11:52 am

    Wonderful article! This is so needed in our churches and communities.

  2. Lori M on August 22, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you! Great article. I really appreciate your insight. This is very helpful and applicable.

  3. Timothy Peterson on August 22, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Thank for sharing. This is something I battle with a lot. But after reading this article, it reminded me of that not only do I need people but people need me. Blessings.

  4. Melissa on August 22, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Thank you for this article! I’m realizing as I’m growing and healing how important human connection is. We were created for relationship. Thanks again.

  5. Gloria on August 23, 2018 at 12:01 am

    This is the second time in 2 days that I have heard of vulnerability and letting walls come down. I am seeing this in myself. I find it hard to trust so I keep my walls up. I’m trying but it ain’t easy.

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