Therapeutic vulnerability

In my previous post I mentioned how nudity for me is placing me in a vulnerable position. This journey is also about exposing – primarily to myself – the vulnerabilities of my own personality (for lack of a better expression) and healing the wounds of my past life, thus hopefully strengthening my own character. I have considered getting help from a therapist lately too, as I seem to have touched upon something that I cannot handle on my own and it’s making me uncharacteristically nervous and irritable and I can’t really put my finger on it.

That aside, though, going deeper down this alley of vulnerability, I found that I am once again inspired by the work of Stefan Molyneux, namely his book Real-Time Relationships: The Logic of Love.

He proposes that in one’s relationships, one ought to be completely open about one’s emotions. If something the partner or friend says causes anger in you, then tell your partner “That makes me angry.” Giving real-time feedback about how your partner’s behavior affects you, what emotions it is causing in you, is a way – according to him – to truly know your partner. It is a way to really know and understand your partner deeply and can work wonders in your relationship. Of course, the effort needs to be mutual and there must be a consensus not to judge your partner for the feelings that are arising within them. In any relationship, I believe, each partner has a desire to maintain that relationship. Even in dysfunctional relationships, this is true. Working on that assumption, saying to your spouse that you have been finding it difficult lately to love them might just be the only way to save your relationship. It is an admission of a fact that is probably all too obvious to both of you, but leaving it unspoken is like covering a pool of molten lava with a blanket: something is always seething underneath, until the blanket burns and you fall in again by having yet another fallout.

This is the closest I have come to having the concept of “baring one’s soul” described to me. Though I have not yet tried it as I have found that my emotions are currently all over the place and I’m having a hard time even noticing them all (in real-time), let alone examining them and communicating them (a situation that I hope will settle – at least a little, but enough – soon), I find that getting the people who are close to me on board with this idea will have a therapeutic effect on all of us. If we manage to take note of our emotions, there are two things that will happen simultaneously. First, we will have an opportunity for deep conversations about how these emotions come about and what is causing them. Sometimes the emotions aren’t caused by the very behavior of our partners, but rather by the associations we have in our minds, linking that behavior to some negative outcome. This may cause fear, or anger which will trigger defense mechanisms we have created for preventing the associated consequence, and these can get really ugly – anything from manipulation of others, outbursts of pure rage, verbal and even physical abuse of another, etc. Second is exactly this – we will take note of our defense mechanisms and will be able to decide when to take them down and heal the wounds that they wall off from the predators who – for all our lives – have been seeking just such weak spots in order to land their fangs there.

So if we agree that we will not judge each other for the emotions we communicate, we create a safe space for each of us in which we can truly “bare our soul”, without fearing that exposing the wounds we have walled off in the past by these defense mechanisms will be deepened by the behavior of our partner, or someone else who we are close to. As we communicate our own emotions, we try to empathize with the emotions that are returned to us as feedback. We communicate back and forth until we reach a sort of “equilibrium” and both partners can truly empathize with each-other. This can get intense, at least in the beginning and each partner should probably be allowed a time-out at any time when emotions get too heated, but once this first barrier is down, the rest can be taken down by the sheer momentum gathered by taking down the first one.

Or so I believe.

Why am I saying all this and how does it tie back into being naked?

Like I said, taking off my clothes is putting me in a vulnerable position. Had someone seen me naked, particularly if it was someone I knew, I would have two options: remain silent and suffer any judgement that they might bestow upon me, or defend myself. And I know that in my defense I would have nothing to say, because this post and the one before it is my defense! Not having thought this all through, I would be defenseless – a mentally disturbed weirdo who is wandering naked through forests for no reason, exposing himself to all passersby, including (but not limited to) any children unfortunate enough to stumble upon him. Finding out the reasons – all of them, from lack of parental affection, from lack of physical contact during early childhood, to the discovery of its pleasures with that boy in the barn, to the games played with that boy, to the abrupt interruption of the whole ordeal by my mother, to the later replaying of these games in secluded spots, to the vulnerability and feelings of being preyed upon… that would have been the only possible defense. By baring my body, my subconscious was asking that I bare my soul as well, or go to hell (in as literal a sense as hell can get).

Now, there is little reason to believe this defense would have worked if anyone ever truly did raise an alarm, publicly, about me walking in the woods naked. I may still have been charged with something or other had some children been involved in the “sighting”, and/or ostracized if there were some photos of me involved. The purpose of this defense, however, is not to justify my behavior in other people’s eyes, it is meant to give me the strength of character needed to go through the ordeal without being broken, i.e. without reaching the point where I say to myself that I am indeed as disgusting and evil as everyone else is portraying me (so what the heck, let’s do something nastier still – there’s plenty where that came from). It’s supposed to give me the strength to remain civil – understanding even – even as I’m being portrayed as a disgusting monster.

As I think all this, I cannot but notice a pattern. You make yourself vulnerable – you expose all your character flaws, or you take down all your clothes – and the society tears you apart. People are afraid of those who dare to do this, because they are afraid of having to expose their own flaws, or better still, they are scared because your character flaws resonate with some of their own and their defense mechanisms go up instantly and they want to destroy you. As loosely linked as it is, taking off your clothes is symbolically equivalent – it’s even in the Bible! At the beginning, Adam and Eve are without clothes. All their motives, reasoning, desires, etc. are known to God. And then Eve eats the forbidden fruit and so does Adam, and they immediately put on clothes. Because they realized they were naked. Not because they suddenly got ashamed of their bodies, but because they suddenly got ashamed of their souls – the Original sin is showing! And so they hide; behind the bush, behind clothing, knowing all too well that mere physical obstacles won’t hide their misdeed; never realizing that redemption is only a confession away. A confession, not to God, but to themselves.

As all hell breaks loose upon mankind because Adam and Eve ate of a fruit that was forbidden, I try to think of this story (as an atheist myself) in the context of our modern society. In a time of scarcity, of hunter-gatherer societies – to err must have truly been fatal. Imagine a group of hunters returning to their hungry tribe after a failed hunt! Today, however, mistakes aren’t that dramatic. In fact, some people argue that one ought to make mistakes – as early in life as possible – in order to know how to avoid them later in life. The philosophy of getting straight A’s, graduating with honors and then joining the workforce is showing problematic as more and more graduates are unable to bring any value to any company that they might wish to work for and they are incapable of creating their own company because they have never been allowed to fail (and starting a business from scratch is a difficult process with many obstacles that a budding entrepreneur is bound to overlook while creating business plans – even more so with governments meddling in his endeavors). People who finish college only then begin to learn to work (so detached has modern academia become from the real world). And so new parenting philosophies claim that we should give children plenty of room to fail and fail continually. In these moments, instead of punishing them, we guide them as they realize what their mistake is and how to avoid it in the future.

It is like returning to the Garden of Eden at a time before the Original sin, but now with the knowledge that we are capable of sin, of error, but we also know that in order to remain in that garden, all we have to do is to bare our soul; speak out about what bothers us, where we have erred; and instead of fearing punishment, knowing we will be shown a path.

Just imagine if there was someone in your life to whom you could speak about the deepest and darkest depths of your soul and know that you would be met with empathy, understanding and guidance, rather than scorn and ridicule and ostracism. Imagine if there was someone to whom you could expose the most vulnerable parts of your Being, while knowing that they will not use that knowledge to end you and instead will help you cope and heal. Imagine if there was someone before whom you could appear naked and instead of laughing at you and shouting at you to put your clothes on, they embraced you as you are (and I mean that in a non-sexual manner, as both spiritually and physically naked).

Now imagine a world in which you can make yourself vulnerable and be comfortable in knowing that there will be nobody at your throat. This is not necessarily a world in which you can have a real-time relationship with anyone, but it is certainly one in which people are accustomed to others expressing their emotions, rather than repressing them. People are more willing to empathize, offer words of encouragement where needed, etc. I can’t see how this could be a world in which people would get ridiculed, or have their freedoms taken away for taking their clothes off. In fact, I see it as a place where clothes are a protective tool, shielding our bodies from the elements, rather than a tool that expresses our position within a society. Biology has, in fact, already given us a very effective way of showing where we are in the hierarchy, and that is our bodily posture. If we slouch it means we are either not where we would like to be, or we are very low in the hierarchy; if we stand up straight and throw our shoulders back (not consciously), then we are in the right place. Clothes tend to hide that and instead impose an image of how the position we occupy is viewed by society, thus diminishing the person that occupies it. Clothes are in most cases a lie draped over our bodies; a lie we ought to wear to protect people from recognizing – from our posture and other forms of non-verbal communication which the clothes hide – how miserable we truly are underneath that expensive designer suit, or dress. And so we communicate with clothes, rather than with a person filling those clothes, objectifying the person, objectifying ourselves, diminishing the value of a person and of self – and artificially increasing the value of mere textile.

By no means is such a world ideal, or Utopian. There will be people who have crossed some line or another and they will be ostracized by the rest of society in some manner. This is, after all, a biological fact, that some people are delinquents from birth, if not sooner. In some way every society and every person within it will be tested for its limits and then some. It is how we grow. In Biblical terms, that would be a serpent in the Garden of Eden; in Chinese philosophy, that would be a yin within a yang (and vice versa).

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