How can one overcome emotional vulnerability?

There are two kinds of vulnerability. The first is the type that comes from living authentically with an open heart. This is the kind of vulnerability that is beneficial. It creates connection with others.

The other kind comes from insecurity and it serves to distance oneself from others. For this reason, I prefer to call this type insecurity. It comes from negative thoughts about oneself (self talk). If you have depression or bipolar, it may have a biochemical component as well.

The negative self talk is often coupled with a longing for connection. This contradiction between a longing for connection and the negative self talk that distances you from others, sets you up for suffering.

For example, Sally desperately wants friends. At the same time, she is sabotaging her relationships by telling herself that she doesn’t deserve them. When a friend invites her out, she tells herself that they are only asking her out, because they feel sorry for her, because they don’t want to hurt her feelings or they are doing it out of a sense of obligation. She then declines the invitation or reluctantly accepts it. Either way her friend feels that she is not really interested in a friendship.

When her friend neglects to asks her out in the future, she uses this as evidence that she isn’t worthy of friends. She is not aware of these thoughts, so she doesn’t know what is really going on. She thinks that she is insecure because she keeps getting rejected. She doesn’t know the role she is playing.

One treats negative self talk through a combination of mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Mindfulness is a practice of observing thoughts and feelings. Not only do you become aware of thoughts you never knew that you had, but you become aware of the feelings that result from those thoughts.

CBT is about how your thoughts affect your feelings and behaviors. There are techniques for challenging the thought and substituting a new thought. This new thought is called a reframe. The purpose of the challenging the thoughts is to find out that they are not realistic. Them you create a reframe that is more realistic. You then substitute the reframe for the old one.  You then notice what affect the reframe has on your feelings.

You need to invest some time and effort before you start to see results. You will get the best results from a daily practice. Consider this practice to be the same as brushing your teeth. Just as you invest in your oral health, you can invest in your mental health.

Over time as you have reframed more and more of your negative thoughts and through your mindfulness practice, you have learned to be more present without thoughts of self, you are more confident and more secure in who you are. These are attractive qualities that draw people to you. You are able to roll with the punches. There will be times when you may be insecure, but they will be the exception not the rule.

For more about mindfulness, see: How Do I Get Started With Mindfulness Meditation? Once you have started meditating, I highly recommend: How Do I Relate to Thoughts During Meditation?

To get started with CBT, I recommend this workbook: Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

Painting: Robert Delaunay, Simultaneous Windows on the City


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