How To Overcome the Fear of Vulnerability in Relationships

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way our upbringing affects our relationships as adults. I am the youngest in a family of three girls and for the most part, I exhibit typical last-born/baby of the family tendencies. I love being the centre of attention, I’m a little bit self-centered (only a little!) and I can talk/write my way out of anything.

I was like that as a child and I’m the same as an adult. Along with my last-born tendencies, I have one first-born/only child tendency: I am a fixer. Think Olivia Pope. She finds people in a bad situation and handles it. When someone is in a mess too deep for them to cope with, she swoops in and rescues them. It makes sense, she’s an only child.

Fixing is pretty cool when you’re a pretend-character in the White House, not when you’re a real person in a relationship. I made it a point to find people I thought needed fixing and make friends with them. I called the ‘friends’ but they were really projects. I would identify the problem, draw up a solution and apply the fix.

The problem with people is that they’re not computers. They have opinions and dissenting thoughts. They have feelings. They don’t like being fixed and will eventually rebel against The All-Wise and Infinitely Knowledgeable Fixer’s advice. Every fixer knows this. So like a good fixer I always had a plan in place to make them do what I thought they should do using my powers of persuasion.

I was happy if you were doing what I wanted you to do; if you were who I wanted you to be. And if you disagreed I would first try and reason with you and then pressure you and then withdraw until you did what I wanted. Because as long as you were disagreeing with me, you weren’t allowing me to fix you and if you weren’t allowing me to fix you I couldn’t get you to be the person that I wanted you to be.

The term people use for people like me is ‘strong personality’, but there was nothing powerful about the way I behaved. The correct words to use are: manipulative control freak. I manipulated because I felt weak. My thinking was that as long as I was in the director’s seat I could control the course of the relationship and the person and their ability to hurt me.

Sounds crazy, right?

The underlying cause of manipulation and control isn’t strength – it is fear. So maybe you’re not as crazy as me, but if you look closely at your relationships you’ll see that you’re motivated by the same thing – fear.

You see vulnerability as a weakness that opens you up to rejection by people.
You never share the deep parts of yourself with anyone.
You have multiple personalities that you alter to fit the audience.
You withdraw when you don’t have your way.
You hide your fear of a failed relationship in spiritual excuses for why you don’t date.

You never disagree because you don’t want to offend.

Fear prevents intimacy. It creates a situation where you’re always trying to find ways to protect yourself from what the other person might do. It fosters an environment where it’s impossible for people to know you and to love you. I thought I was strong, but I was really a weak and afraid woman.

Here’s the thing I had to realise: Being powerful is not about controlling people’s love towards you or their ability to hurt you; being powerful is about managing your love towards other people, regardless of their ability to hurt you. That one truth is what began this journey I’m on of finding freedom from fear in relationships.

In what ways has the fear of vulnerability hindered growth in your relationships? Can you trace it back to how you grew up? Leave a comment!
In what ways do you see fear being the motivation in your relationships? Leave a comment!

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10 thoughts on “How To Overcome the Fear of Vulnerability in Relationships

  1. Very insightful. While I’m no fixer I do suffer from your mentioned:
    seeing “vulnerability as a weakness that opens you up to rejection by people, not sharing the deep parts of yourself with anyone(to some extent); not disagreeing because you don’t want to offend(to some extent not always); hiding fear of a failed relationship in spiritual excuses for why you don’t date (very much-but at the same time would rather wait for who I believe the Lord has for me than be dating).”

    I can’t seem to link it to my upbringing. I am the last born, 6 and 10 years younger than my siblings so half of an only child.

    Thanks for this honest piece and we praise the Lord that he is setting you free!

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    1. Hi Tanaka, it’s great that you’re doing some self-analysis! There will always be exceptions to the rule and the point isn’t so much that we see what box explains us but that we look at the motivations behind some of our behaviour. Thanks for checking the blog out!

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  2. Thanks for writing this! I don’t feel like a crazy person anymore. I can so relate but I am not a fixer though, I just withdraw and avoid when a person disagrees or if I “feel” they are pulling away. I’m the youngest but sibling is ten years older, so sorta the only child at the same time.

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  3. Hi, I am the eldest of 4, and had one parent that was an alcoholic. At an early age I started with the “fixing” and controlling of situations around me, to make sure things ran smoothly, because I thought (or was made to believe) that is what was expected of me. I did not want to disappoint, solved problems, put out little “fires”, I was a big time “fixer”. Well now I am older and I don’t try to “fix” so much anymore. People cannot be “fixed” into being carbon copies of you (and who would want that anyway) that would be REALLY boring. You and the way you do and think, are you. They do THEM. Took me along time to learn that, but I finally did. And constantly trying to fix and control stuff is tiresome, doesn’t do any good anyway. That’s my 2 cents on the subject, Lol :)

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  4. This is soooo me! I didn’t even realise I was like this but one thing I do know is I am one of those people who believe in “My way or no way” and yes I am the last child in my family :)

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  5. Wow…this is true hey. & it bothers me when somebody say “when u in love with someone u must leave a gap 4 disappointments”…& I always ask them…how do u fully show love/intimacy to someone when u have that gap u left 4 disappointments…now I realise they have Fear…& I always encourage them to rather have solutions in place in case yo partner disappoints u…Not expecting Disappointments all the time…cz u will end up not loving fully…
    Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!

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