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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship

Being in an emotionally intimate and loving relationship is a desire that most people have.  But achieving emotional intimacy in a relationship can be scary for many people because it involves being emotionally vulnerable (see my article: The Emotional Vulnerability of Being in a Relationship).

Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy in a Relationship

The wish to remain "safe" and avoid danger, rather than being vulnerable, is something that many people struggle with, especially if their emotional needs weren't met as children.

These people often experienced criticism, emotional neglect and shame when they sought love as children, so it's understandable that they fear getting close to someone in a relationship--even though closeness is what they really desire (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

When children are emotionally neglected, they hide the more emotionally vulnerable parts of themselves in order to protect themselves.  This was an adaptive thing to do as a child because to continue to allow themselves to yearn for what they weren't getting as children would only bring more emotional pain.

Allowing Yourself to Be Emotionally Vulnerable in a Romantic Relationship
If you were emotionally neglected as a child or if you had bad experiences in prior relationships, you don't suddenly become comfortable with emotional vulnerability (see my article: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?).

That self protective part of you that took care of you as a child or in a prior emotionally abusive relationship continues to operate in the same way--until you take steps to make room for emotional vulnerability.

Sometimes the pain of being alone and lonely is greater than the fear of being emotionally vulnerable, and this creates the impetus for opening up to a romantic partner (see my article: Overcoming Loneliness and Social Isolation).

But allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable can still be daunting.

The truth is, whether you realize it or not, to be human is to be emotionally vulnerable.  You can try to protect yourself and avoid emotional intimacy in a romantic relationship, but you're still vulnerable in other relationships with loved ones.  It's just a part of life.  

The first step in overcoming your fear of emotional vulnerability is to become aware of your fear.

Noticing the physical and emotional cues to your avoidance can take practice because, when your fear has been longstanding, your avoidance is so automatic that you don't notice it. 

As I have mentioned in a prior article, becoming aware of your emotions usually starts with noticing what's going on in your body.  

Being present and aware of your body takes practice.  A "body scan," where you have quiet time and privacy to sense into your body to see where you're holding onto tension, is a good start.

Start from the crown of your head and slowly descend from the crown to your face, throat, chest and down to your gut.  Along the way, notice if you're holding onto tension in any particular area and then try to identify the emotion that goes with the tension.

The book, The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self Healing, by Ann Weiser Cornell is a simple how-to book on developing a "felt sense" of what's going on for you physically and emotionally.  She has practically exercises to help you develop your ability to become aware of your emotions.

Using these exercises, you can check in with yourself periodically during the day to sense what's going on for you.

Once you become more experienced with sensing your emotions, you'll discover when your fear of emotional vulnerability is operating and getting in your way.

Then, it's a matter of consciously making room for emotional vulnerability in romantic relationships with a person you can trust.

How do you know if you can trust someone enough to be emotionally vulnerable?  You need to get to know them over time and, if s/he feels safe enough, you can begin to take a risk of opening up emotionally to this person.

Getting Help in Therapy
Past trauma, including emotional neglect or abuse as a child as well as traumatic experiences in prior relationships, can make it difficult for you to achieve an emotionally intimate relationship because it feels too frightening to you.

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to work through the earlier traumatic experiences so you can gradually learn to be emotionally vulnerable to have the love and emotional intimacy that you long for in your life.

Rather than vacillating between hope and dread, you can get help in trauma therapy to feel hopeful and secure enough to take the emotional risks to achieve emotional intimacy.

About Me

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome their traumatic experiences so they can live more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.










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