27 May Be more vulnerable – Pt 2.
‘What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful,’
Dr Brene Brown
If this is the case… then I have never been so gorgeous! For many years, I have spent my time looking better on the outside, than I feel on the inside. As I discussed in part one of this series, this idea that vulnerability should be supressed, has become a dangerous trend. People everywhere are hiding behind a mask of busyness, strength or blame. And I have a horrifying confession to make…if we were to look back on my life, you would see that I have been all three. Adopting the mindset of ‘the trooper,’ the ‘the fusser’ and ‘the blamer,’ sometimes all at once! I embody an amazing set of tricks that enable me to duck, dodge and dive facing any emotional feelings. I am that person who takes on too many tasks, and does my utmost to convince everyone that I am okay. I say yes to study, work and social gatherings. I get up early and exercise, I come home and study or write this blog. Then all of a sudden, something unexpected presents itself and BOOM!!! I’m curled over in a heap, crying hysterically. Waves and waves of pent up emotion, aggression, hatred and frustration all comes flowing out. Leaving me (and my friends, husband or family) exhausted and scratching our heads thinking, ‘Where the fuck did that come from?!”
Following my last post, you may have diagnosed yourself with a lack of vulnerability. Perhaps not you, but someone close to you. Just like any condition, an analysis of your family is usually helpful in finding where that came from or why you act a certain way. Historically, my lack of vulnerability comes from both parents. My father is a very damaged man from his past, which drowns him in the present. He has so much hurt, sadness and pain but he projects his feelings as blame on other people and also fails to recognise his part in any situation. He has taken this lack of vulnerability so far, that he has blocked out all the negative times in his childhood and adult life and simply refuses to acknowledge things have even happened or just simply “doesn’t remember.” At the same time, my mother did not believe in vulnerability. She was a strong willed woman on the outside. She never talked about her feelings, she trooped on and she expected it of her children. It was so bad that when she was dying and I burst into tears at how sad the situation was, she told me to man up. The apple clearly didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of her parents, as we stood around her grieving after her death, her older sister insisted we all stop crying! I have since learnt that their mother was exactly the same way. I felt so ashamed to be vulnerable. I was taught to be strong and manage your life without letting anyone know how painful it was. So when I wasn’t coping with all the things that occured in my life, I locked them so far away where no one could see them. Just like fruit left in the back of the fridge, my feelings began to rot, eventually fester and soon enough the smell of all my shameful pain began to creep out through the cracks. Soon enough, everyone began to catch a whiff and went looking for the source.
Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. So why do we ignore it? From a psychological standpoint, we use defenses like denial and repression to shield and protect us from feelings of pain and suffering. The result? It may temporarily sustain suffering for a period of time, but ultimately, it doesn’t make it disappear. What results from this is deeply ingrained coping mechanisms that can become embedded in our personality and hard to extract or remedy. If left unaddressed, individuals in this mindset are often condemned to a lifetime of unhappiness as they continue in that same pattern. The physical ramifications are also telling. Our bodies are intuitive mechanisms that will send some kind of warning or sign that you aren’t okay. High blood pressure, exhaustion, heart attacks, rashes and skin conditions, loss of period, low sperm count etc. My body told me in some pretty confronting ways. I developed a number of health problems which were like smoke signals to warn me that I needed serious help. I had persistent headaches, whole body rashes, insomnia, loss of hair and eventually – my pituitary gland shut off my ability to ovulate each month and I lost my period and developed polycystic ovaries.
“Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you are feeling. To have hard conversations.”
Dr Brene Brown
In modern society we are so confused and think it is admirable to deal with emotions like a bull at a gate. As a result, we are getting sicker and sicker. However, the solution is clear. We must become more vulnerable and courageously face our problems head on. THAT is where true strength lies. In an ability to acknowledge problems, share with those close to you, problem solve and devise solutions and reflect for future situations. As such, the benefits of vulnerability far outweigh the health ramifications and loss of contentment. Dannielle Bernock shares her 7 benefits of vulnerability:
A sense of belonging – Being connected to others is one of our most basic human needs. It takes sharing to make the connection with others and feel like we have a place in the world.
Emotional support – Having someone or a group of people to laugh with, cry or vent to or lean on for emotional support lessens your pain. This support network helps you work your way through problems, share joy and work through frustrations better than if you did so alone.
Encouragement – Opening up to people means that others have to opportunity to encourage you. In turn, you build confidence and self-belief.
Practical help – Our friends, family and colleagues have varying skills. Through being vulnerable with people in our inner circles, you have access to each other’s skills. When you have a need, you can ask for help. Likewise, this connection opens you up to provide help to others.
Innovation – Sharing your problems or thoughts with others may be an effective way of getting yourself out of a rut. With fresh perspective, others may have the answers you couldn’t uncover for yourself.
Health benefits – Studies show that people with strong social connections recover quicker from being sick and have a greater life expectancy. The connection makes the immune system stronger to fight off disease. People who feel connected have lower rates of anxiety and had lower death rates of cancer.
Motivation – Through developing connections with others, we increase our accountability to other people. This positive peer pressure motivates us to do and be more than we would, if left to ourselves. When we have a support network, we are more likely to be motivated towards action and change.
Since way back when, spiritual teachings have discussed suffering and a natural part of life. In the Buddhist belief, It is through suffering that we make sense of the world, embrace vulnerability and live everyday to our best potential. With the realisation that any day, any minute, any second could be our last. The act of accepting suffering as a part of life that we all share is so vital. It is evident here, that those in the East aren’t afraid of suffering like us here in the West. In one of my favourite books ‘The Art of Happiness,’ The Dalai Lama shares how being open and sharing our woes and fears can be very useful for a number of reasons. He makes friends more easily (imagine being besties with the Dalai Lama!!!). He highlights that it is not just a matter of knowing people and having a superficial exchange (much like what Brene Brown confirmed), its about really sharing your deepest problems and suffering in a place of trust. The same goes for good news, he chuckles as he admits that he immediately shares positive news with others and is awful at keeping secrets. Through these exchanges, he feels a sense of intimacy and connection with those around him. Interestingly, in modern times, we see a lot of this happening on social media. We roll our eyes when people “brag” or “complain” about aspects of their day to day life. I am not advocating that this is the answer, as I believe that human connection is much more powerful than an online post. But this is an outlet for people to share their suffering and pleasure. Perhaps we should see these instances as an opportunity to reach out for connection instead of scrolling past?
Staying vulnerable and welcoming others to be vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience true connection with others. By now, you may have been able to diagnose yourself with pent up pain or suffering and see the benefits of productively releasing this to the right audience. In the final part of this series, I will share some useful strategies to become more vulnerable and discuss how these helped me in my own life.
Until then, work on opening up just a little more to loved ones. In the words of Brene Brown, ‘vulnerability is not weakness: it’s our greatest measure of our courage.’ Can you be a little more corageous today?