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What I Learned From A Therapist About Being More Vulnerable In Relationships
SDI Productions/Getty Images

What I Learned From A Therapist About Being More Vulnerable In Relationships

It's about to get real vulnerable up in here.

Wellness

By now we know it takes vulnerability to establish long-lasting and healthy relationships of all kinds. For someone like me, who is aware of this but a hot mess when it comes to execution, this is easier said than done. So, I spoke to a professional on tangible tips to explore my vulnerable side. India Douglas, LMSW works at a school in Brooklyn, New York teaching underserved kids the fundamentals when it comes to understanding feelings.


She also became a teletherapist at Brooklyn Center for Psychotherapy for all ages and genders during the pandemic at a time when vulnerability issues became a hot topic of discussion. Her background with the building blocks of emotions, I felt was perfect to break down the root of my vulnerability issues and how to move forward.

While she has never treated me, for the purposes of this story, I did share with her a few intimate details about my struggles with opening up wholeheartedly to those I care about. "Your diagnosis would probably be somewhere within the anxiety wheelhouse. It sounds as if you have issues opening up because you fear the response of what would happen if you did and the what-ifs," she explained. "If you get treated at Brooklyn Center for Psychotherapy, you might get an unspecified anxiety disorder diagnosis (found in the DSM-5). Later, they might put a specifier in there, based on whatever past experiences you share with your therapist."

Below find her tips for myself and others like me to navigate the ins and outs of being vulnerable.

How you should work on being more vulnerable:

"Before you get vulnerable with someone else, that vulnerability needs to start with yourself. You have to start by asking yourself the questions that you've been dodging in the back of your head. Begin journaling and really thinking about any traumas that you've had. Also, if something that you struggle with is anxiety—which is just the fear of the unknown—write down a list of what you're afraid of, and then the possible outcomes. Ask yourself, 'What if that did happen? Is it the worst thing? Is it the end of the world? What are you fearing from being that vulnerable? What reaction am I afraid of getting?' Write it down, look at it, stare at it and then figure out, 'OK, if this happened how would I respond to it?' It takes away that fear of the unknown.

"Vulnerability lies a lot with understanding your triggers. A lot of people are triggered by things that are attached to trauma or situations that happened in their childhood. When another person doesn't know these triggers, their reaction can come off negative. But when they do, then you open up a conversation and better communication between each other. So, if you're not open to understanding what your triggers are, how can you possibly be open to being vulnerable with somebody else? That's why people need to take time before they get into romantic relationships to get to know themselves—which can sometimes take years. That doesn't mean you can't date in the meantime, but it does mean that the more you know about yourself, the more you can share with your partner."

How to be more vulnerable in your relationships:

"When it comes to a romantic partner, I suggest taking each other out on dates. One takes the other out on a date and on that date, that's the date planners' day to be vulnerable and talk there about things. Don't approach the date like 'I got a bone to pick with you.' It shouldn't feel like a meeting or something you're dreading. It should be more like, 'This is my date day so I get to pick the spot and choose the topic of discussion this time.' And then next week is your date day to go where you want to go and discuss what you want to discuss. You can do this with family members too if you're trying to build or repair that relationship. Maybe not indefinitely, but for a period of time that gets you both to a better place.

"The number one thing I recommend is couples counseling. The best relationships are where you're in therapy, your partner is in therapy, and you are jointly in therapy. That is the best way to move forward. [Also,] there are card games like We're Not Really Strangers. That's a fun way to kind of get to know someone that you're interested in a bit deeper, and literally laying your cards on the table."

How to be open and expressive if you’re afraid of being vulnerable:

"For someone who is not good at being vulnerable, it might feel like, 'I want to be vulnerable with you but I'm scared of being vulnerable with you, and by me having even this conversation with you, is me being vulnerable.' Lean into your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses.

"If your strength is drawing, draw a picture that expresses how you feel; if your strength is music, play a song that expresses how you feel; if writing is your strength, write a letter or a card—everybody has certain strengths. You want to play off those strengths, they will empower you."

Being vulnerable with someone who is not receptive:

"If you do step out of your comfort zone and are vulnerable with someone, and they're not receptive, then that is a sign that this person is not ready to be vulnerable back with you. It takes two. Instead, focus on why you're seeking validation from this person who's incapable of giving you what you're giving of yourself. If you feel like this is a person that you want to work on things with, speak to them about it. Have them own up to it. And if they're unable to do that, then move on to somebody else who's willing and ready to be just as vulnerable as you, because it doesn't work if one person is putting in all the work."

How to receive someone’s vulnerability when being outwardly emotional doesn’t come naturally:

"By saying to them that you hear them and you are appreciative of them being vulnerable with you. Then add that you need some time to digest what was just said to you so that you can give them the proper reaction to that vulnerability. Sometimes when people have a hard time being vulnerable and then other people being vulnerable back, they go into a shell. That's something that needs to be shared with the other person so that they don't feel like, 'Wow, I just laid it all on the line and this person just blinked at me.'"

Patterns, behaviors, and language that should be established to create a space for vulnerability:

"Setting boundaries is a good place to start because once you establish your boundaries, you can figure out who you can trust. Once that trust is established, then the vulnerability just spills out. I feel statements which go something like, 'I feel like this and because of that, I would like this from you moving forward.' Ifeel statements are good because you're starting from the feelings and it's not an attack on that person. It's just you talking about how you feel."

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Featured image by SDI Productions/Getty Images

Originally published on March 31, 2021

Black Women, We Deserve More

When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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Featured image: Getty Images

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