“Human beings above all, are relational creatures. They seek connection and they experience anxiety, terror, and depression when isolated.” (Jean Baker Miller).
Central to Relational Cultural Theory is the notion that despite our yearning for deep, meaningful, growth-fostering relationships, we develop behaviors that push people away, sabotaging the very interpersonal connections we desire. Although “we desperately seek and desire profound connections, we are terrified of being rejected and isolated” (Miller). And so, we withhold essential parts of ourselves that we have learned to view as “unacceptable”, “bad”, or “shameful,” e.g., our thoughts, needs, desires, and emotions, etc.
In an attempt to keep these unacceptable parts of ourselves hidden from others, we develop “strategies of disconnection”. Although we want to connect with others and be seen and heard, we are unable to reveal large aspects of ourselves in order to protect us from rejection. This fear of rejection prevents us from acquiring the interpersonal connection with others that we so desperately yearn for.
Srila Prabhupada explains that although “the human being is a social animal,” s/he is not honest due to being very much embarrassed by the material nature. (SB 3.12.28 purport & SB 6.1.15). Moreover, the people of the world are embarrassed by all kinds of material anxieties due to trying to protect their bodies and minds under the influence of notions such as “my” and “mine”. As long as people “do not take shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet, they will always be filled with such anxieties.” (SB 3.9.6).
As mentioned above, the means of overcoming the “relational paradox” through Bhakti is unconditional love for God who resides in the hearts of all living beings. “For one who has unflinching devotional faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead and is engaged in His service, all good qualities become manifest in his/her person.” (SB 5.18.12).
Lord Chaitanya perfectly exemplified how to transparently disclose our so-called “shameful” hidden parts and stop pretending to be more than who we are when he said:
“I feel shameful to disclose the activities of My heart. Nonetheless, I shall be done with all formalities and speak from the heart. Please hear. My dear friends, I have not the slightest tinge of love of Godhead within My heart. Whatever I do is actually an exhibition of pseudo love of Godhead. (CC 2.44-2.46).
In today’s culture we are often praised for having a “stiff upper lip” when it comes to feeling vulnerable. We believe that to bare our hearts unnecessarily invites hurt and humiliation. In fact, the opposite is true. Vulnerability is really about the willingness to truly be ourselves – to expose our tender side that is not hidden behind our defenses. And when we let our defenses down, it is an invitation for others to do the same.
Authentic love can be cultivated “when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection” (Brene Brown).
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