Most of us go to great lengths to avoid our core vulnerabilities. “Core vulnerabilities” is another term for “feelings that we don’t like”. To put the first sentence another way, we do our best to avoid people and circumstances that cause us to feel things we don’t want to feel.
The problem with this is two-fold:
1) We end up avoiding and missing out on aspects of life that we might otherwise enjoy and grow from
2) The project to avoid the feelings we don’t like is never going to be completely successful
Here’s a metaphor. You just bought a brand new pair of white shoes. Some rockin’ kicks. You want to wear the shoes in order to show them off, but you don’t want the shoes to get dirty (the shoe equivalent of “bad feelings”).
In your hyper-vigilance to avoid puddles, gum, bird droppings, slurpie spills, dirt, food, worms, tar, wet paint, trash, random liquid and other people, you miss out on the pretty sunset, the hip new cafe, your friend on the other side of the street, the posters notifying you that you’re favorite band is in town, the flyers for the lost cat and the lost cat itself which was half-heartedly hiding behind the tree in front of you.
That’s number 1.
As you get in your car, you let your guard down for a brief, fleeting, seemingly innocent and unimportant moment on the grand-scale of geological time and, as luck would have it, you step directly into the muddy water congregating near the curb. My friend, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your shoes are dirty.
That’s number 2.
A similar pattern holds true for our feelings.
For example, in our efforts to avoid anxiety, we logically shy away from anxiety-inducing situations. However, some of these situations we might have ended up enjoying quite a bit (problem #1). Furthermore, we end up feeling anxious anyway because we can never successfully avoid all anxiety-provoking circumstances (problem #2). Perhaps we go so far as to never leave our house. But then we’re anxious that we aren’t doing enough with our lives. So we do drugs to escape that anxiety. And this helps quite a bit, but eventually we run out. And then we feel quite a bit of anxiety about that. We contemplate suicide, but of course we’re anxious about that as well.
This is the bad news: there is no escaping our “core vulnerabilities” – our difficult feelings.
But there is good news, too. And that is that our difficult feelings are not as bad in practice as they are in theory.
When we accept that the shoe is dirty, we find that there is actually quite a bit we still appreciate about the shoe. It works well, it still looks pretty cool, it gets us from here to there, it has a strong structural integrity, it’s good for dancing to our favorite band and it helps us catch lost cats.
Similarly, when we allow ourselves to experience the feelings that we don’t like – anger, anxiety, grief, powerlessness, ect. – we find that the experience is disturbing, but that it doesn’t actually harm us (so there is no real reason to avoid them). Furthermore, we actually feel a sense of empowerment and confidence when we say “yes” to ourselves. We realize that we don’t need to wait for these feelings to magically disappear before we show up fully in our lives.
When we say “yes” to our dirty shoe, we feel much better than when we spend all day wishing our shoe were clean.
We engage with the world versus becoming absorbed with the state of our shoe – similarly, we live our lives fully without becoming absorbed in the project of avoiding our own feelings.
Core vulnerabilities are part of being human. Dirty shoes are part of having shoes. The key is to not let the dirty shoe stop us from living the life we want to live.