After divorce, we often enter a protective state, curled inward and walled off to the outside world. And without practice, we soon forget the critical skill of being able to be fully seen by another. And so that which was advantageous at first, eventually becomes limiting as new relationships cannot fully form when you are wrapped in your emotional armor.
Not only is it scary to immediately open up to others when your heart has been shredded, it can also be risky. Sadly, there are those that look for wounded souls and advantage of your weakened state. Yet if you remain hardened to all encounters, you risk losing the ability to be vulnerable as you become accustomed to your “Nothing can touch me” state.
There is a middle ground. Places where you can practice being open while at the same time ensuring your emotional safety. The following are exercises in vulnerability that maintain your strength and flexibility for when you’re ready to put it in action in a new relationship.
This is one of the key benefits of therapy. In many ways, the relationship you have with your therapist within the safety of their four walls gives you an opportunity to practice with a trained professional before you bumble through it on your own in the world. They know when to push you to open a little more and sense when you’re flooded and need a breather. In contrast with the other strategies, this one directly addresses vulnerability and allows for an outsider’s help and perspective.
This was a key part of my healing from my own divorce. Abandonment had left me traumatized and fearful. I scheduled a monthly massage with a trusted therapist for those first several months. The safe, nonsexual touch helped me learn to relax in front of another person, which I knew was going to be critical for my future wellbeing. We NEED touch and when you’re having trouble trusting people in your life, massage can be a safe way to meet that need.
Time With Kids
Kids have a way of worming through our emotional defenses. Willing to say it like it is, they call us out on our stuff and their own openness and honest curiosity helps to make us feel at ease. Now obviously, they are not the ones to divulge all of your thoughts to, but you can learn how to relax and let yourself feel without passing judgement.
Whether a structured support group or an anonymous account on Twitter, the internet offers myriad opportunities for you to flex your vulnerability muscle. This is an environment where you can be completely open, yet also feel protected behind your screen. Be cautious if you’re not in the relative safety of a private group and you’re still feeling pretty fragile, as here there be trolls.
Book club discussions often allow ways for us to talk about how we relate to the literature, which can be a way of talking about your feelings and your experiences through the book. This round-a-bout arrival can often feel more comfortable than a direct approach. Plus, you also have the opportunity to learn that you’re not alone with these feelings.