Walking with the vulnerable self
April 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
To walk with the soft spot is to reclaim the disowned self and openly acknowledge its vulnerability without trying to change or “solve” it. To do this, the psychological barriers that prevent contact with the vulnerable self must be peeled back. In doing so there is a risk of prematurely exposing the inner self but if we never do it our suffering will never end.
It is not difficult to imagine why the soft spot was disowned. It sensitivity to things like disapproval and criticism is easily felt. And if you add trauma to the mix this sensitivity may be raised to a level that is comparable to a surgeon’s scalpel probing a raw nerve! To avoid this suffering we isolate the soft spot, much like we do a broken arm with a cast.
The mental cast that keeps you safe is a psychological barrier that directs attention away from the soft spot. Often formed in childhood these barriers appear as subtle or intense urges to do or not do something. The inability to focus when feeling anxious is an example of how a mental barrier directs the attention away from the soft spot.
Psychologists have described the interplay between the soft spot and these barriers as an authority facing someone without authority (e.g., the ‘inner child vs. inner parent’ or ‘top dog vs. the underdog’). However one describes it, their interaction is marked by an inner conflict that seeks to deny the self.
A key form of denial is identifying the soft spot’s vulnerability as some essential flaw in your nature that must be kept hidden if you are to remain safe. Over time, openly admitting this vulnerability then becomes tantamount to exposing your self to direct danger or even death.
One could spend a lot of time analyzing the psychological results of believing the self to be essentially flawed. It’s clear that feeling unworthy might evoke feelings of depression, anger or anxiety. Certainly dysfunctional living results from trying to disown this seemingly flawed self. But such analysis is only useful to the extent that it enables us to remove the barriers that keep the attention off and away from the vulnerable self.
In meditation we have a unique opportunity to turn our attention to the soft spot and reclaim the vulnerable self. Initial attempts to observe the soft spot may be brief as mental barriers will turn the attention elsewhere. You may find yourself mesmerized by seemingly real dangers that only later are seen to be imaginary. In general, you’ll feel even more vulnerable as you begin to explore what lies beyond your barriers. This is normal and there will be times when it is better to step back rather than plunge into emotional chaos. Only you can judge how to best proceed.
As barriers start to fall we uncover the false connection between our sense of value and vulnerability. We find that it simply isn’t true that if some hardship befalls us that it did so because of some essential flaw in our nature. We find that if someone says something critical that it does not mean we are bad. And we see that what we’ve feared all along is the judgment that we are bad. But that judgment is false!
Up to this moment we have disowned the soft spot because we mistakenly believed that we could not make a defense against our own essential badness. Seeing this is not so, that we are not bad, we start to walk with the vulnerable self in our daily life. Our first steps will be faltering as we still are under the habit of denying our soft, vulnerable self. But as we strive to hold this self in awareness we slowly come to understand that the only way to protect self is to be self, vulnerabilities and all. And when we do, we discover that the vulnerable self is, and has been all along, the Venerable Self.