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COMPASS ROSE: THE UU SAN MATEO BLOG

A Sharing Circle Discussion on Vulnerability with Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale

Updated: May 1, 2023

This month’s theme of vulnerability has already inspired many heart-centered insights and conversations!


Below please find notes on some of what was shared at this month’s Sharing Circle. You are invited to consider if any of the below resonates for you, or if there are other things you might have been moved to add to the conversation.


Please do keep the conversation about this month’s theme of “vulnerability” going and consider attending our next Sharing Circle on Sunday, April 2nd at noon in Beck Hall. All are welcome.


In Awe & Gratitude,

Rev. Stefanie


What makes it hard to risk vulnerability: not feeling safe, needing an invitation, feeling interrogated, when asked the same questions over again, power dynamics, posturing, a history of not feeling heard/valued, our own assumptions/judgments about others, when I don’t feel heard/cared for/believed/affirmed, when the other person is guarded, when I forget my values and larger purpose…


What helps me risk vulnerability: an invitation, sensing openness, when the other person models vulnerability, feeling sure of and safe in this context, being unrushed, not being interrupted, being asked neutral/clarifying questions, caring eye contact, open body language, when the loneliness gets too much, mirroring, nodding/smiling, existing trust with this person/context, being validated, trusting the person wants to listen, being asked “what/tell me more” rather than “why”, connecting with values, connecting with a larger goal/priority, letting go of the need to feel in control of everything, being invested in the relationship, self-compassion, when I’m in touch with my larger purpose…

Honor Differences: Many of the things we may need in order to risk vulnerability, or the things we may be signaling in order to inspire trust, can be perceived as threatening by others depending on age, culture, or neuro-functioning. This is a case for not jumping to assumptions – for paying attention to the needs of the person you are with and the priorities related to that relationship and that moment. When possible, be in conversation with one another about what you need or are offering or perceiving!


Being Safe vs Feeling Safe: There are situations in which we may not actually “be safe” – in which it is absolutely essential to set/hold boundaries on behalf of safety. There are also situations where we may be not “feel safe” because the situation reminds of us of prior situations of real danger. Those feelings are real, so they should be met with compassion. But since they may not be connected to present danger, it can be helpful to take time (if possible) to assess the actual situation. Sometimes asking a trusted person for a “reality check” can be helpful to determine next steps…

Culture of Perfection: most of us feel held to perfection of one kind or another, focusing on cultivating or even feigning strengths – masking/denying our vulnerabilities. The reality is human beings are a mix of both and we do ourselves an injustice when we’re not honest about that. Focusing only on our strengths means we’re not likely to be tending our vulnerabilities and that leads to all kinds of problems, including isolation and shame. Focusing on vulnerabilities only means we’re not likely to be able to access our strengths and we’re likely to be pulled into isolation and shame. It is best to be honest with ourselves and others about the full complexity of human experience, with faith in our potential!

When to Risk vulnerability: when you have time to think it through/be strategic about whether/why and if this is the right time, when you know the other person can (or is likely to be able to ) receive/honor that vulnerability, when you need to release the stress of holding in your truth, when you want to build trust with someone else, when you want to encourage someone else to know you will hold their vulnerability tenderly, when you want to break isolation…


Ask: is it true/kind/necessary?

When Not to Risk vulnerability: when you’re in danger of not being safe, when doing so would cause harm to you or others…


Why Risk vulnerability: to live in my truth – affirm what’s real (vulnerability & strength), reduce stress of truths withheld (breathe/sleep better!), reduce effects of fear, grow in confidence and trust that it’s worth it, to build and deepen connections, to break isolation, to learn more about myself and others, grow courage and spiritual integrity, to be reminded that we can’t survive without each other and to remind others of that, to counter the “culture of perfection”, so I can focus on what I’m really here to do…


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