Attempts to be helpful can block connection because they are rooted in fear, not love. We fear vulnerability, and it is very vulnerable to go through challenges or walk with someone who is. Distress provokes painful emotions and distorted beliefs about ourselves, such as, “I’m unlovable.” Sometimes we question our faith. Because it’s so tender and risky, it makes sense that reactive responses to adversity reflect a desire to avoid our own and others’ vulnerability. But our fear of vulnerability blocks our capacity to connect when we need it most.
I learned the cost of minimizing vulnerability myself when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I’d been waiting for a call from the surgeon for several days. When the call finally came, I sat down on the window seat, listening to the rush of words from the surgeon. When she said, “carcinoma,” I was stunned. Despite the possibility that the biopsy would show cancer, the doctors I’d seen uniformly told me, “it’s probably nothing.”
But it wasn’t “nothing.”
The surgeon was reassuring as she told me I would need another surgery and radiation, using phrases like “caught it early,” “excellent prognosis.” But there was no space, no pause between diagnosis, treatment, and the implicit message that it was “no big deal.”
I understand why she rushed to reassure me, but I learned that her hurried attempt to soften the blow was the beginning of what felt like a concerted effort to keep me from feeling the natural sadness and fear provoked by my diagnosis.