I've been thinking a lot recently about a subject that the American social worker and researcher Brené Brown tackles brilliantly in her work: vulnerability. Her view is that you cannot live a "wholehearted" life if you are full of defensiveness and shame, and if you don't open yourself up to vulnerability, which needs a lot of courage.
Brown's examples are mostly from her experience in America, where she believes there is a widespread and deep-rooted culture of shame – the feeling of "I'm not good enough". (Americans today are "the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated cohort in the country's history".) There is also a culture of perfectionism, which hides people's vulnerabilities and shame. She is a researcher and much of what she writes is backed up by convincing data.
I see so many couples where one or both are stuck in a negative pattern, which is reinforced by a fear of opening up to the other about their feelings; a fear of looking weak in the eyes of the other; or perhaps a fear of encountering a difficult emotion. This may well be a habit that's been reinforced since childhood, because you are likely to protect yourself from difficult relationships or situations by closing down your emotions, turning away from the problem, and learning to cope in a different way. Brown calls this "numbing".
It's often a breakthrough moment in the counselling room when someone opens up to their partner about a fear or weakness that they have never revealed before. Suddenly the partner sees the vulnerability of the other and emotional connections begin to grow.
If you're interested in Brené Brown's 20-minute TED talk on vulnerability (which has had more than 40 million views worldwide), you can view it here. Strongly recommended!