Vulnerability and Belonging

Feeling vulnerable can be uncomfortable, and we often try to avoid it. However, accepting our vulnerability may be a way to feeling that we belong and that we are loved: that we  have a place in life.

We are social animals and, regardless of how gregarious or solitary each of us is, we all need to feel that we belong. Belonging depends on the acceptance of the environment, and this puts us in a vulnerable position in which we have no control. If we are not able to cope with this emotion, we try to regain control and stop feeling vulnerable by acting on:

  • whatever we think will get us rejected
  • our need to belong

Some possibilities:

  • negating the feeling of vulnerability and/or the possibility of not being accepted
  • hiding what we think is not worthy of acceptance, from others or even from ourselves
  • aggressively showing off what we think is unworthy in us, so if we are rejected we can believe it was our own making and retain the feeling of control
  • trying to inspire pity and sympathy by showing off our imperfections and how humble we are in showing them
  • avoiding any situation which may make us feel vulnerable, even if that means blocking our different needs for contact

Any such strategy involves staging a self, which means pretending to be other than what we really are. The fear of not being accepted is thus topped up with the not always conscious fear that this fake self will be discovered, by others or even by ourselves. The situation then becomes more precarious. Dealing with vulnerability and fear of rejection is already a challenge, and piling on an acting job only makes it more difficult.

The paradox is that the only way of connecting that can make us feel really loved and accepted involves being accepted exactly the way we are, which means vulnerable and imperfect. Even if our disguise is accepted and loved, there will always be insecurity about what can happen if the truth is revealed and we are left exposed.

When we can accept what we are, a lot of energy is released and there is relief. The illusion of control and security is gone, but at the end of the day, they can only ever be an illusion, because life is uncertain by nature. Unshakeable serenity does not depend on keeping circumstances under control, because they can always rebel and when they do we will become unstable. The deep truth is that we already have a place in life, just by being alive, and it’s on our awareness of this that we can rest assured, that is how we can find stability in the face of challenges as we make our way. If life is imperfect, interdependent and vulnerable – how could we be otherwise?

While all this may be easy to understand and agree with intellectually, it may be very difficult to feel one’s sense of place in this world. Feeling. That is the key. Worthiness, belonging, acceptance and love are no good just because you know they exist. They only work when you feel them – in body and mind together, because feeling is the mind noticing the body. Our body is vulnerable, and imperfect, and full of needs. And it strives to live, that is what it is made for. It is precisely the dependence of all living things that makes them need one another, so it is precisely this mutual need that connects us all and that makes us all belong.

Gestalt approaches to self-development and therapy favour the intuitive communication between the different planes of the organism: physical, mental, emotional and energetic. When all aspects find their place within the system, then perceiving, feeling, thinking and doing can all play their appropriate role in the dynamics of living. In Gestalt we practice awareness of one’s needs. This allows us to weed out learnt or acquired needs in order to refocus the energy towards what is really nourishing in the present moment. Needs emerge on every plane of being, and they can be cared for also by all these different planes in different ways. Life strives to live, and living is the step-by-step of need and fulfilment. Careful listening to our needs and awareness of our interdependence places us at the centre of our own life coordinates and within our role in the bigger picture of existence.

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