Your vulnerability holds the key to real intimacy. But for most of us, a “ring of fire”–fear of vulnerability, embarrassment, and even shame–surrounds our most tender, authentic parts. In this episode, you’ll learn how to understand and transform your fear of vulnerability so that you can bear the heat of authentic love.
Episode Table of Contents
Episode Introduction: Fear of Vulnerability
As we get closer to sharing our deepest and most vulnerable parts, there’s a ring of shame, or fear, or embarrassment, or awkwardness that we hit. This is a precious point, and in this episode I’m going to teach you why this is actually the beginning of deeper intimacy and how you can get through that ring of fire to the gifts that are on the other side that signify the person you’re meant to be. Stay tuned to the Deeper Dating Podcast to learn more.
Hello and welcome to the Deeper Dating podcast. I’m Ken Page and today we’re going to talk about fear of vulnerability and some of the obstacles that come up that we hit when we try to be vulnerable and what to do about those obstacles. What are they and how to understand where they come from.
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I’m very excited to talk about this in this podcast episode because it’s a hugely important dynamic and it’s one we‘re not trained to understand. That dynamic is, that as we move closer to the inner sanctum of our being and expressing that in a relationship, defenses come up. Old trauma comes up, fear comes up, shame comes up, and insecurity comes up; and often can sabotage whatever the next steps are in intimacy.
So when we know this, it won’t seem like a bewildering and strange thing. We’ll understand what it is, where it comes from and what to do about it. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today. This is how I want to start out. I want to start out using an image that I use a lot in my teaching, and it’s an image of a target. So you picture a target right? And that target is a kind of diagram of your zones of authenticity.
You know, they say intimacy is “into me see”. The closer you get to the center of the target, the bull’s eye, the more you see and feel your core, the core of your being. The more you let other people see that, people you trust. The more you let them see that as well. As you get closer to the center, to the bulls eye of your being, to the place where you feel things the most deeply, most tenderly, most strongly.
The place where your passion is greatest, but also where your tenderness is greatest, your authenticity, your creativity, your originality, your vulnerability, all those things get more vivid, get more real, get more true. And we become more and more beautiful. Yes. More and more vulnerable when we touch those parts of ourselves.
A Ring of Defense
But what happens is, and this is something that we’re not taught, there is a ring of defense and protectiveness that encircles, these exquisite deep parts of ourselves. And that means that when we come close to these parts of ourselves, close to sharing them in an intimate relationship, we get scared. We get freaked out. We remember previous traumas because these are the places that I call our core gifts.
These are the places we feel most deeply. It’s where we most feel the beating heart of our humanity. And that’s a scary thing. It’s a beautiful thing, but a scary thing too. Because when we were younger, when we revealed these parts of ourselves, sometimes they weren’t understood. Sometimes they were neglected, sometimes they were stepped on, sometimes they even were abused.
We decided, “I need to be smart. I can’t be sharing these parts of myself freely all over the place. Because if I’m going to keep my dignity,
If I’m going to survive in this cold world, I’m going to protect these parts of myself.
The world is not gonna make me cry. The world is not gonna make me reveal these parts of myself.” And so we hold these parts kind of frozen deep inside. And we remember the times that we were humiliated, the times that we were misunderstood, and we make a rule.
And the rule is this, I don’t show because I am not stupid. Because I don’t like being ashamed, I don’t like being ignored, and being stepped on. So these parts of ourselves, just like in those Indiana Jones movies, as you get closer to the Holy of Holies, to the inner sanctum of the temple, the guards get more fierce. That’s what happens to each one of us in intimate relationships.
A Ring of Shame
You’re there with somebody you love and you’re feeling something and your head tells you, “Oh, shameful. I shouldn’t be feeling that. That’s too intense. That’s too vulnerable. That’s too needy. That’s too immature. That’s too out of the box. That’s too tender. That’s too emotional. That’s too fierce.” Whatever it is. I’ve been shamed for that before and we get afraid to share that. That’s human and that’s what happens, but it’s really interesting.
This is a really interesting thing that happens when we’re with someone we care about and there’s something like that that’s so close to the center of our being, that’s something that we’re really feeling and we decide we can’t share it. Somewhere we will also decide that the other person is rejecting that part of us, even though that person did not have a chance to witness that part of ourselves. The self-shaming, the rejection of ourselves leads us to project that the other person is rejecting us too. So we get hurt, we get angry and we get reinforced in not sharing those parts of ourselves.
So all of us need to know that there is a ring of shame, or a ring of insecurity, or a ring of vulnerability around some of our deepest expressions of self. It might be in sex that there is a part of you that you want to express and you decide, “Oh no, that is too kinky or that’s too vulnerable or that’s too exposed or that’s too wild or that’s too quiet for this moment,” or whatever it is. And then we don’t share it because we’re embarrassed.
The Guards at the Gate: Your Fear of Vulnerability
Or like the first time that you say, I remember falling in love with someone and he had not said that he loved me and I was the first one to say I love you. And I remember it should have been a really good moment, but I remember feeling like a six year old. There was such a feeling of shame and embarrassment and not a nice young, this horrible youngness. And it was because that was the ring of fire.
And then I did it and he responded in a wonderful way. And we began a relationship and all of that kind of shame went away. But I thought, wow. And that was one of the times that I saw this ring of shame and I came to understand that it’s just part of the landscape of your and my intimacy journey. That when we’re going to go the next step to share this part of ourselves, whatever part that is, there will be an unconscious kind of guard at the gate.
And we can experience that guard at the gate as shame, anger, numbness, vulnerability – intense vulnerability, embarrassment, all of those different things. And so this is a very important thing to know. And when you hit that spot, you can understand that this is actually, it may feel really awkward, really weird, really difficult. But what it means is that you are on the cutting edge of your intimacy journey.
You are on the edge of that, and if you could think about what it is you want to say and explain to yourself why it makes sense, why it’s human, why it’s valid, and you can make space for it and then find a way to express it.
Someone Where My Soul Can Be Safe
Assuming you are with someone you trust to not abuse you, shame you, to make space for you, because this stuff is tender. When someone shames us, abuses us, ignores us around these zones, the damage is worse because it brings up reverberations of our past. So when you share this with someone who’s essentially safe, and this is always what I say in your search for love, you ask,
“Does my soul feel safe with this person?”
Does my deep heart feel safe with this person? Maybe I feel scared, maybe I feel nervous. But with this person is there a sense of their safety in a consistent way? And if so, you’ve got gold. But we’re not taught to look for that. And we’re not taught how to cultivate that as a romantic attraction because we’re looking for the bad boys, the bad girls, the edge, the fire. What we don’t realize is that goodness is the most intense aphrodisiac over time, if there’s physical and sexual attraction, and romantic attraction as well.
Goodness is just a very, wonderful thing, as is generosity. And when we get to mix physical, sexual, romantic attraction with a sense of another person’s goodness and decency and safety, that’s just glorious. That’s when the scary journey begins because it’s with someone like that who we can share these deep and vulnerable parts of ourselves.
And that is the great adventure of intimacy that we cannot really do with an unavailable person, because they’re not gonna stick around for the repercussions of that. So let me say something else here. What we do often, and in these points, when we’re on our intimacy journey and we’re at an edge where we’re scared to reveal a part of ourselves.
Acting In and Out
But we want to reveal a part of ourselves, but we’re scared to reveal that part of ourselves. So what we often do is we either act in or act out. So what does that mean? We might act out, we might push the person away. We may all of a sudden find ourselves getting wildly judgmental about something about them or really irritated or we just don’t want to see them anymore. We kind of take distance, because we’ve hit the ring of fire.
That is that we are getting really close to them, that we’re beginning to get really vulnerable. So we hit that unconscious ring of fire. We push the person away, that is acting out. We yell at the person, we get angry at them. We get extra angry if they did something that kind of doesn’t feel right to us. We have a kind of explosive reaction that’s all acting out, or we demand or control that they listen to us and understand us, all acting out.
Or we act in, which is suppressing, which is not sharing these parts of ourselves. And that causes a whole other kind of cascade of repercussions. It intensifies our insecurity. It makes us feel rejected. It makes us feel ashamed. And this is what I want to say folks, this is part of the intimacy journey. We’re not taught that this is actually a beautiful, important, seminal, and powerful point in our relationships because we can step over the line with a safe person and reveal this part of ourselves.
And if the person hears us and honors it and make space, our love blossoms and we blossom and we say, “Yep, this is who I am meant to be in the world.”
So these points of the ring of fire are that because we’re entering the inner sanctum of our vulnerability and that’s holy, holy space. So I want to share something else too. This is a really interesting concept that I learned in therapy that I don’t hear talked about, almost ever. But I think that for anybody who is on an intimacy journey, it’s something really essential to know; and it’s what my therapist called retribution.
I’ll tell you about one memory that I have before I first experienced it. Two amazing artist friends of mine, Kathleen Mandeville and David Schecter, both in theater doing incredible, incredible work, invited me to something that they had created called the Passion Play. And what it was was exploring the interplay between sexuality and spirituality using theater techniques. It was an amazing life changing experience that went on for like a year and I will never forget.
One day though among the many wild, wild things that they set up and did, one was they set up a big blanket. They put a blanket on the floor and on the blanket where all of these outfits, girl’s stuff, boy’s stuff, leather stuff, everything stuff, indigenous things, just anything, anything you can imagine.
The Whirlwind of a Drag Queen
It was all there and they said, just jump in one person at a time, put something on that reveals a piece of you and embody that piece of you, whatever it is. So I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I got up there and I walked up to the blanket and I don’t even remember what I put on, but I became a drag queen and I was this insanely demented, overstimulated, wild, screaming, joyful, hysterical, enthusiastic, out of my mind, drag queen. I was hysterical.
I just became this whirlwind of drag queen in front of everybody and then I put the stuff down, and I felt such profound shame.
Not because I wore drag, but because I had revealed a part of myself, which is this dementedly, bubbly being that is really a part of who I am and when I’m really myself, I am very much like a crazy kid. Well that’s one part of what I’m like. But anyway, I went mad with that and afterwards I was hit with a thunderbolt of such profound shame and embarrassment, indescribable.
It was really, really bad and I was brave enough to raise my hand and say, “Folks, I’m mortified. I am mortified by what I showed. I’m just full of shame.” And Kathleen said to me, “Oh my God, I loved that part of you. That was so fun and I loved it and I want more of that from you.” So she kind of saved my life. She saved me from sinking at that moment from this thunderbolt of total shame, this ring of shame that I felt around this wildly ridiculously enthusiastic part of my being that I did not know what to do with.
The Places We Care the Most
When I became a dad, it was the best thing in the world for me. I could be a complete, wild idiot and my kid loved it, laughed and enjoyed it. Not so much when he became a teenager, but up until puberty, I really got to express and embody that part of me with him all over the place and at my best, I do it with my family in front of their rolling eyes.
A day or two later, I talked to my therapist about this. She said, “Oh yeah, that’s retribution.” I said, “Tell me what you mean.” She explained that when we show a vulnerable part of ourselves, a deep, real part of ourselves, and are shamed for it, it’s not seen or appreciated as a gift, it’s stepped on or kicked, and that happens. It doesn’t have to happen too often because when we touch our core gifts, those are the places we care the most.
The places we care the most we are the most easily hurt.
That’s why we form these rings of shame and vulnerability around these parts of ourselves. We make a rule inside to protect ourselves. That rule is wild horses are not gonna let that part of me come out, because I’ve been shamed. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve been so hurt that part of me isn’t going to come out. Maybe it’s going to come out with my friends and family, but not my significant other.
Not the person I’m dating because that’s just too mortifying. So we make up these rules to protect these inner sanctum parts, these, what I call Core Gifts. And what happens is that these are like hypnosis that we create of, “Oh my God, you cannot touch that. You cannot do that. You cannot go there.”
The Antidote for an Old Hypnosis
What’s the greatest antidote for an old hypnosis? A current relationship with a more healing reality. A current relationship that breaks down that hypnosis. When that happens, like this amazing group of artists that I was working with, when that healing happens, we break the rules of safety that we made for ourselves.
Sometimes when we break those rules of safety out of a place of deep health and freedom, it’s like throwing a boomerang and you throw it and you forget about it, and an hour or two later, a day later, it hits you in the back of the head and knocks you down. It’s not conscious. You don’t know necessarily that’s why you feel that way. All of a sudden you feel an attack of self-hate or embarrassment.
That’s retribution and that’s that old part of you that is now being threatened because as you are getting healthier and more vulnerable, you are breaking that old childhood rule. And when that hits us we think, “Well what’s wrong with me?” And I tell people about this now when I lead workshops and I lead retreats, and there are certain points in the work that I do within my intensives with people. I ask a question of people and the question is, and it’s a fabulous, powerful question.
I’m going to be doing a whole episode on this question because it’s huge, it’s nuclear and here’s what it is. The question is “what’s a part of yourself that you’re embarrassed to show your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your significant other, your date, your wife, your husband, your significant partner?”
What is the part of you, not a story from your past that you feel embarrassed about, but what’s an aspect of your personality that you feel most timid to reveal?
The Gift of Healing
When you get to that and you begin to reveal that, it’s a tremendous act. When we find those parts of ourselves, and this is the work that I do when I teach. To find those parts of ourselves and actually articulate the gift in this attribute that we were once so embarrassed about, to champion it and see it as our genius, as one of our greatest gifts, as that wild and silly enthusiasm is for me.
When we do that, we can name it as a gift. Our world changes, our intimacy life changes, and the people we’re attracted to change. It’s a very powerful thing. When I work with people on this, I know that they might have this kind of experience of retribution or when they share this part of themselves, they might feel an intense embarrassment. So I tell people that this is part of the process and that it’s another sign of healing.
So nobody really teaches us enough that we are going to experience this ring of shame around these treasured parts of ourselves. So take a minute and think, what’s a part of you, a treasured, vulnerable part of you, that you’re timid to reveal that might actually be a treasure, but that there’s a ring of shame around? If there’s a ring of shame around that defines that it’s a treasure, because that ring would not be there if there wasn’t something precious that it was protecting.
Maybe it’s not fully developed, maybe it’s immature, maybe it hasn’t grown up yet, maybe it’s imperfect, but that does not mean it’s not Holy. That does not mean it’s not precious. That doesn’t mean it is not an absolutely essential part of your next steps in your intimacy journey.
A is Natural, B is a Sign
So I share this information so that you can know that this ring of shame, A is natural, B is a sign that you are entering close to the core, most beautiful, precious parts of you. Also that it needs a tremendous amount of compassion. And when you hit that ring of shame, the question to ask is, what is the gift? What is the treasure beneath it? How have I not seen that as a treasure? How have I been taught it’s not a treasure? But how might it be a treasure?
And who are the people in my life who have helped me find that part of me and with whom that part of me feel safe to breathe and be alive? So these are rich, rich questions and I’m just speaking about this to tell about a very important dynamic that we don’t get taught about so that we can hold ourselves with more compassion and insight and wisdom when we hit that inner sanctum and that ring of shame or embarrassment or defensiveness around it. There’s such richness at that juncture, such importance. And I promise you at that juncture, hidden behind those defenses, behind that shame is a part of you that is a treasure.
And these are some of the ways that this intimacy journey is so rich and so beautiful and such an adventure of self discovery. And if you’re with someone who is safe, if you’re not it’s not gonna work; but if you’re with someone who’s safe, you can begin to share those parts of you. And when you do, you will grow into yourself in so much deeper and richer ways, as well as grow more fully into this relationship. Whichever one it might be.
Liberate Your Deepest Gifts
Thank you all for listening. I will see you on the next episode of the Deeper Dating podcast and please, please subscribe, leave a review and share this if it was meaningful to you.
Also, you can go to deeperdatingpodcast.com click ask Ken and share your feedback, your questions, your responses to this and your experience.
The last thing I want to say is be gentle with yourself, because as you do this work, you may hit points of retribution. So you go gently with yourself, you’re compassionate with yourself. If you do hit points of retribution, share with friends, but just know that these are part of the process of the liberation of your deepest gifts. Thanks so much for listening.