I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being vulnerable, especially when it comes to starting a new relationship (with a friend or a lover.) After surviving Narcissistic Abuse and Domestic Violence I’ve found that learning to be vulnerable again (and feeling comfortable doing so) has actually been very difficult for me.
So what about surviving abuse makes vulnerability feel so tough? For me, its two-fold. I allowed myself to be about as vulnerable as humanely possible at the hands of The Narcissist. I fell head over heels in love and opened my heart and my soul in a way that I had never done before at the ripe old age of 22. I told him secrets I had never shared with anyone, my greatest insecurities and deepest fears about myself. I shared my hopes and my dreams and all of the things that felt like the fabric of who I am. I literally bared all of my soul pretty early on in the love-bombing phase of the relationship.
The Narcissist turned around and used absolutely all of these things against me in his abuse over the course of our relationship. He used my fears about myself to manipulate me to do things that he wanted. He used the things that I was ashamed of as rationale for me not being worthy of his love. He used those same things as excuses for his anger and his violence to the point where I believed I deserved it. He manipulated my stories for his own advantage so that he could try to convince my family and friends things about me that served his purpose. He literally took all of those things that I willingly gave in the name of love and turned them into weapons that nearly destroyed me emotionally, physically, and mentally.
“I remember when all of the respect that I once had for him, completely vanished.” I said. “It was the very moment that he took all of the things that I had confided in him – my fears, insecurities, weaknesses, struggles, my personal issues- and threw them right back in my face, like weapons of destruction, without even batting an eye.” – CiCi. B.
Secondly, for me, is the shame tied to how vulnerable I allowed myself to be in the domestic violence power dynamic. The Narcissist played a crazy mind game with me when it came to the power and control cycle. He always vocally expressed that he needed and wanted me to be a strong, powerful woman who could stand up for herself (and made me pay for it when he didn’t think I was doing a good enough job.) Yet, when it came to him I was expected to be completely and utterly submissive. He never actually said this though, I was just trained to respond this way through the abuse. I allowed myself to be the vulnerable one, I allowed myself to be abused, I allowed him to do all of these things to me. For a long time I have viewed my vulnerability as a weakness, as THE weakness that led me into an abusive relationship.
So, it’s really no wonder that the idea of letting my guard down and being vulnerable with a new person feels very uncomfortable, icky and scary. The “easy” thing to do in this situation would be to keep myself closed off, to be overly protective, to build those walls up higher and higher and higher and feel safe. I think that a lot of abuse survivors end up in this place, and it makes perfect sense. However, I know that I will never find the kind of genuine connection with another person that I crave if I have those walls up, it’s just not my true nature and I am not about to let The Narcissist change the essence of who I am.
It hasn’t exactly been easy, but I’ve decided to take the approach of embracing my vulnerability and viewing it as a positive. I’m an open-book type of person (hello, look at everything I’ve shared with you all here!) and wearing my heart on my sleeve is actually something that the right kind of person is going to love and appreciate about me instead of using it against me. I’m also being safe about this approach though, and for me that safety net is that I will be vulnerable until a person shows me that they cannot be trusted with my vulnerability. These are those Red Flags I’ve been preaching about. I’m going to start open because that is who I am, but if a person cannot be trusted to respect that, I will draw my boundaries, I will put up that wall, or I will walk away completely. I’m certainly not an expert here, but this feels like a healthy, rational, and safe way to be.
My hope for those of you who are also on this healing journey with me (whether you are one week out or years out) is that you can also come to a place of appreciating and loving your own vulnerability and no longer looking at it as a weakness or a threat. Narcissist’s use some of the very best qualities about us as a way to abuse us, but that doesn’t change the fact that those are some of the very things that make you unique and special. Don’t let the abuse harden you and become an excuse to stay hidden from the world…. instead, embrace your softness and allow it to be the thing that helps lead you to a healthy relationship.