On Being Vulnerable
I have a secret. I have been putting off writing this Blog, my first blog, for a while now. You see, I am scared of what you might think. How can that be, you might ask? I seem to be an accomplished, reasonably successful professional and as a therapist, an expert on connection and therapy. I am not “new kid on the block” and I should have some experience at this stage in my life. Yet, the idea of sharing myself honestly with others on topics that I “know & understand”, makes my pen falter, my palms sweat and sends me running in the opposite direction.
Like many things in life, my experience has taught me that when I feel like running away that I should do exactly the opposite. I should turn, face it and lean in. Seems counter intuitive doesn’t it? So what was going on, you might ask? This person sounds like a terrible therapist! Why would I go see someone who is terrified of opening up and being honest. Keep reading until the end, before judging and let me tell you about working through my fear.
I think it starts, with the feeling of shame. Yes, shame! Shame, can be defined as “a painful emotion responding to a sense of failure to attain some ideal”.
I would argue that with this sense of impending failure, comes the feeling of disconnect or as I describe it, the desire to run away, at least metaphorically. As Brene Brown, so eloquently put the question, “is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection”.
Shame, are you sure? Aren’t you being a little melodramatic? Short answer is No. Shame is the feeling that we aren’t good enough and if we aren’t good enough, thin enough, smart enough, or creative enough or whatever enough, that this leads us to a feeling of unworthiness of connection. This is the crux of the problem. My whole desire was to feel connected, and yet I was afraid that if I wasn’t good enough… that I would be unworthy and rejected, and ultimately lose my connection. Catch 22, isn’t it. It is the same for many individuals and couples that come to see me. They too feel shame and harbour the same fears of being unworthy and feeling disconnected.
As it often happens with me, if I am open to it, the answer is generally right in front of me. Life presented itself with a solution. Actually it kept wacking me on the head with it, until I took notice and paid attention. That is a whole other topic! The idea of vulnerability kept coming up in a variety of contexts in my life. Being the geek that I am, I consulted my reference materials and decided to revisit Brene Brown and her theories on Vulnerability.
Bull’s eye! I just needed a little courage according to Brown. The courage to share myself, with all of my imperfections. To allow myself to be seen for whom I truly am, to be authentically me. But in order to do share myself I need the courage to face my fears that I don’t know how this might turn out, and it might cause people to pull away from me which in turn increases my feelings of isolation and being disconnected. My desire to authentically connect with others means that I need to take a risk, and put myself out there despite my lack of control over the response I might get. So what if I don’t risk it. The down side of this, is ironically not being seen for who I truly am and the accompanying shame of not being valued for who I truly am and not just for what I am presenting to others.
This I realized is what I struggle with, as do many of my clients when they come to see me. Issues with feeling disconnected, feeling unworthy and shameful and not being seen for whom they truly are. It is not courage to share one’s soul with another, but rather in the decision to share it with others.
The first step is to face your fear, your shame and take a step towards authenticity. The courage is in the decision to share.
I would like to finish this blog with a quote from my most recent novel called Dream Wheels by Richard Wagamese, which I think sums up this struggle beautifully.
“the old ones say that the path of a true human being is a Red Road. It’s blood colour. Like blood it flows out of our histories, bearing within it the codes and secrets that shape us, invisible urgings and desires spawned in generations past. Because of that it is a difficult path and only the most courageous and purest of heart have the humility to walk it. It takes great strength, warrior strength, to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing, to wield the power of choice like a lance and probe the way forward to the fullest expression of who you were created to be. To walk the Red Road asks the utmost of us, and there are few who choose it. Those that do are rewarded in the end, they say. They come back as Animals. They return as pure spirits born without question, arriving here knowing wholly and completely who they are. They are spared the agony of the search.”
*Daring Greatly (2012) by Brene Brown
** Dream Wheels (2006) by Richard Wagamese