“We cultivate love 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.” ~Brené


January – 2012

I remember sitting in a small, dark room waiting for the surgeon
to arrive.

My son had just had major surgery to treat a complex condition
that had cost him his small bowel, and it had taken much longer
than expected.

My stomach felt tense as the surgeon sat in the chair opposite

He looked at the floor as he started to speak.

“It’s not good news,” he said.

“We think he has a week left to live.”

After that, my mind switched off. I felt my wife’s head on my
shoulder and heard her tears.

Was it a bad dream?

June – 2017

My feet feel heavy as I am nervously walking toward the divorce

Twelve years has come to an end, and it’s time to let her

We lived under extreme stress for five years, up every night
with our son, constantly in the hospital. I think the only thing
worse than being in a war zone is being in intensive care for
twelve months and seeing children die next to you.

I know I did my best, but somehow, we lost each other. Both
stuck in our own pain, with me unwilling to be vulnerable and
unable to fully let her in.

As I stand outside the court in a small, smelly room waiting for
the hearing, my thoughts drift back.

May – 1988

I am in the hallway after school, surrounded by three bigger

They are laughing at me and pushing me. I know what’s coming,
and I can feel my heartbeat increasing, and my stomach feels

I wish I could be anywhere else but here, but there is no way
out. I am surrounded.

I feel the kick in my chest as I fall to the floor and struggle
to breathe. A few more punches and I hear their voices fading as
they walk away.

I get up embarrassed and in pain, but I pretend I am okay. I
remember what I have learned. Never show weakness…

August – 1998

This reminds me of something I have experienced before. I am in
a harbor surrounded by three big guys with tattoos down their arms
and neck.

I don’t see the guy that has circled me, and suddenly I feel
the punch on my ear. I drop to the floor.

Slowly, I get up and say, “Are we done?”

I get kicked in the stomach and fly backward.

Slowly, I get up and ask, “Are we done?”

And another round.

I should not show any emotions. That is how I survive. I know
this game…

June – 2017

I hear a voice and snap out of my thoughts.

It’s the court lady, and she says the hearing is canceled.

As I get on the London underground, I close my eyes and drift
off again…

March – 2014

This is where it started.

He is an optimistic, energetic Italian scientist who I found
online while researching leading experts around the world, and he
is my only hope.

I tell him the story of my son and that only the regenerative
medicine treatment he is researching can save my boy.

He tells me that we need to raise $7.5 million to do the

He looks at me in disbelief as I say, “Okay, I will get

Whatever it takes to save my little boy…

June – 2017

I finally got home from the divorce court.

I am looking out the window, and despite everything I have
achieved, I feel empty.

My son is still here five years later, and we managed to raise
$8 million. I have many friends, and I had a business that I built
from scratch with fifty staff members.

So why do I feel so empty?

I know the answer but am afraid to admit it because I am a man.
I am strong, and I don’t need anyone.

I had survived violent confrontations, built a business from
nothing, helped save my boy when he was given no chance, I am
helping to innovate medical science, and I have fought and won
legal battles against our national health service…

I know I am strong, but I feel alone. Disconnected from

Suddenly I realize that I have made myself alone.
Because I learned to only count on myself and to never show

I google vulnerability and find Brené Brown’s TED talk, and
suddenly I realize I have lived my entire life in fear. In survival

While survival is essential and served me at a time in life,
it’s not really living.

But somehow being vulnerable and depending on others feels
scarier than a fistfight. Scarier than death.

So, I know what I have to do. I have to let my protective angle
go as he is no longer needed, and he is holding me back from

I sign up for a course over the summer and jump on a plane to
San Francisco.

All these hippies are scary. They are so relaxed with touch. It
makes me uncomfortable.

They share things and cry, making my stomach cringe because I am
terrified of having to do the same.

I want everyone to see how strong and manly I am.

It’s circle time. Oh, I hate these. And, this time we have to
share vulnerability with the group.

I am praying that someone will burst through the door and shoot
me. It’s America, after all. But to my despair, nothing

As it becomes my turn, I am still alive. F…

I can feel I am shaking.

I tell the group about my son and the long, dark nights I would
stand and cry in the living room, scared to my core that he would
not be alive the next day.

I never used to let anyone see me cry, as they had to think I
had it all together. But I was scared, so scared.

I finally break down and cry in front of the group. I cry like a

They all look at me with love and compassion. They even
seem more connected to me, and I feel more connected to

Something has happened that I have never experience before. I
don’t even know these people, yet they now know me better than my
ex-wife, family, or childhood friends.

I feel I can finally be me. Strong and vulnerable.

I get a friend of mine who is a masseuse to give me a gentle
massage on my stomach and chest, as I know how much I dislike touch

I don’t know why, but I can feel my body being tense and

I close my eyes and slowly let go. As I let the tension go, I
can feel a little hurt and violated child inside me cry, and I let
it. I am in hippie land now, so why now?

Something extraordinary happens. I am enjoying the touch. Yes, I
really like it.

It no longer feels irritating. As I leave the course, I realize
touch is one of my love languages, and I can’t get enough.

Who knew that summer would change my life?

My friendships, my relationships, everything has changed since I
came home.

I feel more seen and accepted now that I’m more open,
and I’m better able to see and accept the people around me, which
helps them be more open too.

I found the missing formula to intimacy and love, toward myself
and others.

And it’s not complicated. It just takes courage.

Like a plant needs air, water, and sun to grow, love requires
safety, vulnerability, and acceptance.

I found the force. May the force be with you.

About Thomas Westenholz

Thomas is the Founder of Zensensa.com, the leading institute
for relationship intimacy. He is the author of two books on
relationship intimacy and sexuality. Trained in Somatic
relationship and sexuality in San Francisco. Developed the 3-step
framework for couple intimacy and love. Check out how podcast on

Apple Podcasts
and follow him on Instagram

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Strong and Vulnerable: How I Learned to Let People In
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