Why is it hard for us to be vulnerable, especially when it comes to those we care about the most? Partners, children, family, close friends – if these are the people we are the closest to why would be afraid to be ourselves around them? In this weeks episode we’ll talk about vulnerability and the real you.
One of the hardest things in this world is to be vulnerable around others. To show people the messy, honest, truest parts of ourselves. And why is this? Why are we often so afraid to be ourselves around those that we consider the closest to us? If these are the most important people in our lives, why do we feel like we need to protect ourselves and not share the deepest, darkest, and most intimate parts of ourselves?
Who do You Think You Are?
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”
I talked about this quote on here before, with regards to worrying about the opinions of others, but I want to talk more about the opinions of ourselves.
A few weeks ago I was discussing the idea of identity with a good friend of mine. He’s struggling at the moment with figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Basically, he’s going through a midlife crisis. In talking about letting go of all the expectations that were heaped upon him by his family and church while growing up, he feels a bit lost because he lived with a mask, an identity of who he felt like he was supposed to be for most of his life. Over the last few years, he’s been shedding a lot of those ideas and beliefs, and while he knows who he isn’t, he’s not sure who he is. Just as people who’ve suffered job losses or divorce and other kinds of loss, often find themselves lost as a core piece of their identity is gone. He’s struggling through this difficult process of self-exploration and is finding it both exciting and very scary. Exciting because he’s exploring the world and beginning to choose who he is, but also extremely scary because the identity he has is no longer reflective of who he truly is.
And this idea really struck me, that when we hold on so tightly to an identity of who we think we are, it makes is very difficult to become who we want to become. When we’ve built up an identity, and presented this idea of who we are to the world, then when we find discrepancies with that identity, we try to defend who we think we are. And I think holding onto this identity, the ego, is the root of why being vulnerable is so scary. Because much of this identity is created from the expectations that we think others, especially those that we love, have about us. Whether or not these have been explicitly communicated or not, I think that many of us feel like we’re supposed to behave a certain way and do certain things. We’re afraid if they knew that we aren’t necessarily the person we present to the world, and if they knew how deeply flawed we truly are, they might reject us. They may no longer love us. But the thing is, we judge ourselves more harshly than those around us. We think they notice every flaw, count every mistake, and keep a tally of every fuck up we make. But the truth is, they don’t. Most people are too busy with their own thinking and their own business pay that much attention to someone else. And if they are that kind of person, they aren’t people we want to be around. If their love and acceptance are conditional, they are probably not people that we want to spend time with.
“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. … You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends … if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”
— Epictetus, “Discourses,” 4.2.1; 4-5
What would happen if you were just unapologetically yourself? What if you didn’t hold onto this identity so tightly? This is a scary proposition for sure. I know in my own life, I find it often difficult to admit what I truly think or feel about something for fear of being rejected by friends and loved ones. But we should be open to the idea that being truly ourselves may mean that we need to change our lives. We may need to end friendships. We may get divorced. And that’s scary. That may mean a lot of change. Far too often we hold onto these identities far longer than they are useful, often to the point of damaging ourselves and relationships. I’ve seen friends stay in relationships that were not working for fear of change. I’ve done this myself. But living your life as someone else means that you may get to the end of your life never having really lived.
Brené Brown, a social scientist and researcher, has delved into the area of vulnerability rather deeply, and written several eye-opening books on the sense of shame that we internalize which keep us from loving and being okay with the person that we truly are. It’s this fear of rejection and a sense of shame that others will judge us that makes it so hard for us to share that deeper side of us with those that we love.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
What if we could own our flaws and just recognize them as a fact, that they are simply an attribute of who we are at this moment? How much more confident could we be in our life if we could just accept who we are, warts and all? The first step to being vulnerable is to learn how to love ourselves. I know that sounds all kinds of new-agey, but think that there’s a lot of truth in this. If we don’t like ourselves, then it’s going to be hard for us to accept that others can like us.
Now self-acceptance doesn’t mean that we give ourselves a free pass when we make mistakes, because that is much more about self-delusion and ignoring our mistakes. What I’m proposing is shine a light on our flaws, and own them. When we can do that, we take away the shame of our flaws. Self-love is the shame killer. The more we can accept ourselves, and see ourselves as we truly are, the easier it is to be forgiving and accepting of others.
Get Uncomfortable with Yourself
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
I want you to take some time this week and write down some of the uncomfortable and scary thoughts that you have running around in the back of your mind. Things that you’re afraid that if others knew about you, they may not like you. Things that you’re afraid of addressing because you’re afraid of where those thoughts might take you. And I want you to take some time and just sit with those thoughts, and practice being okay with them. Look at them without judgment, just as facts about you. Admit those truths to yourself, because I think we all lie to ourselves to some degree. We gloss over the uncomfortable parts, the dark parts of us because we want to present this beautiful picture to the world. We’re scared of what others might think about the darker parts of us. We want to look like we have it all together. It’s okay if we don’t. Nobody really does. Everybody has some area of their life where they struggle.
And the thing is, we often find that those things aren’t really so bad once they put down on paper. They are much scarier and darker in our heads. Getting them out and on paper is like shining a light on a shadow. It’s not nearly as big or scary as we made it out to be.
Owning who you are is a very uncomfortable thing. It means that you accept that you are full of flaws, that you aren’t nearly as great want others to think you are, and that you let other people down. It means may mean making choices that shake the very core of who you think you are. It means that those closest to you may not even recognize who you really are. But if they only see the person that you pretend to be, do they really love the real you? Why not give them the chance to know the real you? Why not give yourself the chance to know the real you?
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