On vulnerability and authenticity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability and authenticity over the past couple of months. In sharing about my struggles with alcohol (and life in general), these were the two words that kept coming up. In messages, posts and texts, those words were appearing and it made me realize how valued those two things are. People said I was brave for being so open and real. That my honesty was encouraging. That they were so proud of me for sharing one of my internal struggles, and all of it was so incredibly encouraging. I could never have imagined the freedom that has come with sharing, but also the outpouring of support from a countless number of people. The goal was to share in an effort to help people to realize that making changes to see a desired outcome come to fruition isn’t just for RHIANON HOFFMAN, it’s something that anyone who is reading this fledgling blog can take and apply to their own lives; maybe not necessarily when it comes to giving up the booze, but there are, I’m sure, a plethora of ways in which it can be applied.
However, that’s not what I’m writing about today, as I sit in Bryant Park. I was trying to put some thoughts together earlier this week, and threw a bunch of stuff at the board, but nothing stuck. I realized that a lot of the thoughts swirling around in my head came back to one question in particular - Why are we so afraid to bare our deepest darkest secrets with the world? Or even friends and family members? I think part of it is a fear of judgement. Part of it is fear of rejection. Part of it is fear of being exposed. Part of it is being FULLY known. Because what happens when we’re fully known? When we expose those inner thoughts and desires, and are completely open and honest about it, there is always the opportunity for someone to critique, to judge, to belittle or to patronize. We are afraid of sharing those inner struggles, because we are afraid of not being validated. We refrain from sharing those struggles because we are scared that once we do that, the response will be, “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal”, “Why are you having such a hard time with that?” or even worse, “Suck it up” or “You think THAT’S a big problem?”.
Has that ever happened to you? And if it did, was it warranted?
Was it a legitimate response?
I have found that most of the time when I am open and honest with the struggles that I’m facing, I am usually met with comfort, empathy and even help from those around me. So, why don’t we believe that? I think that if we all truly believed that we’d be met with those responses, we would likely be more honest with the people that surround us, and therefore feel less burdened because we’re getting these stresses, these fears, these worries off of our chest.
I also think that personally, I don’t want to impose. I don’t want to gain the reputation of “The Negative Friend” or Debbie Downer. I’d rather talk about the successes that are going on in my life, because I think that those things are more fun to talk about, but what I don’t often realize (especially as an external processor) is that I need to talk things out to process my emotions and figure out what the root of my problem is. Without figuring out what the actual problem is, I can’t talk about it and come up with a solution.
I’m going to take a gamble here and suggest that we all need this authenticity and vulnerability in our lives. I’m not talking about diving into the deep end and baring our souls to the world; not everyone has to share their deepest, darkest secrets on the interwebs. I’m not even necessarily talking about sharing your biggest and most painful secret (although that’s fine too), but I’m talking about even starting small. Baby steps. I think that sharing our struggles not only opens a door for healing, but also allows other people to experience being needed. How many times have we been there, at the right place at the right time for a friend who desperately needed help in a crisis? I’d dare to say not many, because so many of us are apprehensive about sharing these struggles that we are experiencing. We all have them, and it's normal to be apprehensive or tentative about sharing them, but I think that when done in the right context it can be incredibly freeing and healing. When you allow someone into your life like that, you are essentially saying, “I trust you with this fear/issue/struggle”. This then deepens relationships and allows the other person to use their own life experiences to give advice and help in a way that they otherwise may not have been able to.
I think women in particular do our very best to keep it all together for as long as possible. We just keep on plugging along, going through the motions and juggling all of the different things that we need to juggle, not taking much time for ourselves. It’s just in our nature. People ask how we are and what’s our response? “Good!” or “I’m fine” and that continues to be our response until we’re far beyond NOT being good or fine. We’re on auto-pilot and have an auto-response. We have been groomed by our culture to respond this way since we started talking. I even caught myself doing it with my kids. People engage with them at the park or on the street and ask them the same questions that they ask me: “How are you?” and if they don’t immediately answer, I chime in saying, “Are you good?” or, “say ‘I’m okay’”. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but actually it’s putting something in their little minds - the same thing that was put in ours - that says, “You need to be good. Don’t impose. Be self sufficient. Don’t show your emotional cards”. And there is nothing wrong with self sufficiency; it’s great to be strong and independent, but you can’t live your whole life as a lone ranger. We weren’t created to live like that. We weren’t made to carry the burdens that life throws at us solo.
Another thing that is helpful for me personally is to “Pile your troubles on God's shoulders - he'll carry your load, he'll help you out. He'll never let good people topple into ruin” (Psalm 55:22 MSG). Honestly, this isn’t usually my first reaction when I feel overwhelmed and at the end of my rope, but I’d like it to be my default. Half of the time when I pray, it sounds like I’m just rambling off my stressors and complaining, but I do feel like somewhere along the line, there’s a shift in the words that I’m speaking and all of the sudden I’m met with comfort and peace, even if I don’t necessarily have all of the answers.
The truth is that none of us have the answers. When we bare our souls to one another and share in these struggles that we’re faced with, we’re not necessarily solving all of our issues, but we are creating an opportunity to know one another better and to be known by others, which, at the core of who we are, is something that I believe we all want. We want to be known, accepted, and loved without judgement or reservation. Without sharing our struggles, there’s no way that that’s going to happen. So, be the friend who shares and be the friend who asks. And asks. And ASKS. Because chances are, the first few times you’ll be met with “I’m fine”, but don’t take that auto-response as the final word, because usually it’s not. Be vulnerable, be authentic and be there for others when they need you. Be the first to share, the first to be honest and see what kind of reaction that evokes. It's okay to be terrified, but the benefits far outweigh the fear. Take my word for it.