On Being Vulnerable

I’m a whirlwind of emotions right now and not at all unsurprisingly. Since I published ‘Temptation’ (http://www.tearsinrain.co.uk/blog/2019/5/5/temptation )  and came ‘out out’ (as opposed to coming ‘out’ to my wife, I came ‘out out’ to the rest of the world and am now metaphorically stood in a night club at 2am, in my carpet slippers and holding a cut loaf and a pint of milk. Micky Flannigan fans will understand), my marriage has somewhat disintegrated and the decision has been made to divorce. Ironically it wasn’t me who jumped off the cliff first. That was, at least superficially, my wife’s decision, but in doing so she took me with her. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while (jump off a cliff) but have either lacked the courage to do or else have been overpowered by a sense of duty. Whatever the reality of the situation is, we’re now in free fall and the unwinding of 14 years of what was on so many occasions, an ‘incredibly challenging relationship’, is now bubbling to the surface and being downloaded directly, and rather compellingly, into my limbic system.

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As these emotions flood in I find myself crashing into people. I acknowledged to a therapist this week that there was a lot of anger coming out as a result of this download and she asked me, quite reasonably, where that anger was going. It was the obvious question and it didn’t take me long to realise that it was probably at work (my day job) as that was where I found myself crashing into people, in particular a couple of people I really care about (sorry Rosalie). Acknowledging this phenomena is of course the best way to fix the problem and I feel somewhat rehabilitated already, but it did start a chain of thinking that I wanted to share.

I have for a while now intuitively felt that it is in our vulnerability that all our humanity lies. In acknowledging our vulnerability two things become possible.

First, because your vulnerability is inherently empowering to others, by being vulnerable in front of someone you bring that person closer to you; and the more you can make a real connection with that person, the more the humanity between you and the other person is likely to flourish.

Second, since anger is simply the mind’s way of coping with being vulnerable, by acknowledging and being comfortable with our vulnerability we dissipate our anger. It’s not that I think anger is a bad emotion (though I believe it is a largely negative rather than positive emotion, it is also entirely necessary in many instances), but it is at best just a precursor to something more constructive and at worst, an inhibitor to that. It’s almost like you have to pass through the anger in order to move forward, but sometimes the anger is hard to let go of;  it pulls and tugs at us and so we are held back. It is the emotional equivalent of running through treacle.

All of which sounds like cloying, new age sentimentality until you realise that there is some empirical research to back this up. A new acquaintance recently pointed me to a wonderful Ted talk by an even more wonderful woman called Brené Brown, who as a social scientist has done extensive research on the topic and articulates the concepts I have myself felt intuitively, in a more empirical way. You can see the talk here:

So, I acknowledge my vulnerability. I realise that my anger is just my way of trying to cope with the feeling of inadequacy and that my sense of inadequacy, of not being good enough, takes me on a fast track right back to the darkest places in my memory where I am eight years old again, sitting in a classroom of other children who hate me and listening to the teacher explain to them how they should just pretend that I am a ghost, pretend that I am not there and just ignore me. It’s a terrifying and hurtful place but it’s not a place I have to be if I can be OK with my vulnerability as an adult.

Of course, this is something that will also find its way into my photography work. It’s a concept I want to explore and is already starting to develop. Since mine is an inherently masculine perspective, but since vulnerability is perhaps more readily associated with the feminine, I will try to explore the masculine experience of vulnerability through as feminine a perspective as I can. I will say more about this in my next post but the image presented here represents the genesis of these ideas and the start of a new direction.