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Protect or Connect?


Lucky me. I was fortunate to be part of the virtual audience of two panel presentations that featured Terry Real, LCSW, renowned couples therapist, author, and educator. A straight shooter, his message about being in relationships is this: "It’s a minute-by-minute practice of connecting to others through empathy, vulnerability, and accountability.” 

One aspect of relationships he talked about is the paradox of connection and protection. This blog is my interpretation of the subject. I urge you to check out Real’s TED talks, podcasts, and books to discover the tremendous amount of wisdom he has to share.

Many people who’ve been hurt and especially those who’ve been traumatized wish to connect with people but also want to stay protected and not show or share their vulnerability. It simply ain’t going to happen. Genuine connection comes from you being the real you and me being the real me. As I read recently but can’t recall where: close relationships happen when someone gets to know you and they like you anyway!

Of course, you can have pleasant, banal, shallow relationships around hobbies or sports, where your connection is based solely on doing things together. You know, the kind where you or your friend ask, “How are you?” but really don’t want to know the answer. If you’re satisfied with this kind of relationship, don’t bother finishing this blog.

But if you want to give and receive deep, heartfelt connection, it’s time to resolve your internal conflict between always wanting to protect your vulnerability and putting it out there and being okay with however folks react. You’ll be emotionally alone for the rest of your life, which saddens me and should sadden you, if you don’t resolve this dilemma.

I have clients who fear telling people they’re adopted, grew up poor, have/have had alcohol/drug/sex/shopping/pornography addictions, suffer from bulimia or binge-eating, carry a diagnosis of Bi-polar Disorder or Depression, are abused by their partner, were raped, don’t know who their father is, tried to end their life, still live with their parent/s, have a low-wage job, take anti-depressants or other medications, have gone bankrupt, are unemployed, had a child out of wedlock—or even that they see a therapist.

If you’re busy trying to protect yourself so people will see only the perfect you, you’re only bringing half of yourself to the party. When you bring your whole self, warts and all, you’ll give yourself a shot at making genuine connections. Sometimes you’ll open up and be hurt. It happens to us all. But sometimes you’ll open up and so will the other person and, voila, a deep connection will be born.