Issue 82 –
Vulnerability: Part 2
The Vulnerable Child
Drs Hal & Sidra Stone
Vulnerability is much maligned in our culture. It has been seen as a womanly trait, unworthy of a man or a truly successful and admirable human being. For the more spiritually orientated, it has been viewed as a lack of trust in one’s spiritual commitment, a serious impediment to growth and transformation. To be identified with one’s vulnerability can, indeed, make one a victim to the world.
We have all met people who have been identified with their vulnerability. They react with an excess of sensitivity to all situations and are powerless to either protect themselves or to get their needs met appropriately. They are quintessential victims, constantly being hurt or exploited by others. They have no awareness of their own power, therefore they have no power in the world.
We do not in any way feel that elevating one’s vulnerability above all other selves is a good idea. However, we will say categorically that for any relationship to remain alive and Intimate, to grow and to deepen, the awareness of one’s vulnerability is absolutely necessary . The aware ego must have at its disposal an awareness of the feelings, perceptions, and needs of the vulnerable child in order to be able to relate to another in a genuinely intimate fashion.
It is this child that carries the deepest feelings in our hearts and that can recognise the feelings deep in the hearts of others. It makes a contact that is palpable. It creates a physical warmth between two people that is totally delightful. This child cannot be fooled by words or by reason because it responds directly to energies or feelings. This child is also unbelievably sensitive to the slightest indication of disapproval or abandonment, is likely to react catastrophically to its fears of either.
If there is no access to vulnerability, then our lives are dominated by our primary selves that, in turn, are relating to the primary selves of others. We are well protected, but alone. The sadness of this condition was beautifully conveyed in a dream that was told to us rather wistfully at a workshop. “Hal reached into my bag and pulled out a book of poems. He started reading them aloud. I remember thinking that they weren’t mine. This made me feel “safe” but it also made me feel sad. Since my vulnerability wasn’t revealed, he couldn’t disapprove of me – but couldn’t really approve either”.
The vulnerable child is the actual self within each of us that carries our emotional reality. It is this child who remembers all of the experiences that have touched us deeply or have caused us great pain. It’s memories are far more complete than those that are usually available to our primary selves. It often has full recall of specific traumatic experiences that have been otherwise repressed.
The child will also remember beautiful love filled experiences. Alice’s vulnerable child, for instance, was able to sing the hymns that she had sung years before with a beloved grandmother, long since dead. The loss of this grandmother was so painful, and the reality of living with an emotionally withholding mother was so unpleasant, that Alice’s vulnerable child was completely disowned at the time of her grandmother’s death. A cool, rational, judgemental mother took over, which buried Alice’s vulnerability completely. With this as her primary self, Alice experienced only irritation and discomfort with hymns whenever she heard them and spoke disparagingly of the singers. She took great pains to avoid any contact with what she termed “fundamentalist Christians” and she did not even like Sundays.
When we talked to her about disowned selves, Alice was sceptical that she could have disowned anything to do with hymns, the whole matter seemed quite foolish to her. Later, when we then contacted her vulnerable child, the child tearfully reminded Alice of the great peace and happiness that she had experienced as a very young child, when her grandmother played the piano on Sundays and they sang hymns together. Once Alice realised that she had, indeed, disowned something that had to do with hymns, her inner child was in a position to bring back to her some of the lost happiness and warmth of her childhood, the memories of singing with her beloved grandmother. She had also moved from an operating ego dominated by her “judgemental mother” self to a more aware ego that, for the first time, had some access to her inner child.