So heres the thing: the most difficult thing about studying vulnerability is that it requires a certain amount of vulnerability to digest the findings.
Recently, Brené Brown (and her extensive research on shame, vulnerability, and loneliness) has resurfaced as a topic of conversation in my circles. Perhaps triggered by her new book, and the book tour I had the incredible opportunity to witness her speak at, but moreso I think because 2017 seems to be bringing up everyones shit.
If you’re familiar with my story, you know vulnerability was never a strong suit of mine. In fact, the idea of opening myself up to criticism and shame, airing all my thoughts and feelings and bullshit dirty laundry was the literal epitome of every nightmare I’d ever had. The 10+ years I spent suffering from a deadly eating disorder were rooted in this obsession: never ever EVER let them in. I lived a life of superficial relationships and, unfortunately, that paralyzing fear of what could happen if someone got past my carefully constructed walls motivated years of shame and fear and hiding.
The thing is, I’m one of the lucky ones. I survived. When people ask me how, after struggling for a decade with a mental disorder and a disease that destroyed my life on a daily basis, the answer comes down to vulnerability. With a lot of help, piece by piece I broke down my walls. Days, months, years I spent chipping away at all the things that had kept people on the outside. More importantly, I worked my ass off to resist the urge to immediately build them right back up. I’ll never fully comprehend how I’m lucky enough to be here right now but I’m certain that, had I not had the countless immensely supportive reactions from “my people” to all the work that I put in, the outcome wouldn’t be the same.
Vulnerability. Is. Fucking. Terrifying.
I firmly believe that letting yourself be fully seen, flaws et al, is one of the riskiest things you can do. You can’t take it back, for one. But its letting someone else into your core being and trusting, hoping, PRAYING that they don’t run away. Or judge you. Or, even worse, confirm your worst fears and all the shit you’ve been saying to yourself over the years. Because WHAT IF? What if they’re right? What IF all the shit you see in the mirror is actually reality? What IF your flaws are too much? What IF you’re actually unlovable? Theres no coming back from that…
This paralyzing fear is exactly why we stay stuck in our shame.
The trick, perhaps rather the catch here, is the reward. Choosing to show up, exactly as you are, and allowing yourself to be seen can quite possibly be the more liberating experience of your life. For me, most of my life I presented myself in a light that (I thought) made me invincible. I showed up however I thought people wanted me to…however I was supposed to look, whatever I was supposed to do or say, literally anything I could shift to keep myself in the power position and ensure that you’ll stay because I’ve become everything you’ve ever wanted me to be. If this relationship ends, its by my choice and my terms, not yours. I consistently maintained the emotional upper hand. The thing is, in controlling all the ways people saw me, I ensured that no one every truly saw me. It took years for me to comprehend this, but that disconnect was deafening.
Four years ago I made a promise to myself: I swore I was done pretending. Pretending to be ok, pretending to be someone I’m not, pretending that keeping people at a safe distance was actually fulfilling my emotional need for connection and belonging. Any relationship based on half-truths is 100% rooted in lies and, as much as I feared exposure, I knew the promise of true connection was worth it…and I’m writing this now because it turns out that I was right. Shocker.
Humans are complicated. Relationships are tricky. But recently, in the midst of my latest heartbreak, I kept getting the same advice/feedback from my close friends. Over and over, people commented how relentlessly unafraid I am of human connection. That somehow I show up and “love hard,” no matter how many people let me down or how many times I have to start over. And all I kept thinking was “SINCE WHEN?!“
Delving back into my Brené Brown books and vulnerability research, I came to the epiphany that all my work actually stuck. That (even subconsciously) I was maintaining the promise I made to myself and showing up, day after day, without al the walls and half-truths. Despite the constant underlying fear that inevitably comes with vulnerability, and the incredible heartache that comes every time that vulnerability is not reciprocated, I’ve made it this far because I know that I deserve true human connection. My “brand of crazy,’ as I like to call it, is not something that makes me undeserving and unlovable. The key is remembering that every time I allow shame to cover my truth, I deprive myself of the life I deserve.
Since that promise to myself, I’ve developed relationships and connections on levels I’d never even dreamed possible. I’ve had friendships that defied all the lies I told myself for 29 years and I’ve grown into the truest version of myself I’ve ever know. Yes, I’ve been hurt. Humans are flawed and inevitably let me down. But I’ve made the choice to continue regardless. To love hard. To show up, over and over. Every time I get discouraged, I stop to remind myself how far I’ve come…to really soak in how lucky I am to live this life, to be deeply known and loved despite my “deafening flaws.” Of course the instinct is often to retreat, to rebuild my walls and go back to where its “safe,” but going back to that life is never an option. I refuse, knowing that being accepted for someone I’m not is still lonelier than being rejected for who I am.
A gambling friend told me recently that, despite the high risk, it only has to work one time to be worth it. So, in an effort to hold onto the post-Thanksgiving gratitude wave, I’m putting this out into the universe with the loving reminder that we’re really actually ok exactly as we are:
Choosing to show up,
vulnerable and honest and exactly as you are,
is always always always worth the risk.