On Vulnerability and Reason

Ron Leonard

I’d like to talk about vulnerability. Usually when you talk about vulnerability, you give emotional reasons for recommending greater vulnerability. Let’s say you’re one of those guys who isn’t impressed with emotional reasons for doing things. ‘After all,’ you say, ‘Emotions are just the caboose on the train, right?’ Well, where emotions belong is a subject of several other articles. Let’s agree for now, that they shouldn’t be in charge but that God didn’t make them for us just to ignore.

So, what if you are a level-headed guy who wants to do things thoughtfully, rationally and with his mind in charge? Maybe you might want to know what your emotions are doing but you don’t want them dictating whether you do things such as becoming vulnerable. That’s great! This article is for you.

Before we talk about vulnerability, let’s talk about its opposite. If we’re not being vulnerable, what are we doing? Largely, we’re hiding. We’re also doing such things as lying, clamming up, covering up, and oh yeah, hiding. Why do we do these things? Because we’re afraid that if our real self and behaviors were known, even to our loved ones, we would be blamed, shamed, embarrassed, mocked, ridiculed, or otherwise in trouble. So, hiding is perfectly natural and understandable. It’s also childish.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) declares, ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.’

When we were children, we would try to hide our misbehavior in the belief that this would make our lives better somehow. Usually, it made them worse. When we raided the cookie jar, we weren’t smart enough to figure out that as Bill Cosby pointed out, ‘Sound travels.’ Our parents heard our misbehavior from the next room and came to see what we were doing. We tried to cover up our crimes by stuffing the half-eaten cookies back into the jar, but we still had the crumbs on our lips. Now that we’re older, we’re a little better at covering up, but our behavior is still just as childish.

When we were children, we did not have the benefit of a trained rational mind. We as children responded to things based primarily on emotions. It was only slowly that we learned to use our minds more. So, when we continue to hide as men, we are behaving emotionally, not rationally.

God has made men, more so than women, to be guided by their minds than their hearts. This does not make us better, it makes us different. Imagine for a moment being raised by two fathers rather than a mother and a father. Whew, painful!

If you are indeed the calm, cool, thinking man you see yourself to be, then hiding does not belong in your life. God made you a rational, goal-directed person. As a man, he also made you courageous, level-headed, and fearless. Hiding is not consistent with these attributes. As a man, it is time to put away childish ways.

If we know what hiding is now, what then is vulnerability? Vulnerability is exposing all (or at least more) of ourselves to the light of others scrutiny. It is a purposeful showing of things our emotions tell us to hide. Vulnerability is a conscious, reasonable, thought-out, goal-driven DECISION. Yes, there are enormous emotional ramifications, but it is above all a choice and an act of the will.

What are your goals? Is it to have a better family? Is it to have a stronger marriage and a closer connection to your wife? Then choosing to become vulnerable is one of the actions you take to fulfill that goal. It is not something we do to feel better (although we might in the long run). It is something that will definitely be scary and will probably be quite painful. But, isn’t facing down fear and suffering pain for our families what God made us for? Why do you suppose he gave us the heart of a warrior?

Why else should we choose vulnerability?

Why do we hang a trouble light on the hood? So we can see what the problem is so we (and our buddies) can fix them. Vulnerability is like that trouble light. Do you ever wonder why you have the same confused feelings about women and sex that you had when you were a teenager? Why haven’t they changed a bit? Because, they have never been exposed to the light. They’ve never been hauled out of the basement and hung up so they can dry out. No one has been able to see these things clearly enough so they can be worked on.

In nature, discarded things eventually disappear. Bacteria, in God’s divine order, chews up debris. After a short period of being rotten and smelly, it decomposes until it’s gone. This doesn’t happen in our brain. All of the accumulated stupidity of our lives is still in there. We need to become vulnerable so we can let God, our wives, and other men see it in the light and help us dispose of it.

Vulnerability is tough, but we can help. Join us at our next New Life Weekend.

The Mother Wound

Dan Jenkins

I like to tell a humorous story about my oldest daughter when she was somewhere between two and three years old. My wife had placed some figurines on a coffee table and she told our daughter not to touch them. I was reading on the couch the next day when I noticed that our daughter was standing in front of the coffee table, staring at the figurines. Her hand was poised, ready to snatch them up. I was about to say, ‘Melissa, don’t touch those,’ when to my surprise I heard her utter the very same words. ‘Don’t touch those.’ She said these words twice out loud and in a soft whisper. I could almost see the battle waging inside her mind when, unfortunately, her hand won the debate and I had to confirm the command to not touch the figurines. But it told me that she had internalized what her mother had said the day before.

Our daughter had internalized the command, even though she chose not to obey it.

Likewise, all children internalize very important aspects of the mother-child relationship. Mothers provide love, nurture, warmth, and the constant attention that all children need. Infants are born with constant recurring needs, and if those basic needs are met they grow up to understand what it means to build relationships based on trust. If the infant’s mother is largely emotionally absent, then the child does not learn to internalize a healthy representation of attachment to his mother, and later in life, to other people.

Picture a small infant, alone in a crib. Before long, the child is going to need attention, but for a variety of possible reasons, mother is not available. Maybe she is too preoccupied with other children, work, drugs, depression, etc., to give the child what he needs at that moment. If this becomes a pattern, the child will develop an internalized representation of mother that has actually been split into two opposite extremes. There will be the ‘Idealized Mother’ who is perfect and can meet all needs. This is an internalized mother image that can save the child from all the pain and anguish that comes from being isolated and alone.

On the other hand, there will also be the ‘Absent Mother.’ From the child’s perspective this other extreme internalized representation personifies all the negative aspects of the mother-child relationship. Mother is untrustworthy, hurtful, and very inconsistent in meeting the child’s needs. A child with this kind of internalized mother wound will grow up to idealize a relationship . . . until the first disruption, and then the idealized person will fall from the pedestal to turn into the person who is always absent.

You can see how a tremendous fear of abandonment would develop in a person with this kind of early attachment deficit.

Many men who have experienced this ‘splitting’ of their first relationship will find it hard to give up on the idea of an idealized woman who could meet all their emotional needs. They often feel cheated by women, who seem to change after the relationship becomes more emotionally intimate. They fail to see that this recurring pattern originates from within themselves rather than other people.

In more specific terms, they fail to see that it is not the woman who has changed as much as their perception of her. A woman who is a stranger can seem ideal, but as her humanity and frailties become known, she seems to become all that is personified in the ‘Absent Mother,’ along with the intolerable states of aloneness and the desire to find something to fill the void. This leaves the man with a deep sense of loss and abandonment, as well as vulnerability to use idealized sexual fantasy as a counterfeit for true attachment.

If the infant’s needs are largely met, then a different scenario unfolds. Around the age of three the child has internalized enough of the mother to start exploring around in the world without her. He may need to frequently return for attention or other needs, but he has internalized enough of the mother to be able to take her with him wherever he goes. He still feels loved even when she’s not in the same room. The good ‘love-object’ is constant and not going to go away. This also contributes to a stable and constant sense of self. It makes it possible to feel good about yourself, even when you fail.

The Hebrew word for ‘weaned’ actually means ‘satisfied.’ You are supposed to have it taken away after you have had enough. Unfortunately, many people have been left unsatisfied and still hungry from early bonding deficits. Searching for that ideal woman who will meet all our needs is a fruitless and hopeless endeavor based solely in a dysfunctional fantasy from the past.

The first woman you fell in love with was your mother. She set the stage for all subsequent relationships. It’s no wonder that those early wounds would impact your perception of women.

Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in San Diego, California. He is also a Professor of Psychology at Point Loma Nazarene University.