It was a pretty average Tuesday (I hate Tuesdays, don't you?) when I turned over in bed, after my fifth alarm call (and I love the snooze button), to do that thing I know I ought not to do in bed. Check my phone.
The first thing greeting me was a text from a friend who I'd had a conversation with the night before. She'd been going through some pretty heavy stuff and we'd talked over the phone, trying to get her head straight and hashing some things out.
"Thank you for being there last night. I really appreciate it. But I wanted to ask, are you okay? You seemed down on the phone," read her text.
"Honestly, I'm fine. Nothing to worry about," I replied.
"Well, in the spirit of honesty, you didn't seem fine and I wanted to say that if something is up you can talk to me. I don't want to be the only one spilling my guts here."
Kind of an intense message first thing in the morning. Sweet, I guess. But there really wasn't anything I couldn't just figure out myself or was worth the air time.
Next, emails! One unread email was a reply to a forum message I had posted. This thread had been inactive for a few days so I was interested to see what the newest poster had to say. It was a link to a TED talk.
Little did I know that this particular TED talk was going to change the way I view myself considerably. It was shame researcher Dr. Brené Brown's 2010 TEDxHouston talk on vulnerability.
What Brown had to say about shame and vulnerability resonated deeply with me. "Yes! This is what I've been saying to those around me for so long!" I thought. That shame is something that exists in secret and affects our ability to see ourselves and the world around us clearly. We have to have people around us with whom we can share our most vulnerable and tender moments, otherwise we harden. We repress. We may not feel so bad but we never really feel good.
So it was with this unexpected, 20-minute wake-up call that I ventured to my local book store to get my hands on whatever I could find written by Brown. Luck was on my side as I found the last remaining copy of her 2013 book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. And I consumed it, finished within a matter of days.
But something wasn't quite right.
The ideas within the pages of the book sounded so right. But there was something inside me that knew that the last page wasn't the end. It took me a while, some time sitting with what it was trying to teach me, to realize what was missing.
Okay, so people need to have the courage to be vulnerable. Absolutely. They need to show up exposed to the world, to let go of the attachment to an outcome, agreed. They shouldn't be alone and shrouded in shame about who they are.
And then there it was. People. They. Others. Where was I in the vulnerability equation? I was outside looking in, a spectator, offering advice but never really participating. I was a vulnerability vampire.
I had it down pat. I was there for you. I would encourage you to feel, to experience, to grow. I would be your shoulder to cry on, your changing room pep talk. I threw a spotlight on the lessons that were there for you to learn. But me? I was just fine. Move along, nothing to see here.
And this was how I connected to people. This was how I made friends. This kind of behavior was a core part of how I existed in the world. It made me feel close to people.
It took me some time to realize that I was the worst kind of vulnerability advocate. I enjoyed watching those I care about grow and conquer their fears. But I was a hypocrite. I wasn't willing to enter in to a reciprocal deal with those closest to me. I wanted them to spill their secrets so I could help them but I remained closed, impermeable and invisible. I was a vulnerability vampire and I was ready to suck you dry.
That's what I was doing in my text to my friend and it was what I'd been doing for longer than I cared to think about.
My avoiding being vulnerable was why I stopped going to yoga class, because I didn't like feeling like the biggest girl in the room with her head so far from her knees. That's why I could never get that short story project off the ground, because what if I'm a terrible writer with no insight to share? I didn't want to expose myself. I was unwilling to enter the arena because I didn't want to be seen to be wrong, be considered weak or not be perfect at everything I do.
But being brave isn't always remaining stoic and never breaking down in face of things that seem utterly insurmountable. It's showing up, being seen and giving it a try, whatever it is. Letting go of expectations. Not allowing the outcome to define you.
Living is a verb, and you have to do it. And this week I'm going to yoga class.
How have your experiences of vulnerability affected you? Tell me in the comments below!
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