Daring to Be Vulnerable: Opening Up
You may have watched Brené Brown‘s amazing TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability, if not you need to go do so. Right now. Yes, I’ll wait. I have watched this talk, as well as her other talk on Listening to Shame several times and each time I have been cracked wide open and realized that this is an area that I struggle with. (And I do need to read all of her books, especially The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead).
It is ironic really because people frequently describe me as very open, and in many ways I am. I have no problem talking about my dad dying of lung cancer and growing up with a dad who had Asperger’s syndrome, or my emotionally abusive relationship and how I escaped it. What all of these things have in common, however, is that they’re all firmly in the past. I am fine talking about them, because most of the time I am over them, I have mostly worked through the issues around them, so it doesn’t really feel like I am being vulnerable. I also talk rather openly about my endometriosis, however I have noticed that I tend to be more clinical about it. While I’m fine discussing symptoms, or how it has affected me in the past, I am finding it really hard to talk about how it is affecting me today.
You see, for a long time I clung to this idea that I was so “open”, and I didn’t realize that in so many ways – and in ways that truly mattered – I wasn’t. Looking back I realized that I hadn’t really opened up to anyone new in years (with one notable exception; the amazing woman I call my soul sister). I did a lot of thinking and writing, wondering when this had happened, why this had happened, because I knew that I used to open up to people and let them in.
I realized that in my emotionally abusive relationship my ex had used things he knew about me, against me. He had accused me of being selfish or uncaring, when he knew how hard those accusations would hit me. He knew me better than anyone else, and he had used those things against me. He had seen all of my truly wonderful, loving, caring and forgiving sides, yet he had also seen me angry, distressed even hysterical and falling apart. He had made me feel accepted, and as if I was okay for being who I was. When feeling down he could build me up in just a few minutes. He knew exactly what to say to make me believe in myself again.
And he knew exactly what to say to tear me apart. Using my vulnerability and my openness against me.
Once I managed to leave that relationship I swore that I would never end up in a situation like that again. On a conscious level I was only thinking that I would do everything in my power to never end up in an abusive relationship again. Subconsciously, however, I put up defences. Defences that were invisible to everyone around me, including myself, because I was so “open”, because I’d talk about my dad dying…
But my relationships broke, and it finally dawned on me several months ago that my not opening up and truly letting people in probably played some role. I realized that no one can truly support me, if I do not let them see the real me. In all of my glorious imperfection. For better and for worse. It became clear to me that if I wanted the truly amazing, long-lasting relationships that I craved, needed and deserved, I’d have to do some inner work and start letting people in again. Even as it terrified me.
And it does terrify me, because as long as I can keep people at arm’s length, at least if they reject me, they’re not rejecting the “real” me. But not having those deep connections with people terrify me even more. Not being free to be honest about who I am, that is not the kind of life I want to live.
So I have been seeing a therapist. I’ve been letting go of unhealthy connections that enabled me to feel like I had support (at least some of the time), while not having to actually open up to new people. And I have taken baby steps to open up to new people. My favourite tactic so far has been “outing” myself, by simply saying “I have struggled with not really letting people in due to events in the past. I am working on that. I like you, and I’d like to be open with you and be able to tell you about the things that are going on with me. Would that be okay with you?” It works incredibly well, provided you choose emotionally mature people, if they react poorly that’s a good indicator they are not deserving of your trust.
And what am I opening up about? I’m opening up about my endometriosis symptoms returning. About crying for 5 hours the night before my dad would’ve turned 60, and even worse, that same night desperately wanting to talk to my abusive ex believing “he’s the only one who could possibly make me feel better”. I’m opening up about my need for control. For perfection. Of feeling ridiculously responsible for people. I open up about my fears of being too much, and not enough.
The amazing thing is, in just a few short months I have gotten incredibly close to several amazing people. I have never felt as much love and support in my life. I feel incredibly blessed to have found “my” community. And I know all of my hard work is worth it, and continues to be worth it.