Relationships are hard. Probably the hardest thing we humans ever do, and arguably the thing we do the worse. I think I could make a strong case for the argument that all the major threats to this planet could be traced back to poor relationship skills. Global warming, war, terrorism, hunger could be traced back to a collapse in human relationship. “Global warming”, you ask? Yes, essentially this is a relational issue. The sun provides much more energy than we really need, harnessing that energy isn’t a hard problem, the technology isn’t the limiting factor either, economics could be the issue, but isn’t economics just a relationship issue?
I’ll try to explain this one example; Money is just a way to keep track of human relational transactions. I need vegetables, you grow vegetables, you need education for you children, I teach, ok let’s trade. Relationship could be defined as any human exchange. The quality of relational skills both parties possesses will determine the quality and efficiency of that relationship transaction. A good relationship means both parties have expressed what they really need as clearly as possible and then found a way to meet each other’s needs as completely as possible.
It seems so simple doesn’t it? Why are relationships so hard then? I would say one major issue is our inability to be vulnerable. We all get hurt by others from time to time and grow to become wary of them. This is a very understandable response to hurt. No one wants to be harmed so we will tend towards either withdrawal or attack. We build defensive walls and start to hide our true thoughts and desires from others for fear of being hurt again.
Unfortunately, this response leads to internalisation of these defenses, the walls we build become internalised within ourselves, the hiding from others becomes hiding from ourselves. We can easily become strangers to others and to ourselves. This is a very lonely place to be. Humans are social beings, we need to connect with others on a deep level. Loneliness is a real threat to health and happiness.
So here is the dilemma, we need people, but people hurt us.
So here is the dilemma, we need people, but people hurt us. What do we do about that? I can think of three ways we deal with this problem; cut off, manipulation or vulnerability. If you want something but can’t ask for it for fear of rejection or attack, you may be tempted to either cut off that need and the people who could give it, or manipulate them to give it to you in a way that feels safer. Which way you respond is probably strongly linked to your attachment styles; secure, avoidant, anxious or disorganised.
Manipulation is simply an attempt to get what you want without reveling you want it.
Manipulation is simply an attempt to get what you want without revealing you want it. We manipulate because we don’t feel safe enough to ask for what we actually want. Here are some common examples of manipulation we may have all experienced. A woman saying she is looking so fat in this outfit, when she just wants to be told she is still attractive, or a guy saying he is too tired to go out when he really doesn’t like her friends or telling someone we are busy when we actually just don’t want to talk to them. We all manipulate, so there is no judgement here, but we do need to see that this is not an effective way to get what we want. People will only resent our attempt to sneak attack our needs.
People will only resent our attempt to sneak attack our needs.
Vulnerability is the solution. If we start to be real with our needs and let others know about them in a gently assertive way, we stand a much better chance of getting our needs met. I am surprised at how difficult it is for me to see that others would even want to meet my needs, when I know that I am more than happy to meet others. I feel a real sense of satisfaction and attachment when I am asked to met someone’s needs in an honest and vulnerable way. My heart goes out to them and the bond is strengthened. This is the way to build real, healthy relationships and get our needs met. The same goes for you, if you are able to share your genuine needs in a gentle, honest and vulnerable way, you stand a much greater chance of getting what you really need in a way that won’t just destroy relationships. Vulnerability is a risk there is no doubt about that, but I would argue a worthwhile risk if you desire to meet the basic human need for connection.
Is vulnerability worth it? Yes, yes, and yes! Start to be honest with yourself about what you need and then use wisdom to seek out trustworthy friends and ask for those needs to be met. Ask gently, honestly and politely and you just might be surprised that you get what you actually need. Vulnerability is worth it, who knows maybe it will even save the world?
If this article has got you thinking about your own personal development journey, I am also offering a free 45 minute, online, mentor session. In these sessions I listen to your personal journey and help you sit with and learn from the lessons buried in the pain. These sessions are no obligation and are often powerful transformative processes. Click the link above to book a session or message me.