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Simara James is a mother of two, mindfulness coach and consultant, author, podcast host and flexible work expert looking to improve the lives of women across the globe by sharing tips to creating more balance and design a live that's full of fulfillment. 

6 steps to safe vulnerability

About a year ago and I created a vision board and one of my biggest intentions on that board was to build more relationships with women and that has manifested. I've built so many beautiful friendships with so many beautiful women with whom I spend a lot of time. Our topics of discussion are typically our children, our relationships, or our money and usually in discussing those things we end up tying them back into our relationships.

When it comes to relationship these days everybody is so guarded. When I'm having intimate conversations with people, men and women, there's this deep desire to have authentic connections with other people. Everybody says they want it, but everybody's ALSO talking about how hard it is to get it.

If everybody wants it, why isn't anybody getting this closeness and connection that they are seeking? A lot of us are dealing with a lot of hurts and past disappointments as well as dysfunctional family dynamics that we grew up with. We're dealing with all the spaces that are unhealed and when we say we want connection with other people sometimes we're looking for those people to come in and fill in the emotional gaps we have. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with building relationships and allowing the process of connecting with others facilitate the healing of past wounds.

The issue arises when we inevitably run into disappointment. Instead of realizing that the people we're in relationship with are only acting as catalysts so that we can heal ourselves, we develop unrealistic expectations. The truth is that no human being is able to meet all of our expectations and we have to admit that we can't meet another person's expectations either no matter how much we love and care for them. Many of us have dealt with situations where we were really hurt by someone and whether those wounds are old or fresh we have put up emotional walls because we don't want to feel the pain again. We keep walking around trying to get close to people not realizing that our wall hits them before we do.

I was directly confronted with my own anxiety about connecting emotionally. I started dating someone and things were progressing and I thought that I had done all the work I needed to do to prepare myself for intimate connection, especially since I'm experiencing all these beautiful connections with friends and family. But I realized that I was still terrified to be vulnerable.

I had a conversation with one of my good friends about the situation. The relationship was new and this person was expressing a lot of feelings, hopes and wishes for us, but for some reason, I just could not move into vulnerability. My friend asked me some qualifying questions to understand where I was emotionally. Has this person then anything to show you that they don't deserve your trust? Have they done anything that would tell you that you need to move with caution? I told her I had nothing but green lights up to that point.

Moving with caution in the beginning of a relationship is normal and healthy but I was going above and beyond and creating this deep anxiety around opening up. My friend said something to me that was the inspiration for this whole article. She said, "the only way to know really if it's safe to connect with another person is to make yourself vulnerable and give them the opportunity to show you they're safe"

That one statement stopped me in my tracks. It was an "aha" moment. I've dealt with so much pain in the past that opening up even a little bit wasn't even something I considered. I somehow reasoned that I could remain totally closed and at the same time have someone prove to me that they were a safe person. I realized in that moment that those two ideas did not work together. I had this list of rules in place to protect myself and I was finally in a situation where there were only green lights and the next step was to be vulnerable. This was my "final exam" for all the emotional work I had done. So I sat with that and I made a decision. I made a decision to open myself up to present an opportunity for this person to show me what they had to offer as far as emotional safety.

In the end, this person was NOT emotionally safe for me and there were some other incompatibilities that came up. Ultimately I decided not to move forward but I learned some important lessons about what it takes to achieve closeness. It requires a fearlessness. Not a reckless fearlessness, but one based on trusting yourself enough to hold your own emotionally when someone else lets you down.

You can't just go from someone who is guarded to someone who is wide open because that is a sure recipe for disaster. It is always a gamble when you allow someone to see the deepest part of you when you allow yourself to give someone the gift of trust. Truthfully, you can't ever trust another person. The person you're trusting is yourself. You can only give another person the gift of you trusting yourself enough not to let their failures destroy you.

Below are 6 things I believe have to be in place in order for us to take the brave step into this kind of vulnerability.

1. Self-Love

I used to think that self-love and self-esteem were the same thing but self-love is to respect and honor the good and the bad in you. Self-Love is to look at yourself as a whole with all of your imperfections and all of your awesome qualities and say, " I am beautiful. I am perfection always being further perfected." You know your value and you know that you don't have to perform to get anyone's approval. Validation is an inside job. You know that despite the outcome of any relationship that the way a person treats you has to do with who they are and not who you are. And conversely, how you treat others depends on who you are and not who they are. If you don't love you genuinely...if you don't think you're a treat, then why would someone else? At its core, self-love is honoring your being as it is and all of its preferences in each moment.

2. Self-Trust

This is something totally different. Often we have these guards up that are preventing us from making connections. Instead of trusting in our intuition, in our past we may have made poor decisions. We may have ignored red flags. We may have allowed situations that damaged our self-esteem so now we don't trust ourselves to make right decisions. When we run into a new situation and we're trying to make a decision about how much we're going to open up, all this fear moves in and we don't trust our own ability to judge a person's character and to make a wise investment of time and resources. We reflexively hold everything back. Learning to trust ourselves, our intuition and our ability to navigate our own life and recover from any negative situation any setback, is very important to have as a foundation. When you have self-trust, before you make yourself completely vulnerable, you can meter out vulnerability in a responsible way. So you don't meet someone and give them your social security number let them in your house. You take your time.

3. Self-sufficiency

This means that you have a life that YOU have created and that you truly enjoy. You're not depending on someone else to bring in the fun and excitement or bring in the love. You've already got all those things built up in your life and you're just allowing someone else in on the party. If you're dating someone and you know this person could be absolutely amazing as far as what they can bring to your life whether it's the excitement like I mentioned or even resources or money... or they have access to things that you’ve never had access to before, you have confidence in your own ability to create those same experiences for yourself. This way your decisions when it comes to how much to invest or how vulnerable to be are not based on desperation or fear of loss. You have to know that how your life is constructed is not dependent upon anyone else but yourself. This ability comes from constantly working on yourself and having a growth mindset.

4. Self-compassion

When we trust ourselves and we make a mistake that causes pain, we walk around with so much guilt. We may look back and realize we missed a red flag. Forgiving ourselves and doing it quickly is so important. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive yourself for not being all knowing. Forgive yourself, even for knowing something was off and moving forward anyway. TRULY forgive and love on yourself. The added bonus is that after you've forgiven yourself, you can forgive the people who disappoint you, no matter how bad the situation. The key here is to understand that we can't get this wrong. As long as we wake up to a new day, there's always an opportunity to create better experiences.

5. Self-understanding/Self-respect

I put these two together because I think they're kind of the same thing. If you take the time to really understand who you are and what your deepest (sometimes darkest) desires are, that is a form of respect for the self. Think about it. If you have a boss that you're working for and you want to impress, you're going to try to understand what their preferences are. You're going to want to know what pleases them and you're going to want to understand how they react to different things to stay in their good graces. If you have respect for yourself you do the same thing for YOU. You get past what others think you should be or what you ought to want and you get to the REAL. What truly pleases you? We all have this image of the perfect person that we think other people want and we disregard our own wishes. Having an understanding of the self and respecting it... saying, "this is what I really want... this is what I really think ...this is what I really feel" is true self-respect. It's a major safeguard emotionally as well. Sometimes we like a person so much that we make adjustments to please them, ignoring our own wishes. We say, "maybe I can tolerate this" or "maybe I could've just done that one thing I don't want to do". We slowly disrespect ourselves by ignoring our needs and desires. There's nothing wrong with consciously making shifts, but before you make those shifts you have to go deep inside and make sure that you have counted the cost in a very real way and decided to pay it without compromising your self-respect. No two people are going to have the same desires and preferences when it comes to relationship, so there's always going to be some adjustments to make for harmony's sake, but if you find yourself constantly making adjustments you're on the way to disappointment because the other person doesn't even really know who you are. You're making all these concessions and at the end of the day the people close to you think they know you and they really don't.

6. Deep respect for others

This a big one. You have to understand that other people have a right to their preferences and desires and that no one owes you anything. No one owes you love. No one owes you respect. The way to get respect is to set boundaries that only give people one option, which is to respect you. No one even owes you the truth. It is your responsibility to evaluate what someone is presenting and decide whether or not you accept it as true. Many people lie to themselves so how could they possibly be truthful with you? We can say people shouldn't lie or people shouldn't mistreat us or people shouldn't be selfish. Talking about what people should and shouldn't do is one of the biggest wastes of precious time. If you master number five, self-respect, then you won't often run into people who don't give you the truth or don't give you respect or don't give you affection or time or resources because as you honor yourself, users and abusers naturally fade away. Respecting others means understanding that everybody is on their own path. Everybody has their own desires, which they are entitled to. Everybody has their own intentions and their own methods to try to get what they want from life. If someone ends up not giving you what you want from them, respecting them allows you to forgive them and move on.

I think vulnerability is so important these days especially because we can have this false sense of connection through social media and through all these quick coffee room conversation. We keep things very high-level and we can have the illusion of connection but feel very, very lonely. I think it's important for us to remember the importance of deep connection. Right now we're on this whole independence kick in our society, but truly people are yearning for something more. It's normal and healthy to want to let people in and even to let people help you heal your wounds. We've just got to take responsibility for our own experience in the midst of those healing connections.

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