This is a bit of a long post. It’s centered around a lot of unpacking I’ve been doing lately around emotions, connection and belonging (in relationship and connection to places, people and myself). 

Movement and friendships

So I moved to Whangarei in a bit of a whirlwind 10ish months ago now – mainly as a career move to try out a particular role and whether it fit on me. Before leaving, it was my birthday and I took the time to really celebrate my friendships and support networks in Auckland. I’ve got a wide network of people but I regularly keep up with probably only about 5 – 10 people, maybe 15 at the absolute most. Friendships ranging from 5 months to ~10 years. The people I intend to invite into my space and share energy with, are usually people I can see myself sharing life-long and deeply fulfilling connections with.

With those people, I probably trust and share more with them than my family. I do still share a lot with my family, but not as much as I would with my friends (largely because of the type of role I have in my family and because I don’t live with them anymore). My friends have some of the pages of my life written into theirs and theirs into mine, of some of the highest and lowest moments of my life (and theirs). I probably wouldn’t be hard pushed to say we’re disciples unto each other’s lives. I allow this because I’ve built trust with them to varying degrees, which match up to the depth of closeness and connectedness I have with any particular one of them. In my friendships, I hope to shield and enrich their lives (with an Jill Scott or Sia Figiel warm-soul type vibe), because it’s what I would want a friend to do for me (love languages for platonic relationships aside).

To trust someone, I have to be willing to be vulnerable with them. I’m highly selective of who I’m vulnerable with. I’m sure anyone who has been hurt would say more or less the same. The people I’m vulnerable with have been a product of choice, chance and circumstance, but I think my choice is the greatest in that ratio. In the general stages of relationship development 1) connection/bliss 2) fear manifestation/storming 3) negotiating normal, I would trust too easily and then during the fear manifestation stage, I would just accept what happened rather than point out what was wrong about it and fight for accountability. I connected too willingly and got hurt. I wasn’t tempered through experience and emotional warning/coaching from my parents (I don’t blame them for this). Over the years, I’ve gone through the motions with my friends i.e. have felt or been betrayed, disappointed and taken advantage of. And I’ve done the same to some friends too, more than I can count unfortunately. And where that has happened, I would like to think that I have apologised and made up for it – at least for the friendships that have lasted, I know I can definitely say that. For the ones that haven’t, I’m not sure if any opportunity will present itself again to settle any dues but I wouldn’t hesitate to do so and move on. For the friendships that have lasted, I think I’ve developed a sense of intellectual, experiential and emotional intimacy that we both feel safe in. The best build up of this intimacy was built organically and without time pressure. In general relationship, I have a fear of emotional intimacy, fear of abandonment, lack of trust, rejection and control issues (of what I want or allow people to know about me). But with the deep friendships I have, I’m grateful for the growth I’ve made on those fears.

In moving to Whangarei, I’ve managed to sustain my friendships (and create new ones which I’m deeply grateful for!) and family relationships. And in some regards, those relationships have been strengthened by the distance. This is because of the value and effort I still place on them despite the distance. 

I’ve had family up in Whangarei and have spent a few summers there so I’ve had a connection to the place for a while. This thankfully made the move easier. I haven’t had too many issues with finding my sense of space given my work keeps me busy and work also helps with learning about the region. 

Movement and romantic connection

In terms of a romantic connection, I’ve been suppressing my emotions for some time since I moved to Northland because it didn’t end up working out and I tried to pretend it didn’t hurt. I began avoiding anyone who showed interest and really flirted only for shallow vanity and avoided any vulnerability sharing. However I do miss the intellectual, physical and most of all, emotional intimacy. But like I’ve mentioned above, I have a fear of falling into trust with someone again to be bothered to even begin making a connection with someone again. It’s a process and there is a lot of bliss and enjoyment, but also, a lot of work; working through the fears. 

Vulnerability: falling into trust

Alisha Lockley’s Ted talk on “Intimacy” describes the process aptly. 

The unravelling, the undoing, the resurrection. Unfinding, re-existing, unfolding. Creating paradise out of your breath and heartbeat. Bathed in the hush of another man’s prayers while soaking off all unreasonable doubt. Broken grace.

Intimacy – the self-unraveling, the diving with divinity, the sanctuary you have in someone else and vice versa, ego becomes evaporated and you give up the portion of your right to be in control. Its a beautiful thing to allow yourself to be broken in front of another human being, someone with whom you’re not afraid to be scared. Having someone who reinforces our immediate completeness. In intimacy, we surrender our perfect balance into the hands of someone, realising that we could slip through their fingers [like in a trust fall], trust is regenerative, not disposable. Open heart, open mind, open spirit.

But when vulnerability is taken advantage of, then we avoid feeling the need to need anyone other than myself. This defence mechanism creates the domino effect that because I’ve been hurt, no one else from this point on deserves to become familiar with me, my will to remain undisturbed is of greater cost to work towards, than to find the resilient piece to remain open, regardless of whether or not my environment welcomes it.

We forget that someone else may just require your vulnerability later on – we forget that someone else may require us to practice an undressing of pretence. A naked and real story. I thought I was enough. I fell apart. Sanctuary in someone else’s being.

When someone is asking to be caught, during the process of falling into trust with someone, it’s because they’re looking for a sanctuary. Which is what I miss, when I have flashbacks of the times I’ve spent in trust and in relationship. Having that space in someone and someone create that space for me within them. But because I’ve developed this allergy to emotional vulnerability, I’ve been doing some reading around it through the work of Brene Brown to try and get comfortable with doing it again. In one of her podcasts she highlights the consequences of avoiding vulnerability:

  • The cost of vulnerability is that joy becomes foreboding – we become compelled to self-sabotage that joy. I can definitely say I self-sabotage a lot when it comes to new friendships and in my dating life.
  • Disappointment becomes a lifestyle – one side-steps getting excited about something, because it’s easier to maintain the status quo and feed the disappointment 
  • Low-grade disconnection keeps one miserable, where you never correct or rebalance the connection, becomes like a constant “fever” or “flu” that eats at the immunity of that relationship or connection. I’m guilty of this in family relationships where I simply don’t want to do the work to reconnect, because of my own emotions and moral high ground I’ve gone to. Think of family disputes between family members who believe they’re right and the other person is wrong, resulting in years of disconnect until eventually, non-existent relationships
  • Perfection – nothing can go wrong if I’m perfect (nothing to do with healthy striving) but this is more about the defense mechanism
  • Faith – vulnerability = extremeism. For me, my extremism was perfectionism and being a workaholic – and my type of work rewards that behaviour, so compound toxic effect
  • We numb e.g. through addictions (food, work, spending, consumption generally rather than sitting in it and working through it).
    • Important to note you cannot selectively numb dark emotions – in addiction studies, intensely negative AS WELL as intensely positive experiences can trigger a relapse toward addictive behaviours
  • Scarcity e.g. we are never good/safe/certain/perfect/extraordinary enough – an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life. Missing whats really important because we’re on this quest for “extraordinary” – an “alchemist” quest. And yes, I am making reference to Paulo Cohelo’s work here. 

In that podcast, which I’ll link below, Brene also goes on to illustrate how to build vulnerability:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Honour the ordinary (that is the extraordinary in most cases – ordinary moments with profound moments that manifest vulnerability being shared/entrusted)
  • If you don’t experience love, then you don’t have anything in the tank for when the times get rough

Since engaging more with Brene’s work and applying it to my life, I definitely have opened up myself to being more vulnerable with people. It’s been rewarding and satisfying, being more open and creating trust and safe spaces with people that I can count on and rely on in my life. There is still a lot of work and nuances around my character traits that I want to unravel and understand, but on the whole, I can definitely say I have a wholly different outlook to relationships than I did 3 years ago. 

And most of all, applying Brene’s work and doing the homework around this has given me a better understanding of people and of myself.