Vulnerability Deficit

Apr 05, 2022

We have a vulnerability deficit in our community. We don’t seem to understand the real reason for all our factions, judgements, and shaming. Sure, we will shame people less often if we are speaking directly to that person, but my God…give us two or three degrees of separation from them and we are shameless in the amount of shaming we will dish out. We don’t slow down enough to notice that our own fear and insecurity is at the center of it all. We start thrashing people with our words rather than deal with the fact that they scare us.

I’d love to say this is “other people’s problem”, but I’ve got the same blood on my hands. While growing up, I had no real confidence to speak of. Charisma – a million little tricks to bend people’s perception of me and gain their acceptance – is what got me through. It was a skill I had to acquire over the years. At the time, I was too much of a coward to speak my judgements out loud, but oh…they were there. People who were gay, did drugs, had sex outside of marriage, didn’t believe in Jesus; I counted myself above them all. Frankly, I feel sick to my stomach when I look back on that old version of myself.

If you took me to court, put me on the stand, and said, “Explain yourself! Why such distain for others?” Part of me would tell you I had no idea it was happening. But, ultimately, that’s not true. Self-blindness was real, yes, but it was self-induced blindness. Even back then I knew I was turning my head away from the real issue: my insecurity. I was too scared to address my fear.

As an example: I judged anyone who wasn’t a Christian. I would tell myself that I loved them like Jesus did, that I saw no difference of value between them and myself, but that vail was thin. The dirty truth was I automatically saw myself as “above” and “better”. Why? It sure as hell wasn’t because the Bible taught me to do so. I can’t even blame society or the Church for making me do it. It was just…me. I was terrified and refused to admit it. For all the confidence I had (and have) in the truth of what the Bible says, I couldn’t shake the fear that I was wrong. In my heart, I knew I would have just as easily been a Muslim had I been born in that family instead of my own. Between the insecurities I had in my faith and myself, the mere existence of other religions (along with those who believed in them), meant I might be wrong…automatically making them a threat.

Naturally, these are not conscious thoughts at the time, but after a lot of hard work and digging on myself, I can see the progression: I was insecure and scared > other people remained a threat as long as their different voice/thoughts/beliefs carried any weight > safety only comes from believing myself to be superior (or them inferior) > thus my protective move becomes a dismissal of their legitimacy, value, or credibility > I am now safe because their voice no longer carries any weight.

When I follow that progression, it’s really easy for my heart to be judgmental and shaming toward others…even to the point of believing I am right to so.

The same is true for why I judged anyone who did drugs, had sex before marriage, or the like. Anything that provoked my insecurity was quickly coded by my brain as “bad”. If it left me fearing they were desirable and I was not, or they were right and I was wrong, I would quietly focus on the “badness” of their behavior, thus triggering the dismissal of their worth. BOOM! I felt better again.

When you think about it, the reason we all use this tool with such frequency makes a lot of sense. What other socially acceptable tool is so reliably and universally effective at snuffing out all our existential fires? The tool works, so we use it.

What I appreciate in all this is how the last several paragraphs represent the solution to this problem of shame and judgement: I got vulnerable. Being vulnerable toward my insecurity and fear allowed me to dig deeper, producing greater understanding. Understanding naturally evolves into empathy toward myself and others…causing the opposite of judgement and shame.

Consider the following two cycles; one protecting ourselves from fear, the other vulnerably facing our fear. First, the protection cycle: something triggers my insecurity > I protect myself with my most effective and reliable tool – judgement > judgement causes disconnection > disconnection makes understanding almost impossible > insecurity increases because we always fear what we don’t understand. Now, the vulnerability cycle: Something triggers my insecurity > I choose to be vulnerable toward my fear > vulnerability allows for deeper understanding > understanding begets empathy > empathy re-establishes connection > insecurity cannot survive in the presence of empathy and connection.

I really hope that gets your attention.

The power and impact of vulnerability is precisely why my wife, Betsy, and I have dedicated our lives to helping marriages. The facts are clear: the most influential factor on the health of a community is the health of their marriages; the most influential factor on the health of a marriage is the degree to which the couple is being vulnerable with each other. Without vulnerability, everything suffers all the way up the chain.

My sincere hope is that Betsy and I are not the only ones disturbed by our community’s vulnerability deficit. I hope you recognize this problem, take these words to heart, and risk being vulnerable in your own life. My deepest hope, however, is that we courageous few will band together and start a vulnerability movement in our family, community, and nation. If that’s you…let’s talk. Email me: [email protected]