Within the realm of existential-humanistic psychotherapy, there is a high value placed on vulnerability. This seems to be in contrast to the dominant culture and the apparent value placed on being a tough, strong, individual. An important question to investigate is the nature, construction, and place of this vulnerability. For example, what is meant by vulnerability? I have to admit that I have some allergy to the word. I have always felt that ‘vulnerability’ has a connotation of and association with victimization. The whole notion, however, was challenged eloquently by Brené Browns famous youtube video on this subject (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o&t=654s). In any event, I suggest to you that what we are talking about really is openness; openness of mind, feeling, body, and spirit. Openness equates with vulnerability to the extent that we live in a culture of defensiveness in which we are socialized into thinking that, to be successful individuals, we have to be tough and strong: to be well-guarded so that no one can attack us or, if we are attacked, we are not beaten down and/or we can fight back and defeat our attackers and detractors. I am reminded of the words of the founder of aikido, a Japanese martial art, Morihei Ueshiba, “True victory is not defeating an enemy. True victory gives love and changes the enemy’s heart.”
I think that all of our experience can be broadly located within four dimensions:
- Ruminative and repetitive thoughts that keep circulating autonomously
- Generative thoughts that are emergent and creative
- Those that seem to be of a fluid and flexible nature, and are associated with feeling good
- Those that are unhappy and associated with uncomfortable body sensations
- Body sensations
- Those that are fluid and flexible
- Those that are unpleasant and disturbing
- Life force/energy/spirit
- The raw fuel of life that infuses the forms and expressions of a human being
At any given moment, all these dimensions are active in a human being. The important questions are: What awareness does the person have of these inner experiences, and how are they integrated? Here, it is important to distinguish between ‘fusion’ and ’integration.’ At any given moment, some aspect of these four dimensions are potentially identifiable within. This suggests the requirement for awareness. Of course, these dimensions are unfolding with or without our awareness. The central question here is about a person’s desire to be master of their experience rather than slaves to their reactivity related to the world’s activities. However, this is not an either/or situation. As well, this is more about a process issue, rather than an end goal to achieve. We can practice coming into awareness at any particular point in the process, which is what inner reflection and inner work is for and about.
Consciousness development arises out of reflective practice and inner work that attends to these four dimensions; identifies the dominant and non-dominant dimensions in the moment or as a general pattern; examines the nature of their integration; and facilitates the ongoing authentic and true nature of you. Associated with this emergence is what is often called ‘vulnerability,’ and what I prefer to call ‘openness.’ This is an openness that has characteristics of feeling relaxed, awake and alert, and a sense of moving towards readiness for anything, love, war, and everything in between.